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Author Uses Poetry To Get Kids To Read

 October 24, 2019 at 10:34 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 New York times bestselling author and educator, Kwame Alexander has dedicated himself to getting kids excited about reading his book, crossover his. This year's one book, one San Diego selection for teens. KPBS evening edition host Maya Tribole C spoke with Kwame Alexander. Here's that interview. Kwame Alexander. Thank you so much for coming. Thanks for having me. Let's talk about reading. I have a ravenous reader, but I also have another child who forgive the pun and uses every excuse in the book not to read. Right. What advice would you give to a parent who is suffering the same as I am? Speaker 2: 00:34 Books or amusement parks and sometimes you gotta let kids choose the rides. It's not about getting a kid to read the book. We think they want to read, find the book that's gonna connect with them, find out what about that book is going to make that kid feel engaged, inspired, empowered. My parents, well, my mother got it. My father didn't get it. My father made me read his dissertations, his college dissertations. He made me read books in the dictionary and the encyclopedia. And I had teachers like that and I just think, you know, adults, parents, teachers, librarians, educators, we've got to help kids find those books that are not just going to make them read but make them want to read. And that requires us to know our kids. Do they play basketball? Are they into gaming? Um, do they like flowers? Do they like birds? Do they like animals dogs and find those books that are going to have some of those themes, those topics that are going to make them feel sort of cool Speaker 1: 01:29 and want to read more to read more. And your book, the crossover, it's part of KPBS is one book for teens and it's a new [inaudible]. It's got a really unique narration style where you use long form poetry. Right. Tell us about how that nuance storytelling draws people in. Speaker 2: 01:46 Um, I think poetry is rhythmic. It's concise, it's short. And to the point you talk about sort of really heavy things and you can do it in a few words. There's a lot of white space. And so even the most reluctant of readers can say, well, I can get through that. I can make it through that. It's not intimidating to the eye. I think poetry builds confidence. I think it triggers voice. Um, I found poetry. My mother read to me a lot of poetry growing up. Um, it's, it's how I learned how to communicate. And if you think about it, my, it's how most of us learn how to communicate when we're little speaking, listening, um, reading and writing by the lullabies and the nursery rhymes and, and that kinda thing. I think where I finally realized that poetry was the thing that I wanted to, to do, to be a part of. I was in college and I met this girl and, and she was beautiful and I wanted to let her know that, but I was kinda shy. So I wrote her a poem, uh, lips like yours ought to be worshiped. See, I ain't never been too religious, but you can baptize me anytime. Speaker 1: 02:46 And she ended up marrying me. Poetry works and works and works well. That's a great story. Yeah. Tell us about your regular contributions to NPRs morning edition and you introduced the idea of crowdsourced poetry. What is that exactly? Yeah, Rachel Martin Speaker 2: 03:04 and I came up with this idea that we can, you know, help Americans through this sort of trying period that we've been in that has proven very stressful, not only for the adults but for the kids. And how do we find our way, you know, to a place of peace, of calm in the midst of a world that may not be so beautiful sometimes. And I posited that poetry can be that bridge that allows us to crossover into becoming more human. And so we thought, well, we'll introduce poetry and we'll not just read poetry or share poetry or talk about the origins of a poem, but we'll sort of, you know, model how a poem can become a center for community. And so this idea of a people in different communities being able to write a poem and then us taking a sections or lines or words from those poems and creating this, this, this community poem as as we call it, or crowdsource poetry. And it's had such a great response all across America. Speaker 1: 04:04 What did you learn from that experience? Speaker 2: 04:06 I learned the thing that I've known for a while and most of us have it, that poetry still resonates with us that we don't even know we love it. We've forgotten that poetry has become this sort of stayed in comprehensible thing in our minds. In fourth and fifth grade, third grade, we're reading Shel Silverstein. Yeah. By 11th and 12th grade we're reading Shakespeare and teachers don't understand why kids aren't into it. You can't go from Shel Silverstein to Shakespeare. That's a huge leap. Where is the bridge to get us there? And so what I've learned during this experience at morning edition is that poetry can be that bridge. If you can find that cool, accessible, relatable poetry that makes us feel something. Speaker 1: 04:50 I'd like to talk about the crossover, which is the book that we're using here at KPBS to get kids into reading. What would they love about this book? Speaker 2: 04:58 Wow. I think every kid has some relationship to basketball that they are play player. They know somebody who plays it, they watch it, you know? So there, so there's already that connection. And I think that what I tried to do in the crossover is used basketball as a metaphor for our lives. And I think if a kid, you know, hears or reads dribble fake shoot, miss dribble, fake shoot, miss dribble, fake shoot, miss dribble, fake shoot, swish, I think they're going to get it. And that's what I want. I want kids to come away from this book thinking, yeah, I get it. I gotta say yes to life. I got to treasure my family. I got to be a star in my mind and I got to let it shine. Speaker 1: 05:44 Call me. Alexandra, thank you so much for your time. We loved having you here. Thank you all so much for having me. Kwame Alexander's book, the crossover is KPBS is one book, one San Diego for teens. You can find out more, including information about one books for teens. Speaker 3: 06:06 [inaudible].

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KPBS Anchor Maya Trabulsi and author Kwame Alexander discuss his book “The Crossover” which was selected as KPBS’s One Book For Teens.
KPBS Midday Edition Segments