We recently had the opportunity to talk with author Kwame Alexander about how poetry can draw a reluctant reader into a lifelong love of books and the creative process behind his book, “The Crossover,” awarded the 2015 Newbery Medal for Most Distinguished Contribution to American Literature for Children.
The first thing we noticed about The Crossover: its rhythm. Why did you choose to have Josh’s voice rhythmic in that way?
When I decided the book was going to have a frame of basketball, I knew that I wanted the language to mirror the sport’s high energy and rhythm,
I thought that basketball was poetry in motion – so I created a story on the page that reflected the action on the court. I’ve been a poet most of my life, so it seemed like a good marriage.
How would you describe kids’ reaction to the book?
You want to impact young people. That’s the goal. That’s the only goal. You want to get them reading. The response initially came from librarians and teachers – they were loving it.
I thought, “Wow, how cool is that?”?
Then teachers started getting it to their students. My, my, my – the reaction from the students blew me away. There were quite a few boys who had never showed much interest in reading before. Their teachers and librarians contacted me and said, “They couldn’t put your book down.”
That’s pretty remarkable right there. That’s why I’m doing this.
Have you ever seen anyone perform a page from the book?
Yes! There was a school in Illinois – Granger Middle School – and the entire school read the book. They brought me in for the day to see some presentations, and the kids all memorized the poems. It was so awesome. Each kid – girl, boy, black, white – they all felt like they were the characters.
That’s all you really hope for from a book – that it’s going to resonate with young people and empower them in some way. I believe poetry can get kids reading.
Why is it so important to get kids reading?
Inside of a book, between the lines, is a world of possibility. The book opens it up.
Why is it important for kids to open books? Because they can see themselves and they can see what they can become… Open a book and find your possible.