Thursday, April 2, 2015

Spotlight on Kwame Alexander + DMC Challenge


KWAME ALEXANDER
                                             Photo: Nataki Hewling

Kwame Alexander is a poet and author of eighteen books, including The Crossover, which received the 2015 John Newbery Medal for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. Other works include Acoustic Rooster and His Barnyard Band (The 2014 Michigan Reads One Book Selection), and the YA novel He Said, She Said (a Junior Library Guild Selection). He is the founder of Book-in-a-Day, a student-run publishing program that has created more than 3000 student authors; and LEAP for Ghana, an international literacy project that builds libraries, trains teachers, and empowers children through literature. He visits schools and libraries, has owned several publishing companies, written for stage and television,  produced jazz and book festivals, and taught in a high school. In 2015, Kwame will serve as Bank Street College of Education’s first writer-in-residence. Visit him at KwameAlexander.com 

Whoa. Is this the same Kwame Alexander who was just interviewed on PBS NewsHour last week? 
The one and only.

He's here – on Today's Little Ditty – for National Poetry Month???
Pick your jaw up off the floor. Let me tell you...

I first heard the buzz about The Crossover around this time last year. I put the book on my to-read list, but with a basketball player on the front cover, I wasn't in any hurry.  Not that I had anything against basketball, mind you. In high school, my mother and I spent many a night on her bed with cans of Diet Coke and a pan of popcorn between us, as we rooted for the N.Y. Knicks on TV.  But a basketball novel-in-verse?

Such a shame I didn't see this at the time:



It was October when I finally cracked open The Crossover:

From The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (click to enlarge)

Are you kidding me?  

I was seduced by the energy and rhythm of the language before I even had a chance to get sucked into the story or invested in the lives of its characters. (That came soon enough.)

I was hooked... as in, hook shot... as in, a powerhouse explosion... nothing but net.

THE CROSSOVER, by Kwame Alexander
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Mar 2014
ISBN: 978-0544107717
Click HERE to order.
Like many twins, 12 year old Josh Bell and his brother JB have always shared a strong bond. We see it both on the court and within their loving, close-knit family. When a "pulchritudinous" girl comes between the brothers and the declining health of their dad becomes a frightening reality, Josh's once-stable world spirals out of control.

The Crossover is about so much more than basketball.  Rich in relationship dynamics, this is a multi-layered story about family, friendship, adolescence... and, true to the game which is its lifeline, it's also poetry in motion. The heart-racing, trash-talking swagger that you read in "Dribbling" is counterbalanced with softer, introspective moments of uncertainty – a boy just trying to make sense of his life.  Like his main character, Kwame Alexander puts it ALL out there.

Kwame Alexander, The Crossover


It's wonderful to hear about reluctant readers, boys mostly, being engaged and transformed by this book. But honestly, this is a story that all readers will be able to connect with. Case in point: my 11 year old daughter, who has not had the benefit of popcorn-coke-basketball evenings with Mom, nor any interest in team sports whatsoever.  She loved it as much as I did.

Within 24 hours of reading The Crossover, I emailed Kwame to see if I could get him on the blog.  He responded that he was under deadline for two novels and would April be a possibility? Absolutely! I would LOVE to feature him for National Poetry Month!  I knew that I was a bit late to the game since The Crossover would have been out for over a year, but I didn't care. I was driven to share this book.

Photo: Nataki Hewling
2015 ALA honorees (from L ro R):
Christopher Myers, Kwame Alexander, Jason Reynolds,
Jacqueline Woodson, and Rita Williams-Garcia
When the Newbery Medal announcement came at the beginning of February –  SHAZAM! – guess who's the luckiest blogger on the planet?  I confess, I had my doubts whether Kwame would be able or willing to keep his commitment given all the fabulous opportunities that were suddenly at his doorstep. But honorable man that he is, he didn't hesitate for a moment.

Now comes the embarrassing part.

When I received Kwame's responses to my interview questions last month, he kindly thanked me for the interview opportunity, but pointed out that the title of the book is The Crossover, not The Crossing.

I didn't...  O.M.G. Yes, I did.

Those who know me at all, know that I'm rather anal careful about such things. I was mortified. I mention this not only to clear my conscience, but to let you know that Kwame Alexander, besides being honorable, talented, and easy on the eyes, is also a forgiving man with a great sense of humor... right, Kwame?

Please help me welcome Kwame Alexander to Today's Little Ditty. It's an honor and a delight to be celebrating National Poetry Month together!

This is ALSO to let you, my readers, know that I have proofread this post at least 53 times, so if you find any typos, oversights, or grammatical errors, please keep them to yourselves.  Otherwise, I'm afraid I might pass out.

So let's get to the interview, shall we?

Kwame's five favorites:

            Childhood memory: Eating my Granny's hot rolls on Sundays after church

            Subject in school: Psychology

            Food:  Lobster Mac-and-Cheese (yummm... recipe HERE)

            Music: Bossa Nova

            Vacation spot: Tuscany 


You didn’t start out as a children’s author.  In fact, I read in another interview that, early on, you were pretty keen on becoming a doctor. Fast forward to today and there are seven words that describe you at the top of your website. They are: POET. KIDS AUTHOR. NOVELIST. TEACHER. COOL DUDE. Is that the order in which you now define yourself? You consider yourself a poet first? 
My wife has asked me to edit and delete. LOL! Yes, I'm a poet and an educator, I suppose. That's my job, and it probably encompasses everything else. I don't believe writing is just pen to paper. It's living a life worth writing about. As for being cool, that just happened recently (smile).

Thinking about your writing process, how does the writing of poetry differ from the writing of a novel-in-verse?
One is writing poems. The other is writing a novel...that happens to be told through poetry. It's twice as hard. You not only have to think about the craft of writing a novel, creating a narrative with believable and memorable characters and conflicts, but you have to employ the ingredients that go into making a poem behave.

What inspired you to write The Crossover?  Did you always intend to write it as a verse novel? What do you think a novel-in-verse can accomplish that a typical prose novel cannot?
I knew The Crossover would be a novel-in-verse from the very beginning. I was inspired to create a book that boys and reluctant readers would pick up and not be able to put down. That's the power of verse: it's accessible, rhythmic, and concise.

Would you share a favorite selection from The Crossover?
Page 159 may be my favorite, because you can read it four different ways, and get a different take on the same theme. Love that poem.

From The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (click to enlarge)

"Da Man" Kwame Alexander
COURTESY ALEXANDER FAMILY
Josh’s nickname in The Crossover is “Filthy McNasty,” inspired by a jazz number recorded by the Horace Silver Quintet. If you were to give yourself a similarly colorful nickname, what would it be?
Da Man! (Sound familiar?)
From Michelle: If this does not sound familiar, you're probably one of the handful of people out there who have not read this book yet. Do yourself a favor and read it!

Can you give us a hint about what’s coming up next for you?
A novel about a boy who loves soccer and hates reading, and a few picture books.

I don’t want to bring this interview to a close without touching on your passion for literacy. Can you tell us what the Book-in-a-Day and LEAP for Ghana literacy programs mean to you?
I believe in the power of words to change the world. That seems possible to me.  Both of these literacy programs are just my little way of trying to open a world of possible for children at home and abroad.

Photo: LEAPforGhana.org
Kwame with the recipients of the Nikki Giovanni LEAP for Ghana Scholarship.

If you had all the world’s children in one room, what would you tell them?
We'd chant "YES" over and over.

Finally, please tell us what you have chosen as this month’s ditty challenge.​
Pick a celebrity and write a clerihew. These are some of my favorite poems to write. Enjoy!

Game on! 

