Around 300 people have filled the Performing Arts Center at Meyerland Middle School in Houston on a Sunday in April. They are here for an intriguing reason—award-winning author Kwame Alexander is giving a talk about his newest book, Rebound, a prequel to one of his other books, Crossover.
In the first book, we meet twins Jordan and Josh, who are big-time basketball stars at their junior high. The story shows a lot about their passion for the game and the importance of family. In Rebound, Alexander goes back in time, so we get a look at Josh and Jordan’s dad, Chuck—also a basketball great—and how he coped with the loss of his own father, and found his way to the court.
It’s typical for authors to do a book tour after publishing a new piece. However, this is not your typical author visit. First off, he arrives in a huge tour bus that has the cover of Rebound on it. It is a sight to see. Then comes the personality. Alexander sings, dances, and recites poetry from his books with the audience. He answers questions from kids and adults, gives thoughtful answers, and offers many personal anecdotes.
“Kwame is a huge name in children’s literature,” says Krupa Parikh, the communications director for Inprint, the local literary arts nonprofit organization that set up this event. “Our goal is to inspire children to read and write literature, and he exemplifies that.”
Not everyone in the audience had read Alexander’s books, but kids seemed interested in the topic. “I wanted to come today because his books are about basketball, and I love basketball,” said 10-year-old Mary from nearby Spring Branch.
After the talk, I spoke with Alexander about writing, his childhood, and the lessons he hopes kids take from his books.
Your books Rebound, Crossover, and Booked are all in poetry form. Why did you decide to do that?
I think that poetry is the coolest language on earth because you can say a lot about big topics in a few words and people can handle it. I love writing in rhyme and verse. I think it’s a great way to get young people excited about words and literature. It makes the reading process much more exciting.
In Rebound, Chuck is not the most gifted athlete, but over time he gets better. What message do you have for readers who aren’t the most gifted athletes but have a lot of heart?
When I was your age, I played tennis, and I wasn’t that good when I started. I was the number 12 seed out of 12. But then, as I practiced, I became the number one player in the district. You may not be able to achieve something at the beginning, but if you are persistent and put in the work—you can be a star. Be a star in your mind, day and night—let it shine!
What made you write the prequel to Crossover? Was it because you want the reader to know about the role parents play?
Kids don’t think of their parents as people, but your parents had a life before you! Your parents are really cool when you think about it, but you don’t think about it. I wanted people to see that a parent had experiences outside his family so that kids could understand their parents’ story better and who they are going to become.
Were you a sports fan growing up?
I liked boxing and tennis. Some people I enjoyed watching were Yannick Noah, Bjorn Borg, and Muhammad Ali. I really liked tennis—it was my sport.
Even though tennis is your sport, you write a lot about basketball. Did you ever wish that you played basketball instead of tennis?
I liked basketball a lot and wished I played it for a while, but then I became the best tennis player in the district, so it didn’t really matter!
What lessons can we learn from Rebound and Crossover?
Surround yourself with people who are going to help you rebound on and off the court. You’ve got to have a team, whether you are a writer, a student, or anything else. If you’re a student, you have to have friends around you who are going to help you study, you have to have teachers who are going to teach you, librarians who will encourage you to have books. Your team has got to have people who say “yes” to life. You can’t have “no” people around you. Because if you have “no” people around you, they are going to try to bring you down. Surround yourself with people who are going to help you be prepared to always grab the ball. That’s the message.
Photographs by: RM Photography (2, at Meyerland Middle School); Jaisal Kalapatapu (in front of bus)