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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Booked, written by Kwame Alexander. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2016. $23.99 ages 10 and up

"1 on 1

like lightning
you strike
fast and free
legs zoom
eyes fixed
on the checkered ball
on the goal
ten yards to go ... "

Nick Hall has a lot on his mind. It affects his school work because he never seems to be paying attention. He's a star soccer player whose best friend didn't make the A team, and now plays for the opposition. Both teams have an important tournament on the horizon. He is interested in April and wishes he had the courage to talk to her. He is being bullied at school. Then, there's home ...

Nick's father is a writer and professor of linguistics ... a collector of words. Nick is tasked by him to read daily about words (they make you smarter) from his father's book, Weird and Wonderful Words.
He is also well aware of the tension that exists between his parents. Even so, their separation plans take him totally by surprise.

“it’s like a bombshell
right in the center
 of your heart
 and it splatters
all across your life.”

Just when he thinks that talking to a counsellor is the worst thing that could happen, he sustains an injury that requires surgery and brings an end to his soccer season. His home life assures that Nick knows about words. Still, he has always avoided reading. With his mom away working at a job she loves, Nick is forced to spend even more time with his demanding father. It is not a happy home. Can reading turn the tide and make things better?

Kwame Alexander has written another remarkable novel in verse. Nick is a very likable 12 year old soccer star. The secondary characters are exemplary in helping to paint a picture of a young man facing his coming-of-age with challenges. Readers who love sports will be inspired by the soccer game scenarios. Those who love quality characters will find them here. Teachers and librarians will love Mr. Mac who encourages Nick to focus his attention on something he can do, rather than something he cannot. Reading provides that focus:

"The poems
were cool.
The best ones were
like bombs,
and when all the right words
came together
it was like an explosion.
So good, I
didn't want it to end.
I give it
and 8.6.
For the long text."

Just writing this post assures that I am going to read it again!

As an aside, I love what Kwame Alexander has to say about verse novels:

"The power of poetry is that you can take these emotionally heavy moments in our lives, and you can distill them into these palatable, these digestible words and lines and phrases that allow us to be able to deal and cope with the world," he says. "I think it's one of the reasons why young people love reading novels in verse. It's because, on a very concrete level, it's not that many words so it's not that intimidating to me. There's so much white space." And what's that white space for? Alexander says he learned that lesson himself from a young reader. "I remember one kid telling me it's for the imagination, it's for the spiritual journey that the reader takes. And I think kids get into it. I tell teachers all the time: you want kids to get excited and get engaged with language and literature? Use poetry. It is a surefire way."

I concur.

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