Saturday, January 31, 2015

Class Post - "The Crossover"

I am loving this boom of wonderful verse novels we are having in youth literature at the moment.  The Newbery Award has honored such recent titles as Inside Out and Back Again and The One and Only Ivan, and 2014 saw the release of many spectacular works of longer verse, including my favorite of the bunch, The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander.

The Crossover tells the story of basketball playing twins, Josh and Jordan.  Josh is our narrator, taking the reader through a story about family, sport and the emotional punch of responsibility.  Josh doesn’t just tell us his feelings.  He raps, he pops language that is vibrant and electric.  From the very first poem, “Dribbling”, Josh captures the reader’s attention with his verbal pops and locks.  The first time I read The Crossover, I was so energized by this dynamic opening, I plowed halfway through the book before realizing my break was long since over.

Alexander, in Josh’s voice, plays with imagery, narration and dialogue to propel his story.  In “Josh’s Play-by-Play”, Josh lays down a basketball game for us.  “I roll to his right. / The double team is on me,/ leaving JB free./ He’s got his hands in the air,/ looking for this dish/ from me.”  Sequences like these are a great way to intrigue readers who might be reluctant to pick up poetry.  Alexander also uses some advanced vocabulary, with different entries wherein Josh defines a new word; pulchritudinous, for example.  Josh then uses this word in a variety of sentences that both educate and amuse or engage the reader.

I don’t know if I’ve ever come across a voice like Josh’s before.  He is bold and brash, but at the same time sensitive, concerned for his father’s health and mourning the loss of his beloved dreadlocks.  Like any teenager, he has moments of boasting and self-doubt.  He both loves his twin and engages in a fierce rivalry with him.  Josh tell his story in a very charged way, but also very intimately.  The nature of the poetical narration gives us insights into Josh’s thoughts and feelings that a prose novel might not accomplish.

If I were to take a part of The Crossover to use with a group of kids, I would take the first stanza of the second poem, “Josh Bell,” in which Josh introduces himself:

Josh Bell

Is my name.
But Filthy McNasty is my claim to fame.
Folks call me that
‘cause my game’s acclaimed,
so downright dirty, it’ll put you to shame.
My hair is long, my height’s tall.
See, I’m the next Kevin Durant,
LeBron, and Chris Paul.

This sequence has great rhythm and rhyme, and it fun to read as well as being informative.  In just these few lines, we learn a lot about Josh, from what he tells us (he’s tall and plays Basketball) and what he doesn’t (such boasting and high aspirations can mask deeper feelings).  I would ask the kids to read this section aloud, then maybe rap it or sing it to see the way the language flows.  As a writing exercise, we could all take Josh’s idea and compose lyrical introductions for ourselves.

Alexander, Kwame.  The Crossover.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.  ISBN: 9780544107717

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