Posted by: jeannineatkins | January 23, 2015

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

The basketball reference in the title and on the cover didn’t signal that I was the audience for Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover, so despite enthusiastic reports, I picked it up only recently while preparing to teach a course. My syllabus had a lot of strong girl protagonists, which we can never get enough of, but there was room for another sports-obsessed boy beside Ron Koertge’s excellent Shakespeare Bats Cleanup.


I can hardly tell a basket from a ball, but I loved The Crossover from the first hip hop infused poem. The bouncy rhymes perfectly matched the rhythm of a fast game, and while much of the book is free verse, rhymes and a fast beat are generally used when on the court. Sounds as much as sights are integral to how the protagonist comes to know the world. A crossover is defined, first literally, then personally, and the sense goes far beyond the court with a theme of young teenage twins finding their own places on a team and in the family, crossing into adulthood, and in and out of fear and peace. I liked the way definitions became a repeated motif, starting small, and expanding.

This is a fabulous novel published in 2014, a fabulous year for verse narratives for young readers. I blogged about Burleigh Muten’s look at a revered poet, imagination, and a circus come to town in Miss Emily, Mariko Nagai’s chronicle of life in an interment camp during WWII in Dust of Eden, Padma Venkatatrum’s exploration of a heroic girl, dance, and spirituality in A Time to Dance, a young boy’s experience of revolution in Caminar, and Marilyn Nelson’s wonderful How I Discovered Poetry. Another memoir in verse, Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming was much read and praised even before it won a National Book Award. Like Caminar, The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney is set in a war-torn place, in this case, Sudan. I’m sure I’m missing some in this year rich with verse narratives, and I’m not seeing as many in Sylvia Vardell’s Poetry for Children annual look at what’s ahead. I wrote about Caroline Rose Starr’s Blue Birds, coming out in March, just ordered Melanie Crowder’s Audacity, and in August I look forward to Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir by Margarita Engle. Please let me know of what other verse novels, memoirs, or histories might awaits us!

For more Poetry Friday posts, please visit the ever-inspirational Tara Smith at A Teaching Life.



  1. Yes, the title wouldn’t have intrigued me either, but your words and comments have certainly piqued my interest. I’m sure I need more hip-hop infused poems in my life :).

    It’s wonderful to see more verse novels out there and love that you’ve been sharing the good ones here. I have some catch up reading to do (Dust of Eden is first on my list).

    • Yes, maybe we do need more hip-hop! What I liked was the balance — we start with that, but then we get rests in kitchens and hallways, so it wasn’t like a blast of music going on, but a dance every now and then. And the family dynamics were tender.

  2. I have requested this one! Thanks for this excellent list.

    • Great! I think you’ll be surprised by how much you enjoy this!

  3. Sounds like a great book. Terry Farish’s the Good Braider was in verse.

    • Hi, Thank you for stopping by. I love Terry Farish’s The Good Braider, but was here only mentioning verse novels published in 2014. Though I believe it came out in audio this year, which I want to hear. Thanks!

  4. I loved Crossover, Jeannine, & it has become popular with my middle school students, too, one of several that I’ve managed to persuade them to give verde novels a try. Nice to hear you talk about it!

    • I kept hearing praise for the book, which sometimes can set expectations not in the best way; for me, it totally delivered. It’s great to hear some of your students are trying a new form!

  5. 2014 was quite a year for verse novels! I loved Brown Girl Dreaming, and am reading The Red Pencil right now. It’s just heart-wrenching. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about The Crossover. I’m not a huge basketball fan, but this sounds terrific!

    • It really was a great year. Glad you are reading The Red Pencil, and I found my lack of interest in basketball only got in the way of opening the book: once that happened, I was pulled right in.

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