Kwame Alexander's The Crossover won both the Newbery Award and the Coretta Scott King Award, but that's not why I know my students will be devouring the book during our independent reading unit this year. From the very first page, this book just moves. Told in lively verse from the perspective of 12-year-old basketball star Josh Bell, its playful rhyme and staccato beat seem to mimic a ball bouncing down a crowded court. And it's not just about sports; through Bell's struggles with family and friends, plus a heart-wrenching twist towards the end, the poetry just soars.
For teachers: The Crossover offers wonderful opportunities to explore rhythmic language, and its popular premise-- basketball-- will help draw even reluctant readers of poetry. It's also a shoo-in for cross-curricular partnering: working with a physical education teacher to allow students to literally practice on court the skills Alexander describes with such vivid detail, or with a music teacher to experiment with how instruments could enhance Bell's "mad beats." Students could try writing in Alexander's style by describing a physical activity they enjoy using onomatopoeia, rhyme, a distinct rhythm and a physical pattern of words on the page that match their movement. While this book is technically written for middle grade readers, I'll be recommending it to my tenth graders in a heartbeat.