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Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Crossover, written by Kwame Alexander. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son. 2014. $19.99 ages 10 and up

"Basketball Rule #3
Never let anyone
lower your goals.
Others' expectations
of you are determined
by their limitations
of life.
The sky is your limit, sons.
Always shoot
for the sun
and you will shine."

Bret and I are pretty caught up in the final series between San Antonio and Miami in the NBA basketball finals. I don't mind telling you that we are bleeding black and silver, and can hardly wait for tonight's game. Reading this terrific verse novel about basketball twins Josh and Jordan has only upped my impatience for it to get started.

Their father is a hoops legend who played in Europe, and the boys are lucky to have the drive and talent to play competitively as they approach their thirteenth birthday. As the season progresses, changes, both big and small, have Josh thinking seriously about life, and sharing his thoughts with us. Losing a bet leads to allowing Jordan to cut off Josh's long, lucky dreads. Jordan is showing more interest in a girl than in the game. Josh is too often privy to arguments and worries between his parents. His mother wants his father to see a doctor about lingering health issues. His father has earlier refused to have the knee surgery that would have allowed him to play basketball longer, and his mother is now concerned about his blood pressure. Going to the doctor is not an option for his father.

As his anger builds over these events for which he has no control, he takes it out on his brother on the basketball court:

"Today, I plan on passing the ball to JB,
but when I hear him say "FILTHY,
give me the ball," I dribble
over to my brother

and fire a pass
so hard,
it levels him,
the blood

from his nose
still shooting
long after the shot -
clock buzzer goes off."

Can things get worse? Apparently, they can.

Kwame Alexander does an exceptional job of creating a strong, rich voice that allows his audience to experience the relationships and lessons learned in this one pivotal basketball season. Full of emotions ranging from elation to devastating loss, readers will follow the action from first page to last with the speed of a basketball game. I couldn't put it down; it is a perfect read for your students who love sports stories. If they love rap and hip-hop, they will be equally impressed!

The 10 Rules of Basketball in the Bell household are shared at various points in the story, beginning with:

"Basketball Rule #1

In this game of life
your family is the court
and the ball is your heart.
No matter how good you are,
no matter how down you get,
always leave
your heart
on the court."

and ending with:

"Basketball Rule #10

A loss is inevitable,
like snow in winter.
True champions
to dance
the storm."

Are you listening, LeBron?

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