by Kwame Alexander (2016)

A Middle School selection. 

A novel in verse.
From a Newbery-winning author.
For middle schools.
About soccer.
And books!
And relationships.
Sounds perfect!

The novel is Booked, a novel in verse which succeeds and follows in format and temperament the Newbery-winning, The Crossover.  (Which is ostensibly about basketball.)

The author is Kwame Alexander, a young, acclaimed, African-American poet and novelist.

What makes such a title perfect for One School, One Book for Middle Schools?

The format.
And the themes.

There are certainly students (and adults?) who might be skeptical about how a novel in verse can work.  But it won’t take anyone long to see how beguiling and bewitching and effective the technique can be.  Short chapter/poems that call the reader’s close attention to language and phrasing –   its arrangement and the descriptive, poetic detail.  A reader is hooked into the story – and inside the head of the protagonist (Nick) – slyly and unexpectedly, almost before you know it.

Nick loves soccer.  He’s curious about girls, especially April.  (He coins a special word about her while daydream/doodling in class – one of the many instances in which Alexander sneaks in creative wordplay.)  When his mother takes a new job out of state, his parents’ relationship begins to founder – unsettling the dependable stability of Nick’s world.  Then he gets injured.  And teachers – and friends start recommending books…

And that’s all you need to know.  What Booked really adds up to is a roiling stew of issues and themes and feelings and questions and emotions that all adolescents are wrestling with in Middle School.

Here’s a short sample poem to show how Alexander works his magic – with language and feelings and plot.


The silence
at dinner
is only interrupted
by the chomping
of chips and salsa
at what used to be
our favorite family

(p. 161)

You can see instantly that Alexander packs a lot into one ‘simple’ sentence.  It’s a beautiful sentence that tightly and memorably expresses what Nick is feeling at this moment.  Alexander briskly propels the reader into the plight and fortune of Nick and his year in middle school.

And it is sure to captivate and stimulate your Middle School Readers – some of them perhaps despite themselves.  It is also sure to provide a raft of opportunities to discuss and explore all of those themes – how to talk to girls, how to think about your parents, what poems or books you like – with your students, in your classrooms, and with your parents.

Exactly what One School, One Book for Middle School is all about!