Award-winning children’s writer coming to Bellingham – The Bellingham Herald

An All-Star of children’s literature will speak this week at a special Western Washington University event for fifth-graders, and will appear in a free public talk at Bellingham High School.

Kwame Alexander, who won the 2015 Newbery Medal for “The Crossover,” a story in verse, will be part of the annual Compass 2 Campus program at WWU.

“The Crossover,” a joyous and captivating story about twin brothers who play basketball and have a warm relationship with their dad, a former pro player, also won a triple-double of other honors — including a Coretta Scott King Honor, Charlotte Huck Award Honor and the Paterson Poetry Prize for Young People’s Literature.

In some ways, Alexander’s use of sport in “The Crossover” is aimed at luring reluctant readers. But basketball is merely the setting for a larger story about family, sibling rivalry, and the insidious power of denial.

“I think kids enjoy storytelling. Who doesn’t enjoy a good fireside chat?” Alexander said by phone from his home in a suburb of Washington, D.C. His next novel, ”Booked,” which is due in spring, continues that tradition, he said.

“It’s about a 12-year-old boy who loves soccer and hates books.”

That’s the opposite of Alexander’s upbringing.

“My parents were reading to me from a very early age. I was immersed in literature in general and poetry in particular at an early age,” he said, adding that he began writing poetry in childhood and eventually studied poetry at Virginia Tech.

“I knew that I wanted to share my love of reading and inspire people, to allow books to open a world of possibilities and preach the gospel of poetry,” Alexander said. “Knowing how to make words dance on the page became my best friend.”

Alexander wrote several works for adult audiences before he turned his attention to children, mostly because he became a father. “Acoustic Rooster and His Barnyard Band” incorporates another of Alexander’s loves — jazz. “Indigo Blume and the Garden City” is about a girl who teaches environmental consciousness.

In addition to his writing, Alexander visits schools and classrooms to encourage youngsters to put their thoughts on paper and to share them with a wider audience. Through his Book In A Day program, he teaches how to assemble the creative content, design a cover, and find a publisher for student works.

It grew out of a three-day teaching and speaking engagement that was reduced at the last minute, he said.

“I had one day to go there and teach them,” Alexander said. “They did the work, they designed the cover, they set up a publisher. It helped them become authors and to take ownership of the publication process. It’s remarkable. The process opened up a world of possibilities for them. It became a metaphor for achievement in the classroom and in life.”

In Bellingham, many fifth-graders are reading “The Crossover” in preparation for Alexander’s visit, said Sylvia Tag, a WWU associate professor and librarian and curator of the university’s Children’s Literature Interdisciplinary Collection.

Alexander’s visit is sponsored by the Western Libraries and WWU’s new Poetry CHaT Collection for children and teens.

“He is touching a broad swath of our community — and we are so grateful,” said Tag, who was a member of the 2015 Newbery selection committee.

Reach Robert Mittendorf at 360-756-2805 or robert.mittendorf@bellinghamherald.com. Tweeting @BhamMitty and @goMittygo.

Free talk

Kwame Alexander discusses “The Crossover” and other topics free from 6:30-7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 21, at Bellingham High School Performing Arts Center, 2020 Cornwall Ave. Poetry performances and exhibits by local students are from 5:45 to 6:20 p.m.

Copies of Alexander’s books will be available for sale after the event. He will be available to sign books.

▪  Learn more about Alexander at bookinaday.org