Kwame Alexander’s Picks

Newbery award winner, Kwame Alexander visited my school, Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, Arkansas, this month. His novel The Crossover (2014) has received recognition and numerous awards: the Newbery Medal (2015), NCTE Charlotte Huck Award Honor for Outstanding Fiction for Children (2015), Coretta Scott King Author Honor (2015). Penn State/Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award (2015), and Paterson Poetry Prize for Young People’s Literature (2015).

The appeal of The Crossover stretches beyond age and gender of the reader – and reading level as many reluctant readers have enjoyed the focus on basketball in this story. It focuses on fourteen-year-old twin basketball stars Josh and Jordan who wrestle with the highs and lows of high school (on and off the court) while their father ignores his declining health. The “Basketball Rules” mentioned throughout The Crossover are inspiring rules that can be incorporated in life, not just basketball.




After a very engaging talk to middle school students, I was able to sit down with Mr. Alexander and ask what were his 5 good picks for (older) teens.

Kwame’s Picks:

  • Boy in the Black Suit (2015) by Jason Reynolds

Coretta Scott King Award Book Honor Award (2016)

Soon after his mother’s death, Matt takes a job at a funeral home in his tough Brooklyn neighborhood and, while attending and assisting with funerals, begins to accept her death and his responsibilities as a man. (The plot contains profanity.)

  • The Game of Love and Death (2015) by Martha Brockenbrough

Kirkus Prize Nominee for Young Readers Literature (Finalist, 2015)

In Seattle in 1937, two 17-year-olds, Henry, who is white, and Flora, who is African American, become the unwitting pawns in a game played by two immortal figures, during which Hendry and Flora must choose each other at the end, or one of them will die.

  • Brown Girl Dreaming (2014) by Jacqueline Woodson

National Book Award for Young People’s Literature (2014)
Newbery Honor (2015)
Siebert Honor (2015)
Coretta Scott King Award for Author (2015)
Claudia Lewis Award for Older Readers (2015)

Raised in South Caroline and New York, author Jacqueline Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. Through vivid free verse, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s.

  • 4. Out of the Dust (1997) by Karen Hesse

Newbery Medal (1998)
Scott O’Dell Award (1998)

In a series of poems, fourteen-year-old Billy Jo relates the hardships of living on her family’s wheat farm. It is set during the Great Depression and focuses on the family’s hardships during the Dust Bowl.

  • 5. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1976) by Mildred D. Taylor

Newbery Medal (1977), Buxtehuder Bulle (1984), George C. Stone Center for Children’s Books Recognition of Merit Award (1991), Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Nominee (1977),Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Young Adult Fiction (2001), Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award Nominee (1978),Coretta Scott King Award for Author Honor (1977), Pacific Northwest Library Association Young Reader’s Choice Award (1979), Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Nominee for Fiction (1977), National Book Award Finalist for Children’s Literature (1977)

A black family living in the South during the 1930’s is faced with prejudice and discrimination which their children don’t understand.

(Summaries provided by AR Book Finder,

— Sarah Carnahan, currently reading The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness