Kids story

The purpose of this children’s football story? Cultivate the love of poetry

Nick Hall, the 12-year-old protagonist of Kwame Alexander’s latest verse novel “Booked”, is a football star who dreams of playing the European Cup. Sadly, her days are filled with the more mundane challenges most college kids face: humorless parents, demanding teachers, schoolyard bullies, unshared crushes. Her frustration spills over into her father in the poem “Breakdown”.

You take my phone
you took mom,
and now you want
to take with
the last good thing
in my fucking life:

Alexander said his goal was to write books that children couldn’t let go of. “I use sport as my hook or metaphor for talking about family and friendships and moving from childhood to young adulthood.”

His previous book, “The Crossover,” was also in verse with basketball as a metaphor. Alexander says he uses poetry because he wants to remind teens and adults how much they loved poetry as children.

WATCH MORE: Jeffrey Brown talks to Kwame Alexander about basketball and poetry

“When we were 3, 4 and 5, we loved poetry. This is how we learned to communicate. We loved the musicality and rhythm and rhyme of Dr Seuss. We loved “Fox in Socks”. But something happens after elementary school that scares the children.

Alexander chose the title “Reserved” because it works on several levels. This is the term used when a football player gets a penalty and his name is written in the referee’s book. It also refers to the fact that Nick doesn’t like to read at first, but then becomes addicted to literature. In this sense, the book is more autobiographical than his previous books. While his main character is forced by his father to read dictionaries, Alexander was forced to read encyclopedias, which almost destroyed his love of books. Ultimately, he says poetry made him fall in love with words again.

“Children appreciate poetry and verse. Because it’s so concise. It’s not intimidating – there is so much white space on the page. And because of the metaphor, which distills moments of emotion in a few words.

Getting children interested in reading and writing became Alexander’s mission. Ten years ago, he started a “Book in a Day” program that has been used in over 76 schools. Alexander leads an intensive two-day workshop in which students write and publish a book of poems. This year he started a partnership with Scholastic Books, hoping to expand the program to more schools.

RELATED: Jeffrey Brown chats with Kwame Alexander at the LA Times Festival of Books

Alexander is also working on another teenage novel in verse, a sequel to “The Crossover”. And he hints that the tennis and baseball books might not be far off.

You can listen to Alexander read “The Beautiful Game”. Courtesy of Saved books.

The beautiful game

You are pumped.
The match is tied
at the end

extra time.
The players come together
in the center of the circle

for the draw.
You call tails
and win.

Real Madrid scores
the first goal.
Ours bounces back

on the left post.
They do
the next two

in a row.
We are doing three.
They miss

their last two.
It’s 3-3.
Your turn

run the engine,
turn on the jets.
Score, and you win.

locking arm
for the final kick.

The crowd is screaming,
shout your name:

Like a greyhound
racing game,
you take off

at twelve meters,
to kill him.

But just before
the winning kick
of your beginnings in Barcelona,

Mrs. Hardwick
across the field

in his heels and
purple polyester dress


Kwame Alexander is a poet, educator and New York Times bestselling author of 21 books, including “Reserve” and “CrossingWhich received the 2015 John Newbery Medal for Most Distinguished Contribution to American Children’s Literature. Alexander writes for children of all ages. His other works include a picture book titled “Surf’s UP”, “Crush: love poems for adolescents” and “He said she said.”

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