At SCBWI-LA over the summer, I had the pleasure of hearing Kwame Alexander speak in a keynote and a very inspiring session on poetry. Hearing Alexander in person reminded me how great The Crossover is––and how this novel in verse has a lot to teaching aspiring kidlit writers about their craft.
Here are three things writers can take away from Alexander’s breakout book, winner of last year’s Newbery Medal and Coretta Scott King Award.
1. Rhythm is everything.
Alexander comes to kidlit by way of poetry. Here, he borrows the quick, agile rhythm of a basketball game to drive this fast-paced, playful novel about two basketball prodigy brothers growing up and growing apart. Josh Bell and his brother Jordan live for basketball, and live their lives like a basketball game: with rivalries, competitions, and strict rules, all cultivated on the court. Josh’s quick-witted narration keeps the story moving like a fast break to the basket, and his flashy wordplay matches the fancy footwork of a star guard, showing off his moves.
In The Crossover, the novel-in-verse form fits the story perfectly, and the breakneck rhythm of a basketball game drives the plot forward from beginning to end. It’s a great example of “form follows function” in action––and it’s just fun! Like watching a basketball game between evenly matched rivals, reading The Crossover keeps you on the edge of your seat until the final buzzer, holding your breath, waiting for the final shot.
2. Sibling relationships are tough.
Alexander digs deep into the profound ups and downs of sibling––and in the case, twin––relationships. He has a keen eye for the overwhelming love and, at times, intense hatred that emerge from the super-close relationship with that one person who knows you better than anyone else.
His exploration of twins coming of age and growing apart echoes that of Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl––except here, we have two middle school boys instead of two college-age young women. The central issue is much the same, though: Josh feels deserted when Jordan gets a girlfriend. Here, Josh lashes out in the only way he knows how: on the court.
It’s refreshing to see a sibling rivalry portrayed with the same depth of emotion usually reserved for a romantic one. Using Alexander’s example, we should push ourselves to treat family relationships––and platonic ones––with the same intensity as first crushes and young love. Because sibling love and friend love is love, after all. For many kids, it’s an even more important kind than that romantic stuff, which isn’t always relevant to their day-to-day life.
3. Sports books can be so much more than just that.
Writers can fall into the same trap as readers when it comes to sports. There are sports books, and there’s everything else––and you’re either a reader (or writer) of one or the other…right?
Not quite. The Crossover proves that a book with a basketball on the cover can transcend that category. Even non-sports-loving readers can find a lot to love about this book, with its complex portrayal of family life and Alexander’s passion for language, which oozes off the page.
Yet the basketball element here is neither a ploy to “attract boy readers” nor a quick way to throw in some more action. It’s an integral element of Josh and Jordan’s lives and their relationship with their father, each other, and the world around them. It’s also a dead-on portrayal of so many American families that live for sports––families that take the lessons they learn on the court and apply them to life.
Kwame Alexander has a lot to teach us about writing. And if you ever get the chance to hear him speak, I highly suggest you do!
Want to chat more about The Crossover, or writing in general? Find me on Twitter at @beckererine.