Genre: Parents

An Award Winner: The Crossover (2014) by Kwame Alexander

An Award Winner: The Crossover (2014) by Kwame AlexanderThe Crossover by Kwame Alexander
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on 2014
Genres: Basketball, Family, Middle Grade, Novel in Verse, Parents, Poetry, Realistic, School & Education, Siblings, Sports & Recreation
Pages: 237
Goodreads
five-stars

2015 Newbery Medal Winner 2015 Coretta Scott King Honor Award Winner "With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . .The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I'm delivering," announces dread-locked, 12-year old Josh Bell. He and his twin brother Jordan are awesome on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood, he's got mad beats, too, that tell his family's story in verse, in this fast and furious middle grade novel of family and brotherhood from Kwame Alexander (He Said, She Said 2013).    Josh and Jordan must come to grips with growing up on and off the court to realize breaking the rules comes at a terrible price, as their story's heart-stopping climax proves a game-changer for the entire family.

Where were you at the end of January? Did you listen to the live stream of the ALA youth media awards?!? Or were you there? Even if you weren’t there or didn’t listen, you may know that the winner of the Newbery Award, the most prestigious award in children’s literature, for 2014, went to The Crossover by Kwame Alexander.

Today I want to tell you my thoughts about this powerful and stunning novel in verse—sure to appeal to male AND female readers. It left a lasting impression on me, and I’m curious to know what others thought.

I was lucky enough to hear Alexander speak during lunch at the recent New England regional conference for the Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators in Massachusetts. What a fabulous speaker! He even shared a poem at the end of his talk, which left the audience moved and wanting more.

This snippet from his award winning novel is just one example of his perfect metaphors:

In this game of life

Your family is the court

And the ball is your heart.

What I Loved:

The relationship between the Brothers: Josh and Jordan Bell are twins, and they share a lot, including a passion and gift for basketball. They love their mother and father dearly, and their father, once a famous basketball player himself, plays a strong role in the story. One aspect of this book I loved, though, was the depiction of the relationship between the brothers. It’s from Josh’s point of view that we hear the story, and over the course of 237 pages, these thirteen year old twins go through quite a bit. Sure, their relationship has some bumps along the way, but ultimately their connection endures its test, and their love for their family stands strong. With each poem titled, I think Alexander exceptionally described the strength and uniqueness of the twins’ relationship.

The imagery: Wow! Is one way to express how I feel about Alexander’s imagery. Whether it’s “arms as heavy as sea anchors,” “JB’s eyes are ocean wide,” or “to push water uphill,” this novel in verse is chock full of stunning language and rhythm that will reinforce the power of a narrative told in verse. And if you like basketball, you definitely can’t pass up the chance to read The Crossover. You’ll feel like you’re in the court with Josh and JB and right in the middle of the action. Check out “Fast Break” on page 149, for example.

Illuminations of Spirituality:

The Connections Among Family: There’s no way I can’t mention a spiritual aspect of this book as it relates to the profound connections within family. Josh’s mother and father both play an important role in the story, and this book definitely wouldn’t be the same without them in it. There’s no doubt that Josh and JB love their parents, and they’re influenced (for the better) by both of them. When tragedy strikes their home, it’s even more apparent how strong their family bonds actually are. The story is a testament to the importance of our families, and also the significance of honoring what our parents have sacrificed for us, their children.

Who Should Read This Book:

I’ll probably recommend this book to just about everyone—one reason being that this book won the Newbery and I think it’s important to read the books that win the major awards (even if only to consider what the committee deemed noteworthy that year). However, this novel in verse is a quick read, powerful, and beautiful. I loved it, and though I have to admit that I may have cried a little, the story is worth it. I will genuinely miss Josh’s voice, and will just have to go hunt down more of Alexander’s work.

What did you think about the award winning books this year? Have you read any of them? Are there any novels in verse you think I must read?

five-stars
What Katie Read

Mini Review: I’ll Meet You There (2015) by Heather Demetrios

Mini Review: I’ll Meet You There (2015) by Heather DemetriosI'll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios
Published by Macmillan on February 3rd 2015
Genres: Adolescence, Contemporary, Family, Love & Romance, Parents, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 400
Goodreads
four-stars

If seventeen-year-old Skylar Evans were a typical Creek View girl, her future would involve a double-wide trailer, a baby on her hip, and the graveyard shift at Taco Bell. But after graduation, the only thing standing between straightedge Skylar and art school are three minimum-wage months of summer. Skylar can taste the freedom--that is, until her mother loses her job and everything starts coming apart. Torn between her dreams and the people she loves, Skylar realizes everything she's ever worked for is on the line.Nineteen-year-old Josh Mitchell had a different ticket out of Creek View: the Marines. But after his leg is blown off in Afghanistan, he returns home, a shell of the cocksure boy he used to be. What brings Skylar and Josh together is working at the Paradise--a quirky motel off California's dusty Highway 99. Despite their differences, their shared isolation turns into an unexpected friendship and soon, something deeper.