For those who don't know, a clerihew is a short, often absurd, biographical poem. It was invented in 1890 by a schoolboy named Edmund Clerihew Bentley. Here are the rules of the form:
  • Clerihews have four lines, consisting of two rhyming couplets: the first and second lines must rhyme, and the third and fourth lines must rhyme.
  • A specific person should be named in the first line.
  • Something should be said about that person to make the reader smile or laugh.
  • There's no need to count words or syllables, or worry about the poem's rhythm.
For some examples, see this lesson on how to write a clerihew by U.S. Children's Poet Laureate Kenn Nesbitt, or Jama Rattigan's review of Bob Raczka's new book of clerihews, Presidential Misadventures.


HOW TO PARTICIPATE: 

Throughout the month, send your clerihews to TodaysLittleDitty (at) gmail (dot) com or use the contact form in the sidebar to the right. For children under 13 who would like to participate, please read my COPPA compliance statement located below the contact form.

BLOGGER FRIENDS:  Thank you for publishing your poems on your own blogs– I love that!  Please also remember to send me a copy of your poem or a direct link to your post. That way I know I have your permission to post your poem on Today's Little Ditty.

Some poems may be published on the blog as daily ditties, but all of them will appear in a wrap-up celebration on April 24th, 2015.

To sweeten the deal, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has graciously agreed to provide an autographed copy of The Crossover to one lucky participant, selected randomly, at the end of the month.

Slammerific!


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Before I announce the winner of the March DMC giveaway, there were a couple of last minute entries you might want to check out.  Many thanks for enriching my life with so many beautiful tanka last month and to Margarita Engle, of course, for inspiring us all!

Random.org has determined that the winner of Orangutanka by Margarita Engle, with illustrations by Renée Kurilla is:

CHARLES WATERS – Congratulations, Charles!


Our first Poetry Friday roundup for National Poetry Month is being hosted by none other than Amy Ludwig VanDerwater.  Join Amy at The Poem Farm where her arms are open, her heart is singing, and poetry love abounds.




If you're looking for creative ways to celebrate National Poetry Month, Jama Rattigan is your go-to for NPM festivites at Alphabet Soup.




47 comments:

  1. I absolutely loved The Crossover. As soon as the announcement was made, I got it on my Kindle app. I had to read it aloud to my students from my phone. I could not get a copy anywhere. They all loved it. I posted about it here: https://reflectionsontheteche.wordpress.com/2015/03/03/books-that-make-you-cry/
    I'm not very good at rhyme or humor, but I am sure going to ask my boys who loved Crossover to write a clerihew. They will see it as a way to pay homage to Kwame Alexander, a hero in our classroom.

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    1. Thank you for directing me to your very moving post, Margaret. I'm not at all surprised THE CROSSOVER has made the rounds in your classroom and I do hope your boys will take up the challenge! Please keep me posted. :)

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  2. The poems you shared today are wonderful. I can see why he has a soft spot for "Dear Jordan" -- so hard to write that kind of poem! As a B'burg native, I couldn't help but notice the VT sweatshirt. Go Hokies! (And yes! to lobster mac and cheese...)

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  3. I saw Kwame Alexander at the NY-SCBWI conference in February, right after the Newbery announcement. He had gone out and bought a new suit. It was a rich, dark blue, suitable for a TV appearance. He said the color was Newbery blueberry. We ate up his words. I waited in the very long line to get a copy of his Crossover signed for my son, who's 13 and has had poetry published. I will never forget it. You go, Kwame!! Thanks for hosting this, Michelle!

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  4. Thank you, Michelle, for featuring such a great and wise book by this great and wise man. THE CROSSOVER had me snapping my fingers, rooting for this family, holding my breath, and in love with basketball all over again. Truth and play, all in one place. I'm glad that you interviewed Kwame here. Thank you both! Happy Poetry Friday! xo, a.

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  5. Having Kwame Alexander this month is a beautiful gift, Michelle. The Crossover is a lovely story, & I must say that I read & recommended it long before the award. It has grabbed students in my class & they have passed it around & around. Thanks for this wonderful new challenge.

