For Kwame Alexander, a Resounding “Yes”
Through multiple revisions and repeated rejections, Kwame Alexander continued to believe that the book that would become The Crossover was “the best thing I’d ever written.” It seemed like no one would agree with him—18 editors turned down the manuscript, leaving Alexander to settle on publishing it himself—before one company finally bought the book. It was a smart choice: Published last year, The Crossover was awarded the 2015 Newbery Medal as the best children’s book of the year.
On Thursday, Alexander was on campus to accept another honor: the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, give annually for “the most outstanding new book of children’s poetry.” The award is named for Hopkins, the prolific children’s poet and Scranton native, and presented by the Penn State Libraries and the Pennsylvania Center for the Book. For Alexander, who remembered reading Hopkins as a child and then reading Hopkins to his own daughter, said receiving the award “felt like coming full circle.”
The Crossover started, Alexander says, as “a book of poems that were linked. I didn’t realize it was a story.” The final version, a “novel in verse,” tells the story of tight-knit, basketball-loving twin brothers who face conflict and family tragedy. The book’s bumpy path to publishing—Alexander say he was told “boys don’t like poetry, and girls don’t like basketball”—taught him to “accept the no’s.” After absorbing all that rejection, the eventual “yes” was that much sweeter.
An eager advocate for the use of poetry in education, Alexander called the form “the bridge that gets students to appreciate language and literature.” With a freshly signed copy of The Crossover in hand, I’m looking forward to sharing that bridge with my own kids this weekend.
Ryan Jones, senior editor