Likes:

-Demetrios highlights the effects of PTSD on a soldier, his friends, and the community he returns to, and she doesn’t sugarcoat it. This is a very real and significant condition for many soldiers returning from the Middle East, and I like that the book points out how important it is to support these returning soldiers—male and female. In that sense, this book has a call to action, and I love that. When books motivate the reader to think differently about an issue or to act differently or to do something, I’d say that is a powerful book. And I’ll Meet You There is in that category, in my opinion.

-Sky and Josh! I love the way their friendship develops and evolves into something more. Both of them have their own brokenness, but they are aware that the connection between them is important. Though there are bumps along the way, I think they both understand that some relationships are worth fighting for.

“It felt so good to be full, but there were parts of me that still felt empty and hungry, and I could tell it was the same with Josh.”

-Sky and her art! I like that Sky turns to collage at many points in the story—when she’s happy, and when she’s sad. Art is therapeutic for her, and I can relate to this. Collage is one of my outlets, and I’m always clipping images and words out of magazines for a new creation.

“The mess of my life, of Creek View, of the summer, had been transformed into something beautiful.”

-California references. Since I grew up in California and actually had family living in Fresno, our family took road trips often to the central part of the state. It was cool to read about these places and be able to visualize them easily—in fact, when I started this book I was actually driving on Highway 99 the very next day!

Why I Think You Should Read This Book:

-Heather Demetrios is another author I’m going to watch closely because I think her Contemporary YA is excellent—I recently posted my review of Emery Lord’s The Start of Me and You and I admitted that I don’t read a lot of Contemporary YA. I feel like I’ve lucked out recently because both of these books were beautiful and though they both took me a little longer to read (due to other reading obligations, etc.), I absolutely applauded their conclusions, and I would definitely recommend them.

This book is heartbreaking in parts and raw, but it’s worth it. Her story doesn’t make the world out to be a cheery place all the time, but there is hope embedded in the narrative.

**Be aware that there is quite a bit strong language in this one—if that’s something you’re concerned about, you might want to preview the book first. Of course, I understand why she included the language in the story—it reflects the way Josh and Sky talk and express frustration, etc. But there is quite a bit of it, just to warn you.

I’ll Meet You There is wonderful! It may be difficult to read in parts, because of its content, but you won’t forget these characters soon, and you’ll close the book recognizing that hope and love can win in the end.

Today is the Monthly Classic Middle Grade Discussion at The Midnight Garden for The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I’m excited, and I’ll be heading over there as soon as I finish my reading. Look for a special post from me tomorrow!

four-stars
What Katie Read

Endings Can Be Beginnings: Counting by 7s (2013) by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Endings Can Be Beginnings: Counting by 7s (2013) by Holly Goldberg SloanCounting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Published by Penguin on August 29th 2013
Genres: Family, Parents, School & Education
Pages: 400
Goodreads

Suggested age range: 9 and up

“And endings are always the beginnings of something else.”

The Book:

This heartwarming story opens with a tragedy, but is surprisingly hopeful and unique throughout the rest of the novel. In the narrative, we meet twelve year-old genius, Willow, who counts by sevens, is a math whiz, and loves making things grow. The story charts Willo’ws journey to discovering a community and a new family. The beauty and wonder of the natural world is celebrated through Willow’s reflective and unique perspective of her surroundings.

Spirituality in Counting by 7s:

Willow’s journey into becoming comfortable with herself, a girl without parents, is one spiritual aspect of the story. I was particularly interested in the way the author revealed Willow’s spirituality though her gardening. The people Willow encounters affect her spiritual identity, and with them she develops community. The way Willow’s community support and love her represents a part of the story I fell in love with—as a reader I was cheering for Willow and the search for her to discover a place in a community that would value her. Her discovery of these people and  of a purpose really made this a strong book for me.

Who Should Read This Book:

This middle grade novel is similar to ones by Kate DiCamillo in that I think it’s a story almost any age would enjoy. Whether you’re twelve or twenty, I think you can appreciate this story and Willow’s journey as she navigates a world without family. Readers may discover some aspects of Willow’s journey to relate to—we are all searching for belonging and identity in some way, and this journey doesn’t stop at a certain age, though it may become easier.

Using this book with young readers? After reading the book, you could give your readers the opportunity to either journal in response to a question such as: What is one thing in your life that makes you feel like you belong?” or draw a picture about something in the book they liked. Arts-based response would be fabulous with this book. Either way, there is a lot of potential for curriculum with upper elementary students, or any age for that matter. Discussion is a must for any activity that you use with your young readers.

The Final Word:

The book is refreshing in the way it’s not predictable and features some surprising turns. That’s one of the reasons why I give this book such a high rating. I leave you with a quote from the book that relates well to that notion:

“What we expect rarely occurs; what we don’t expect is what happens.”

This 2013 story is not to be missed, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the book, in spite of my worries about it being too sad initially. Don’t be put off by the potentially tragic premise—Sloan’s novel is brilliant!

 

 

 

What Katie Read
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