One Book, One Philadelphia | Youth in Verse

By Nell M. RSS Tue, April 27, 2021

This year’s One Book, One Philadelphia youth titles are Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X and Hey Black Child by Useni Eugene Perkins—both written in verse.

While novels in verse are nothing new, with some of the first novels in existence being verse poems—such as The Tale of Genji, The Odyssey, and The Iliad—YA and children’s titles in verse are a relatively new trend.

A few years ago, there were far fewer Young Adult novels being written in verse, but now the trend has taken off, with more verse novels being released this past year than ever before—many of which written by men and women of color. Why is this trend so popular? Why is it important?

When high school students read poetry in class, it is often not reflective of their own experiences. Plath, Shakespeare, Blake; why should these names mean anything to them? Reading poetry in this setting doesn’t always inspire a love of the form, and it’s easy to see why. Let’s be honest—it can be dull, it can be dry, and above all, it can be difficult.

So what happens when you have a book like The Poet X in the hands of a high schooler?

What happens is that Acevedo’s book is none of those things. It’s far from dull, juicy, not dry, and shockingly easy for students to read. Why? Well, many reasons. It’s an amazing book, for one. And secondly, it’s about a junior in high school named Xiomara, a Dominican teen living in Harlem, as she discovers her own love of poetry which begins in an English class with a video shown by the teacher.

"The poet talks about being black, about being a woman,
about how beauty standards make it seem she isn’t pretty
I don’t breathe for the entire three minutes

while I watch her hands, her face,
feeling like she’s talking directly to me.
She’s saying the thoughts I didn’t know anyone else had…
            It was just a poem, Xiomara, I think.

But it felt more like a gift." (76-77)

This is what the novel tells us over and over again—poetry is a gift. And it is even more so when the reader can feel seen by the author. Books like this, and many similar titles such as Acevedo’s other books Clap When You Land, With the Fire on High, as well as friend of the Free Library, Jason Reynolds’ The Long Way Down, and local Philadelphia author Candice Iloh’s Everybody Looking, are important for that very reason. They allow teens of color, queer teens, and lonely teens a place to be seen.

So what happens when you have a book like The Poet X in the hands of a high schooler? What happens is a gift.

Looking for more poetry? More ways to get involved with this year’s One Book titles? Attend one of our many upcoming events and discussions based around this year's youth titles!

Hey Black Child Virtual Storytime | Tuesday, May 4 | 11:00 a.m.

Healing-Centered Dialogue: Understanding Ourselves and Our Teens Through The Poet X | Tuesday, May 4 | 4:00 p.m.

The Poet X virtual Book Discussion | Wednesday, May 5 | 4:00 p.m.

Teen Workshop: Immigrant Families and the Culture Clash | Saturday, May 8 | 4:00 p.m.

Teen Workshop: The Dialogue: Coming of Age as a Warrior, Healer, and Poet | Thursday, May 13 | 3:30 p.m.

Hey Black Child Paint and Show | Friday, May 21 | 4:00 p.m.

Have a question for Free Library staff? Please submit it to our Ask a Librarian page and receive a response within two business days.

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