February 2017 Round Up: The Crossover

As Books Unbound’s first foray into poetry, Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover marked an incredible transition for the Books Unbound (B.U.) members from reading prose to reading verse. Besides featuring contemporary coming-of-age issues like first crushes, dealing with conflict within the family, death of a loved one, athletic performance, and even homework assignments, The Crossover‘s format as a novel in verse makes it a soft dive into poetry that is perfect for readers who prefer prose. For in-depth insights from main discussion topics, creative projects, and the B.U. members’ rating, check out the round up below!

Excerpt from an interview with Alexander:

How do you feel about the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement happening in children’s publishing?

It’s a big part of the civil rights movement of our day. How do we create equity and equality in the images and ideas that enable. All of our children to imagine a world of possible, that empower. All of our children to dream a better world, is the most important question we can ask ourselves as parents, teachers, and librarians.

Main Discussion Topics and Insights

Introducing Poetry

Before deciding to venture into The Crossover, Books Unbound reading material was notably swayed in favor of prose. At any mention of poetry, the B.U. members’ eyes would glaze over as they recalled dusty tomes of Dickinson and Shakespeare — magnificent writers, to be sure, but not something any of the B.U. members said they would have chosen to read independently. In an effort to increase their interest in poetry, round out their reading, and dispel any lingering ghosts of poems as a medium of long-dead, white men, I decided we should read The Crossover, a contemporary novel in verse.

We briefly reviewed elements of poetry as they were used in the book, sticking to high level discussion of technical aspects like rhyme scheme, rhythm, and word sounds, and spending more of our conversation on message and affective responses that The Crossover provoked. We talked about what qualifies as a poem. Much to the B.U. members’ surprise, Kwame Alexander includes visual poetry, text messages, and everyday conversations in his book; some poems rhyme, while others are free verse. The B.U. members were invigorated by the idea that poetry transcends ABAB rhyme and can contain content related to romance as well as homework assignments.

Constructing Self vs. Other

Identical twins Josh and Jordan are alike in plenty of ways, most obviously in their age, parentage and high aptitude for basketball. But beyond that, they are distinct. The B.U. members noted that some of their differences seem to be inherent. For example,  they argued that Josh seems naturally selfish, while Jordan tends toward selflessness. Other differences seem to be products of purposefulness, or to have been constructed, in reference to each other. Josh takes pride in his long hair, while Jordan flaunts that he has a girlfriend.

The B.U. members and I discussed why we feel it necessary to distinguish ourselves from each other in the first place. Perhaps, we posited, it is to demonstrate self-worth or self-reliance. Whatever the reason, being a teenager often coincides with intense interest in and efforts toward defining who we are and who we will become as adults. Briefly, I presented the post-structuralist theory of self vs. other, which features prominently in works by cultural critic Edward Said and feminist Simone de Beauvoir. We discussed how people often construct their own identities, or selves, by identifying traits in others that they view as characteristic, and then either aligning themselves with or against others by embracing or rejecting those same traits. This, we recognized, is as fundamental to cafeteria cliques as it is to cultural groups determined by race or region; and, as Kwame Alexander demonstrates, this same dynamic can even be found between two siblings.

Creative Project

After discussing the book, we all participated in a short poem-writing exercise. Loosely based on mimic writing, wherein students base their own writing on that of an established writer — in this case, Kwame Alexander — we tried our hands at creating visual poetry. I gave the B.U. members the option to write about anything they wanted, or they could base their poems on a specific (and, admittedly, banal) topic that I provided: their lunch that day. After everyone chose their subject matter, I allowed for 10 minutes of writing. This included formatting their poems. They could use as many pieces of paper for rough drafts as they wanted. Afterwards, each participant read their poem aloud for the group and explained their thought process behind creating it.

Favorite Moments

I was ecstatic to see how open and supportive the B.U. members were when other participants shared their poems. While everyone had initially snickered at the idea of sharing their poems, they all happily volunteered to read aloud. After each person’s presentation, everyone clapped and offered genuine compliments about elements of a poem that they had particularly liked.

Books Unbound Member Rating

4 out of 5.

The B.U. members gave this book a high rating because the subject matter, especially Jordan’s romance and how it impacts Josh, interested them. However, their feedback on the plot resolution was mixed, and some found the characters’ intense involvement in basketball too unrelatable.



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