Interview with Kwame Alexander
Published on: 24 April 2018 Author: Emily Drabble
We were so lucky to have Kwame Alexander, the amazing author of Booked, Rebound and The Crossover, in the office. Check out his hilarious and insightful interview.
Read an abbreviated version of the interview below:
Kwame Alexander, interviewed by Emily Drabble
Booked is about a boy that loves football and hates reading, were you anything like your main character Nick when you were growing up?
When I grew up I had parents who emersed me in books. They made me read everything. And when I was little, I read books that were really fun. Doctor Seuss, Fox in Socks, Eggs and Ham. I read really cool poetry books. Like it was amazing. And then when I turned 11 my father started making me read the encyclopedia. It was horrible. I hated reading the encyclopedia! And then, get this, he made me read his dissertations. The papers he wrote at grad school to get his doctorate. So at aged 12 I hated books! I did not like books anymore because people were making me read books I didn't want to read. Nobody said, give him a book he'll love; so I was much like Nick in booked. I didn't like books at all.
Why do you write verse novels? What do you think is the power of poetry?
In my father's garage I started finding books on poetry which were awesome because they were short. They had complete stories in five lines. I found I could get into poetry. Many of the books I read as a teenager were love poems. So I started thinking reading can be fun and cool, maybe I'll read more poetry and that's how I found my way back to loving reading. And I think that's why I write novels in verse now, because I love all the white space. I love the rhythm, the rhyme and figurative language and I like how you can say so much in so few words. I like to tell a stories that are powerful and emotional in a few lines.
What message do you have for children and teens who think they don't like reading?
If you don't like reading, I get it. I think you've got to read poetry. Pick out one poem. Poetry rocks ya'll.
Nick is paid 5 minutes of TV for every page read of his book by his dad in Booked. Is this a recommended technique by you?
My daughter likes to watch a lot of screen time, she's got an ipod, she watches TV. When I grew up we had no TV. We had to read books! I tried to do that in my house but my wife wouldn't let me. Apparently we need one in the house because we need it for the news. Go figure. My daughter wants to watch everything. I tell her for every 15 minutes of TV you've got to read one chapter of a book. That's the rules. Read then you can watch TV. I found she ends up reading for like hours and by the time she's finished she's got to go to bed with no more screen time. Ha!
How important are librarians like The Mac in Booked?
I think librarians are so important because they help kids imagine a better world with the books they have on the shelves. Can you imagine going to a place where you can get a book that's full of knowledge, power, inspiration, energy, dreams and what's possible? And you get it for free!
Do you write your books especially to reach all kinds of readers and all kinds of kids or is that just what happens naturally?
I write books because I want to help young people imagine a better world. Do I write books for children? No, I write books that hopefully children are going to love and their parents are going to love. Ultimately I write books that I would have wanted to read at their age and I want to read now. Because if I don't like my book the chances of you liking it are probably zero. I'm writing for me to feel inspired and empowered and hopefully you're going to feel the same.
Can you tell us a bit about how you write and how your books go so fast?
That's the way I know how to write. That's what I like. I like rhythm and I like rhyme. I have a new book Rebound and it's the prequel to my book The Crossover, and I tried to use some rhythm and rhyme in that. It's about the father in the Crossover when he's 12 years old. His name is Chuck Bell and he does not know how to play basketball. If you read the Crossover you know he's a famous basketball player, so how does he get there? (listen to Kwame reading a poem from The Crossover here). What kid isn't going to want to get into that. I think sports can be a great hook to get kids involved in reading.
Do you think it's important for kids to 'see themselves' in a book?
Yes. Of course. Equally important is for students NOT to see themselves in books and to see you in a book. Like books are mirrors. You've got to be able to see what's possible, I can overcome that challenge, I can get over grief or I can fall in love, I can do what's impossible because I read it in a book. But this kid over here is just like me, he may not look like me, sound like me, live near me, he may live on the other side of the world, but I can become a little bit more connected to people who don't look, think or act like me. But here's the thing books are also like windows. I've got to see outside myself so I can become more empathetic to the world. Books are about me understanding me. Books are also about me understanding you.
Why do you include recommendations for other great books in your books?
Books are like amusement parks and sometimes children get to pick the rides. It's the only thing that matters. I write books that are maybe like a rollercoaster, but there are books that are like candy floss, books like the spider, like the water park. There are so many rides and I can only be part of one. I think it's so important to be able to share other rides with young people and give them choice. Choice is so important in developing a lifelong love of literature! So why not Karen Hesse's Out of the Dust? Why not Moonrise by Sarah Crossan? Why not Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, why not Love that Dog by Sharon Creech. There are so many rides at the park. Let your children choose!
How important is it to have more diversity in books?
Let's have more diversity in our lives. Diversity in books will naturally come. So many times publishers and organisations are looking in mirrors. It's no point us saying books need to be more diverse. We need to be more diverse so we can have more people in our circle. More people at the kitchen table. For so long there's only been a few people at the table, and it's time to start inviting more people in our homes. Diversify our lives and then yeah let's make sure there are more books representing more communities and cultures. Because here's a cool thing; it makes us a better people, a better community, a better world when we embrace people right in our midst.
Kwame Alexander's new book Rebound, the prequel to The Crossover is out now (published by Andersen Press). His previous title Booked was included within our School Library pack for 2017.
Check out our review of Kwame's book Rebound
Author: Kwame Alexander
It’s 1988 and Charlie Bell is 12 and going through the hardest time in his life. But while staying with his grandparents, he is introduced to basketball and jazz – and everything changes. Rebound is funny, moving and almost impossible not to read in one sitting.
More from Kwame
Listen to Kwame read a poem from Booked.
Find your child's next great read!