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    1. Wonderful to hear, but not at all surprising. You always have a finger on the pulse of the kidlit world, Linda!

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  6. What a very special treat to have Kwame as your PM/DMC guest! Loved the interview (granny's hot rolls, mmmmm!) and the sample poems. A very well deserved Newbery for The Crossover!!

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  7. Terrific interview--thank you Michelle and Kwame! I am not a basketball fan (other than rooting for the spartans in march madness, because that is required in my house.) BUT I am a major fan of The Crossover--I love that it is both accessible and poetic!

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  8. Wonderful book, wonderful interview!

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  9. Oh my, thank you both for the laughs -- Kwame with his "my NOVEL" video and Michelle with her 53 rounds of proofreading. This interview was fun from top to bottom, and I'm so glad Kwame came to visit for Poetry Month. This non-sports fan also loved THE CROSSOVER for its heart and its rhythm. :)

    And now on to the clerihew! I don't know if I will write one, but I do like to say it. Clerihew! Clerihew!

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    1. Gesundheit. -Apologies to Jama, for stealing her line. :)

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  10. I'll try to write a clerihew. It is fun to say. Renee really enjoyed herself with it. LOL. Cannot wait to read Kwame's book. LOVED your interview. You tickled me, Michelle. I giggled throughout. Thank you so much, Kwame and Michelle. Great start to Poetry Month.

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    1. And I didn't even need a feather! :) Thanks for your nice comment, Robyn.

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  11. Another book I'm eager to read! Thanks for sharing this, Michelle, it's great to learn more about the book as well as Kwame.

    Oh...and I did notice one tiny little error, but I'll keep it to myself. ;)

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  12. I am both laughing out loud and being mortified with you about the title error, Michelle! Luckily, it was with Kwame who has to be the most kind and positive human being ever, and not someone with a huge ego. ;) Wonderful interview! With reading Renee's post and yours today, I am steeped in the beauty of poetry! (I have The Crossing and am embarrassed to admit I've not read it yet.)

    Have a lovely weekend!

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    1. LOL! Did you mean to write "The Crossing" in your last sentence, Teresa? See? It's an easy mistake to make! ;)

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    2. GAH! You put it in my head, Michelle...hahahaha! *wiping eyes* Oh, too funny!

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  13. As I read this wonderful post, I was reminded of an interview I did with an author for my blog and I kept calling him Matt. His name was Mark. He was very kind to me about it. I love Clerihews and will send you one. Thanks for this post.

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    1. Thanks, Rosi. Good to know I'm not the only one who makes silly mistakes. :) Thanks for jumping right in with a clerihew, too!

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  14. Kwame IS Da Man! Great interview, great book, and challenging challenge, Michelle. I've never written a clerihew, but I'm going to try! =)

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    1. Right on! Love your awesome attitude, Bridget! :)

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  15. Thanks for sharing this great interview. The more I learn about Kwame Alexander, the more I admire him. What a wonderful man! It's not surprising he wrote such a beautiful, powerful book.
    A clerihew? About a celebrity? This is going to take a while!

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  16. You are indeed the Luckiest Blogger Ever! What a coup for Poetry Month!

    Great interview. I love(d) the book, and the more I learn about the author, the more I love him, too!

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  17. What a wild "coincidence" that you had already booked Kwame and then he won the Newbery! I read the book several months ago, took it into the eighth grade, and haven't seen it since. Think I will probably have to buy myself another copy! If I can ever track it down, it will be fun to print out this interview and stick it inside. And I loved the video!

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    1. Oh no, Carol! I hope it finds its way back to you after making the rounds.

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  18. I can't imagine writing an entire novel in verse! I am impressed with Kwame's enormous talent. I can't wait to read The Crossover!

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  19. Michelle,
    Did you not get the double meaning of THE CROSSOVER? When I got to that part of the book it hit me like a ton of bricks (pardon the cliche). I was crying my eyes out and thought it was the most brilliant thing I'd seen in a long, long time. I love this book. There is a great richness to each of the poems. I even love how Kwame sneaks in a tanka in the middle of the book.

