Poetry is my thing, so I was excited to read Kwame Alexander’s (2014) middle grades book-in-verse Crossover (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), recipient of the 2015 John Newbery Medal and several other well-deserved awards.
Here’s a brief plot summary: Twin sons of assistant principal Dr. Bell at their middle school and famous professional basketball player Charlie Bell, Josh and Jordan want to walk in their father’s footsteps and lead the middle school basketball team to a championship. And they have the skills to do it. But things begin to change between Josh and Jordan when Jordan gets a girlfriend. And when their dad’s health begins to become a real concern, the twins have to learn how to overcome a challenge that proves more difficult than winning a basketball game.
I loved that Alexander tells this story in verse. There is great energy, and he plays around with font styles and formatting. I used to do a poem manipulation exercise (an activity in which students take a poem and keep or change any of the poem’s original words – it works great, and students poems come out amazing!) with my middle school students, and I think many of Crossover‘s poems would be great for this exercise. The book begs to be read aloud! There is so much good language here! I especially loved the periodic poems about various vocabulary words. Great stuff!
The importance of family is an important theme featured throughout Crossover. The boys are equally influenced by their knowledge-loving assistant principal mother and their former professional basketball player father. And respecting one’s family is paramount to a basketball season, as Josh has to learn the hard way.
Crossover is about basketball. And there are some great basketball sequences described in grand detail that readers will just love! But is about so much more about basketball. It’s about life and death. And it’s pretty real. Josh and Jordan confront life’s harsh realities when their dad’s seemingly-disconnected health concerns become very serious. This aspect of the book hit me personally, and whereas my family and I were very fortunate, Charlie Bell’s decision to resist his wife’s constant reminders to go to the doctor makes us all ask what if?
I gave Crossover five starts and would love to hear what you think of Crossover in the comments below!