Friday, March 21, 2014

Madness in March and My Man, Alexander: Cockledoodle doo it's spring! @kwamealexander @writingproject

On Wednesday I sneezed. It was a single 'hatchoo,' but I knew it was the Mucinex Monster moving in - I avoided him all winter. Yesterday, too, when I woke up, that green goblin moved  a few of his cousins in with him, but I had a full agenda. No time to be sick.

When I arrived to my office, I learned that 100 copies of Kwame Alexander's The Crossover arrived - a text I am using with middle school teachers and students at Hill Central in preparation of their poetry slam, a month of verse exploration, and best practices for teaching language. Naturally, I was stoked when Kyle Koncz, Director of Basketball Operations, did a shout out to the Stags and Malcolm Gilbert stepped it up with his 7'2 wingspan. He successfully shelved three more copies of the book on his arms than I (Kwame Alexander thinks he might be able to support twelve books, but I've yet to see it, cough cough).

And since it's March madness, it is a good time to share my Final Four reasons why Alexander's The Crossover is a must-have text for libraries, schools and homes (heck, in all sports complexes across the United States).
  1. Earlier this week, the NYTimes reported what urban educators like me have known for at least three decades: there's a tremendous lack of minority characters in children's and young adult literature. Some students, as a result, have very few experiences for seeing themselves in school texts and rarely have opportunities to explore contexts of their own lives in school. The Crossover, however, is a step towards filling this cultural gap. The book is more representative of, in poetic verse, the lives lived by many 21st century youth in schools today - especially those who love the game of basketball.
  2. I've said for years, "Someone needs to write the book that unites hooping with young adult literature in a new and exciting way." Keith Williams and DeShawn Fowler of Louisville, used to hear me dream every time we entered Papa John's Stadium to see the Cards play. "Seriously," I'd contemplate with them, knowing my inner capitalist was triggered "Whenever I see so many people congregated in one space, I want to write the book they'd all want to read. I would hit a gold mine." I'm happy to say, albeit in with green envy, that Kwame Alexander achieved this dream for me. Student athletes have greater g.p.a's, higher graduate rates, and are better equipped to transition from high school into college. Athletes have grit and it is logical to introduce them to stories they can relate to. Books about athletic characters are always inspiring.
  3. In a time of Common Core State Standards, I continue to worry about how our nation's love for testing ($$$) will continue to destroy creativity, the arts, and the power of prose in American schools. Whether they like to or not, teachers are forced and monitored to teach to state examinations, and sadly the objectives of the new standards give little attention to poetry, craft, and originality. In fact, they define language arts as robotic, trite, and dry (a throwback to the thinking of the 1950s). For this reason, The Crossover is much needed. I, for one, know exactly where I'd fit it into my curriculum. Alexander's zest for words (and vocabulary), coupled with his playfulness and narrative talents, will allow me plenty of opportunities to discuss language and narrative pace with students and teachers. I will use the text to encourage students and teachers to be writers, themselves....the National Writing Project model, at work.
  4. Finally, Josh and Jordan Bell are young men who learn to stand for integrity. Their mother, a school administrator, pushes the importance of academic success and strong vocabulary on her sons. Their father, a role model who once played professional basketball, invests in his sons with  respect, purpose, and pride. The Bell family, as a whole, will help educators like myself to discuss skills for life: focus, sense of humor, self-esteem, self-awareness, responsibility, Ubuntu, integrity, and responsibility (skills I  learned from Community of Unity and Hoops4Hope). With Alexander's reflective, poetic narration, several conversations around these skills can occur, especially on dialogue for what it takes to achieve in and out of school. 
My personal wingspan is 10 books, yet mine doesn't matter. What matters is the larger lifespan of The Crossover within youth communities, libraries, and schools across the United States. 

Obviously, I'm a huge fan and have already purchased several copies for the work I'm doing in New Haven, Connecticut. I've already found myself struggling to keep the copies of the texts to one school alone. Just yesterday, in fact, several young men were walking home from school in my neighborhood, and I saw them dribbling a basketball between them. They were wearing warm-up gear and looked as if they were coming from a practice. I wanted to stop my car, open the trunk, and show them the bounty of The Crossover books I have. I wanted to ask each, "What's your wingspan? I have a book you must read!" 

Literacy, I advocate, is surely one way to fly.

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