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The goal of this kids’ story about soccer? To foster a love of poetry

Nick Hall, the 12-year-old protagonist in Kwame Alexander’s latest novel-in-verse, “Booked,” is a soccer star who dreams of playing in the European Cup. Unfortunately, his days are filled with the more mundane challenges that confront most middle schoolers: humorless parents, demanding teachers, schoolyard bullies, unrequited crushes. His frustration boils over at his father in the poem “Breakdown.”

You take my phone,
you took Mom,
and now you want to
take away
the last good thing
in my freakin’ life:
SOCCER.

Alexander said his goal is to write books that kids aren’t going to be able to put down. “I use sports as my hook or metaphor to talk about family and friendships and crossing over from childhood to young adulthood.”

His previous book, “The Crossover,” was also in verse with basketball as the metaphor. Alexander says he employs poetry because he wants to remind both teenagers and adults how much they loved poetry as kids.

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

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

Alexander chose the title “Booked” because it works on several levels. It is the term used when a soccer player gets a penalty and his name is written in the referee’s book. It also refers to the fact that Nick initially doesn’t like to read but then gets hooked on literature. In that 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 back in love with words.

“Kids 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 metaphor, which distills emotional moments in a few words.”

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

RELATED: Jeffrey Brown talks to Kwame Alexander at the L.A. Times Festival of Books

Alexander is also at work on another teen novel in verse, a followup to “The Crossover.” And he hints that books about tennis and baseball might not be far off.

You can listen to Alexander read “The Beautiful Game.” Courtesy of Recorded Books.

The Beautiful Game

You’re pumped.
The match is tied
at the end

of extra time.
Players gather
at center circle

for the coin toss.
You call tails
and win.

Real Madrid scores
the first goal.
Ours bounces

off the left post.
They make
the next two

in a row.
We make three.
They miss

their final two.
It’s 3-3.
Your turn

to rev the engine,
turn on the jets.
Score, and you win.

Teammates
lock arms
for the final kick.

The crowd roars,
screams your name:
NICK HALL! NICK HALL! NICK HALL!

Like a greyhound
coursing game,
you take off

from twelve yards out,
winding
for the kill.

But right before
the winning kick
of your Barcelona debut,

Ms. Hardwick
streaks
across the field

in her heels and
purple polyester dress
yelling:

NICHOLAS HALL,
PAY
ATTENTION!


Kwame Alexander is a poet, educator, and New York Times Bestselling author of 21 books, including “Booked” and “The Crossover,” which received the 2015 John Newbery Medal for the Most Distinguished Contribution to American literature for Children. Alexander writes for children of all ages. His other works include a picture book called “Surf’s UP”, “Crush: Love Poems for Teenagers” and “He Said, She Said.”

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