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    1. It IS a richly layered book, isn't it Joy? I love that the "crossover" theme can be interpreted in several ways. Kwame "Da Man" Alexander has done his job well. :)

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  20. Great interview, Michelle!! I loved The Crossover too, despite the fact that I know absolutely nothing about basketball (and most sports other than soccer since my daughter plays). I loved the different versions of verse. It has so much kid (and reluctant reader appeal). And Kwame just seems so down-to-earth!

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  21. Love "The Crossover" I think Kwame is truly Da Man with his advocacy work as well as his writing.

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  22. This is just so incredible and funny. I can so see me writing The Crossing too. Maybe Kwame could write a novel-in-verse about a crossing guard who secretly desires to be a javelin thrower ;) That video was so funny! I can't believe the timing of this. I finished reading The Crossover less than an hour ago. Best novel-in-verse I've ever read and I want more. The characters were so memorable and the competition fabulous. Thanks so much Michelle and congratulations Kwame.

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    1. Happy to provide a just-in-time blog posting experience for you, Catherine! :) It's great to know Kwame does have another novel on the way... even if it's not about a javelin-toting crossing guard. Perhaps next time.

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  23. So much goodness here that I just can't 'splain all my delight. Instead I will go off and begin my clerihew/double dactyl for this month's challenge. Thank you, lucky-prepared Michelle and talented-gracious Kwame!

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    1. A clerihew/double dactyl combo? Are you kidding? This I've got to see!

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  24. Wonderful interview, dear Michelle! How lovely to have Kwame Alexander right here - how absolutely awesome. I have yet to read The Crossover (no, not the crossing), so I am truly excited about this. I loved how he referred to a poem "to behave" and that chant of "YES" over and over again. Powerful! He does sound like a beautiful man.

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    1. Thank you, Myra. :) You read my mind – those were two of my favorite moments in the interview, as well!

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  25. Full confession: Didn't buy The Crossover until it won the medal (though I'd been hearing inklings and was oh-so intrigued!) and it's in my Read-it-Now-What-are-You-Waiting-For stack. Such a special treat to read this interview and get a glimpse of the generous spirit of Kwame A. - many thanks to you both! [ Extra stars in the crowns for Kwame Da Man's graciousness, and for your down-to-earth refreshing honesty, Michelle - I do love children's poetry people!]

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    1. If I can't share my most humbling moments among friends, who can I share them with? Stack's-a-waitin', Robyn! ;)

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  26. Michelle,
    Thank you for writing such a spectacular post on Kwame. Here's a little secret. He is a longtime friend of mine. I met him t the NYS English Council conference when he was one of the keynote speakers. I was immediately drawn to his charming personality and gift for storytelling. After meeting again at the NCTE Conference in NYC, I decided to bring him to my district for a series of workshops and the rest is history. Spaghetti at my house, keynote presentation at the Long Island Language Arts Council/Nassau Reading Council Conference, conversations...I have watched Kwame's career grow and thrilled for all of the accolades given to him. I am beyond proud to call him a friend. Clerihews were introduced to me many years ago by Kwame so perhaps, I can create just one.

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    1. No kidding, Carol– I can only imagine how proud you must be! I bet you make a mean spaghetti too. :)

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  27. Michelle, just in time to see if you are still up. Proud as can be so here is my clerihew to honor my friend, Kwame: http://beyondliteracylink.blogspot.com/2015/04/drum-roll-please-for-kwame-alexander.html.

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  28. I'm so happy to have found your fun blog. Thanks for the scoop on Crossover. I must read this book!

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  29. I'm reading this interview belatedly, Michelle. I loved The Crossover -- especially its playfulness on the page, which the two poems you excerpted show. I'm interested in learning more about the LEAP for Ghana program because I recently met a wonderful young poet from Ghana.

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