The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
Josh Bell is a 13-year-old basketball star along with his twin brother Jordan. They are the sons of Chuck “Da Man” Bell, who used to play European ball. Now their father plays only with them, helping them learn the tricks of being a great ball handler. Josh also has a beat, a rhythm that he patters when he plays, creating rap riffs as he runs on the court. As he tells his story in verse, he also reveals more than just playing ball, he shows how he and his brother are becoming strong young men. It just may be though that the strongest man that they know has some weaknesses of his own, ones that come at a huge toll.
Can I just say how important this book is? It is a verse novel, A VERSE NOVEL, for pre-teens that is about young African-American boys who are being reared by two involved parents in a middle-class home. This book takes stereotypes and turns them on their heads. Then you have the incredible verse by Alexander, capturing the rhythm of basketball and also the beat of an entire family. The writing is so strong, so vibrant that the book can’t be put down.
Josh is a great character as is his entire family. None of them are stereotypes and both boys are different and yet similar to one another too. They both struggle with playing the best, meeting girls, living up to their parents’ expectations, and discovering the truth about their father. This is a coming-of-age story, but one that is dynamic and fresh.
Perfect for sports fans, this verse novel will surprise with its rap feel and its incredible depth. Simply spectacular. Appropriate for ages 11-13.
Reviewed from library copy.
A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz, illustrated by CaTia Chien
This is a stellar autobiographical picture book written by and about a wildlife conservationist. Alan was a boy who could not speak clearly. He battled stuttering all of the time except when he talked with animals. When he visited the great cat house at the Bronx Zoo, he could whisper fluently into the ears of the cats. He also spent a lot of time with his pets at home, speaking to them and telling them that if he ever found his own voice, he would serve as their voice since they had none and would keep them from harm. Alan became the first person to study jaguars. In Belize he felt at home in the jungle. He worked to protect the jaguars and eventually had to speak for them in front of the President of Belize, hoping to save their habitat from destruction. But can he speak clearly in the short 15 minutes he’s been given?
This book is made all the more compelling by the fact that it is true. It gives readers a glimpse into the world of a child struggling with a disability, one that mars every verbal interaction he has. And thanks to his ability with animals, readers quickly see beyond the stutter to the boy himself and to the gifts that he has to offer. Even better, once Alan becomes an adult, readers get to see a man who is taking advantage of his uniqueness to make a difference in the world and for the animals he cares for so much.
Chien’s art is rich and varied. She moves from backgrounds of wine red to brilliant yellow to the deep greens of the Belize jungles. She shows an isolated boy, alone that contrasts beautifully with the man working happily alone in the jungle – so similar and yet so very different.
An extraordinary autobiography, this book shows readers not to judge anyone by how they speak but rather by what they do. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from library copy.