Newberys Read This Year: 8
Newberys Left for Goal: 7
Newberys Left for Total: 21
Book: The Crossover* by Kwame Alexander
Genre: Fiction (Newbery)
Book: Last Stop on Market Street* by Matt de la Peña
Genre: Fiction (Newbery)
For the past 10 years or so I’ve been pretty good about keeping up with the current Newbery winner, but for some reason I missed last year’s. So when the 2016 winner was announced, I decided to read 2015’s victor first.
I was blown away.
Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover tells the story of identical twins Josh and Jordan Bell. The boys (better known as Filthy and JB) are middle-school basketball superstars, taking after their father Chuck, a superstar player in Europe who got drafted into the NBA. An injury, however, kept Chuck from realizing his hoop dreams.
The boys are close, but when JB gets a girlfriend, things start to fall apart in Josh’s world. Plus there is the annoyance of having his mother as his principal and the scary uncertainty of his father’s health. Josh has to cope with change and intense new emotions that he is unsure how to handle.
Telling the twins’ story in free verse, Mr. Alexander immediately drew me into their world. I felt Josh’s frustration with his father’s child-like denial of his health issues and his brother’s long-held grudge. I empathized with Josh’s loneliness and feelings of envy and abandonment when his best friend grew away from him because of the influence of someone else—someone whom Josh himself was interested in. I sympathized when Josh was cut off from basketball, the only thing he had left of his identity. In short, although I am white, female, in my forties and not the least athletic and Josh is black, male, a preteen, and a basketball star, I totally identified with him. That is the magic of Mr. Alexander’s writing.
The spell continued through the end. Mr. Alexander may have made use of a tired sports cliché, but it worked, coming where it did in the chronology of the plot. We are given a dramatic blow, hope which blinds us to the reality of the situation, that cliché, and then the final blow with its devastating implications. Mr. Alexander weaves basketball as a metaphor and an identity throughout his tale that if it doesn’t tug at your heartstrings then I have to question if you have a heart.
And I don’t even like basketball.
Immediately after reading this powerhouse of a story, I read Matt de la Peña’s Last Stop on Market Street. Every Sunday CJ and his Nana take the bus to Market Street where they volunteer, helping those less fortunate than themselves. CJ isn’t in the best of moods this particular Sunday and along the way he envies some of the people and situations he encounters—people with cars and iPods—and artlessly wonders why some people and things are somewhat lacking. In a very gentle way, Nana admonishes CJ’s somewhat negative outlook, pointing out the beauty in the broken-down, the contentment found in having what you need, and the magic of friendship and helping others.
I thought this was a lovely and charming story, but I did wonder why it won the Newbery. This is actually a picture book, and to my knowledge the only one that has won the award. I could see it as a Caldecott winner (it was an Honor book), but the Newbery? A few years ago Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret, a large chapter book, won the Caldecott, but I could totally see that as the first 42 pages had no words and so much of the story was told in the pictures. Its message is lovely, but that alone should not merit the award. A book club of my fellow library professionals is meeting in a few weeks to discuss this book and I will be very interested in their take on the subject.
So now I’ve read all the Newbery winners from 1956 to 2016. Nana talks about the magic of the everyday and Mr. Alexander embodied it in his book. And as I continue to work my way through the older books, I can only hope that some of that magic continues.