The Crossover by Kwame Alexander - 2015 John Newbery Medal Winner

Basketball and Life - A Novel in Verse

Houghtom Mifflin Harcourt


The Crossover by Kwame Alexander is both the 2015 John Newbery Medal winner and a 2015 Coretta Scott King Award Honor Book. In The Crossover, thirteen year old Josh Bell and his twin brother Jordan are star basketball players on their middle school basketball team. Josh’s killer crossover has led his team to many victories, but playing basketball becomes a struggle when his brother’s mental game is benched by a pretty girl, and his father begins showing signs of illness. Written as a novel in verse, the poetic rap and rhythm of Josh’s story is simultaneously razor-sharp and tender. The Crossover is a quick coming-of-age read about life on and off the basketball court by award-winning poet Kwame Alexander. I recommend the book for ages 10-14.

The Story

Josh Bell is a star basketball player for his seventh grade team. He’s confident about his skills, especially his wicked crossover.  Along with his twin brother Jordan, called JB, the two sizzle up the court taking their team to several victories.  Supporting both boys is their Dad, a former professional ball player who played in Europe but prematurely ended his career when he decided to forgo knee surgery.

Dad is the boys’ number one fan and gives them 10 rules for basketball, which he transfers into 10 skills for life. Meanwhile, their mom, the assistant principal, keeps the boys in line and accountable for their studies and sports.  When a new girl comes to school, Josh sees a shift in JB’s dedication to basketball.

To make matters more problematic, Josh discovers his dad has a genetic condition he’s kept secret for years.  Josh tries to focus on his game, but his frustration gets the best of him when he makes a decision that will get him benched for the rest of the season.  Who’s going to take the mighty Wildcats to victory when the two star players are out of commission?

Without a ball game to keep his mind away from all the confusion, Josh is forced to reassess the values he’s been taught about sports and life.  With his father’s ten rules of basketball to guide him, Josh knows it’s time to formulate a new game plan.

Author Kwame Alexander

Kwame Alexander is a busy man. A poet, jazz musician, teacher, playwright, producer, a children’s book author and motivational speaker.  He travels the globe educating young people about poetry. The founding director of the Book in a Day (BID) program, a writing and publishing program he established in 2006, Alexander encourages budding authors to write. To date, Alexander’s BID program has helped 2,500 student authors publish their first book.  He is the author of 17 books.

My Recommendation

In The Crossover, Kwame Alexander combinies fast-paced basketball action with a tender story of a young boy’s coming of age when he learns that there is more to life than just playing basketball, Alexander provides readers with a passionate and powerful story in the unique format of a novel in verse.

Using basketball as a metaphor for life, Alexander utilizes a clever story layout and a variety of poetic forms to pull readers into the story. First, he divides the story into sections that mimic a game of basketball with a warm-up, first quarter, second quarter, and overtime.  Each division represents a timeline of Josh’s coming of age as he learns how to play basketball and deal with crisis and change in his life. 

Second, Alexander employs a wide range of rhythm and style to create a dynamic character who is at once confident and then suddenly uncertain about his world.  In the first poem, Alexander jumps into rap mode to introduce Josh’s confident voice as he describes his skills on the basketball court.

At the top of the key, I’m Moving & Grooving…
POPing and ROCKING- 
Why you BUMPING? Why you LOCKING?  Man, take this THUMPING. 
Be careful though, ‘cause now I’m CRUNKing

This is a quick-moving story that will speak to many readers, but especially to boys who love sports. The language of basketball moves over the pages. The simplicity of the story belies the complex poetic techniques and structures Kwame Alexander uses to write it; however, a savvy teacher or parent will be able to unearth the hidden academic and moral treasures and impart them to a classroom or child.

There is a great deal to be enjoyed and savored in this story, from its poetic devices, allusions, and potential read aloud possibilities to its compelling coming-of-age story line about an African American boy’s struggle to deal with change.  The story emphasizes good family values while tackling the daily worries of teenagers as they navigate the world of insecurities and inevitabilities.

Kwame Alexander is a brilliant poet and his definitions, allusions, and double meanings take a simple story about a boy who loves basketball and creates a richly layered story about choices and relationships. Although recommended for ages 9-12, the poetry is lovely and would appeal to any reader who enjoys novel in verse or a reluctant reader who loves sports. 

To learn more about The Crossover and how to use it in a reading group or classroom setting, check out this Educator’s Guide.  (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. ISBN: 9780544107717)

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.