The Crossover


  • Title: The Crossover
  • Author: Kwame Alexander
  • Illustrator: None
  • Awards: Newbery Medal, Coretta Scott King Award Honor, NCTE Charlotte Huck Honor, Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, and the Paterson Poetry Prize


Kwame Alexander is a passionate author, driven by not only expressing stories through poetry but to educate others as well.  He achieves this through public speaking, school visits, and hopes to further it even more with his literacy camp (  Additionally, he has a writing workshop curriculum that is available for purchase (

Here’s a video of him talking about why he’s passionate about his writing workshop curriculum:

A particularly outstanding effort by Alexander is the fact that he “ led a delegation of 20 writers and activists to Ghana, where they delivered books, built a library, and provided literacy professional development to 300 teachers, as a part of LEAP for Ghana, an International literacy program he co-founded” (  

It isn’t often you get to see the thinking behind the written word, so I found this video of Alexander talking about his choice to have dictionary style poetry in his novel The Crossover to be interesting:


Using a variety of poetry formats, The Crossover is the story of Josh “Filthy McNasty” Bell, a twelve year old boy with a twin brother named Jordan “JB” Bell and their love of basketball.  Mimicking the four quarters of a basketball game, the novel is broken into sections: Warm-Up, First Quarter, Second Quarter, Third Quarter, Fourth Quarter, and Overtime.  Told in an astonishing variety of poems, love of basketball, girls, and most of all, love of family shines through.


Unified by their twinship and deep love of basketball, energetic and confident Filthy McNasty is not prepared for his twin brother to be distracted by, let alone start caring for, a girl.  Left confused by his brother’s interest in something not basketball, Filthy McNasty turns to the person who has always been there for him: his dad.


Overhearing conversations between his mom and dad, Filthy becomes concerned about his father’s health, especially after he discovers that his paternal grandfather died of hypertension related causes and that hypertension is genetic.  Even with these concerns weighing him down, Filthy continues to play basketball with a fiery passion.

As the story continues, the reader learns that Chuck “Da Man” Bell, Filthy and JB’s dad and a former professional basketball player, quit basketball after a knee injury; what stands out is the fact that the injury could have been repaired with surgery, but Da Man hates hospitals after his father died in one and refuses to have the surgery, thereby choosing to end his career.  The slow distribution of details about Da Man’s health and why his career ended leaves the reader unsettled and turning pages in order to solve the puzzle.

Filthy and JB continue to struggle as twins, brothers, and teammates as JB’s relationship with his girlfriend challenges what seemed to be their unbreakable bond.  Filthy’s frustrations over his brother and stress about his father culminates during the middle of a game:


As a team, the Bell family comes together as they work through Filthy’s attack on his brother.  Together, Da Man & Dr. Crystal Stanley-Bell, Filthy & JB’s mom and assistant principal at their middle school, decide that Filthy is suspended from the team until further notice.  As they are working hard to maintain their winning season and hopes of the championship, this is devastating news for Filthy.  But what is even more difficult is his brother’s utter silence.  JB completely stops talking to Filthy for weeks.


Unfortunately, it isn’t until their dad has a heart attack while playing a game of basketball with Filthy that they begin to work together.  Terrified over his health, they each express their emotions in different ways: Filthy wants to leave the hospital and play basketball while JB wants to sit by his father’s side and doesn’t care about basketball anymore, blaming basketball for his father’s health.  Tragically, it’s during the championship game that their father passes away.

At the conclusion the reader is left wondering how the family will move forward without the rock of their family, but confident that however they do it they will do it together.


  • Contemporary realistic fiction
  • Multicultural
  • Poetry


Where to begin!?  The incredible variety of types of poetry and figurative language makes this a priceless mentor text for any form of writing.

Concrete poetry:


Double Voice Poem:






Alliteration, metaphors, onomatopoeia, personification, end-rhyme, text features, free verse, narrative, and more!  It’s a goodie bag filled with writing devices that pulls in all types of readers.


Watching Kwame Alexander’s TedTalk on the power of “Yes,” made me appreciate this novel even more.

Alexander crafted a sports story through poetry and was turned down by over twenty-two publishers who said girls wouldn’t read it because it’s about basketball, and boys wouldn’t read it because it used poetry.  He didn’t give up; he felt it was the best thing he had ever written and that the story mattered.  I want this book in my classroom asap and am already looking at grants to make that happen.  Highly engaging, I hope to use this in my 6th grade support Language Arts class as a class novel.  Through this book we will be able to explore a variety of lessons: poetry (obviously), pacing, figurative language, author’s purpose, and many more!


Aside from the high engagement and exposure to multiple types of poetry and figurative language devices, the importance of education is a common thread through the story.  Filthy is constantly reading, his mom has a doctoral degree, his father went to college, he is studying, he references doing an essay for The Giver, his mother is the assistant principal at this school, and his father speaks to the importance of education:


I appreciate this celebration of education and the fact that it isn’t explicitly told to the reader; it makes the lesson authentic and more trustworthy as a result!


The death of Filthy’s father is particularly heart wrenching as he plays a vibrant role in the story; the author feels this loss.  As always, it’s important to know your students and to know the losses they have faced before placing this book in their hands to ensure they have the support they need.


Family is honestly portrayed in The Crossover: they are messy, playful, antagonistic, hard-working, supportive, mocking, and at the core they are always loving.  Celebrating the relationships between brothers, father and son, husband and wife, and mother and son, this book showcases the beautify of family, even when things aren’t perfect.


There is a lot of basketball terminology, and if the reader is unfamiliar with it they may not be able to visualize the action.  However, this is a problem-focused sports book, not a game-focused sports book, so even if the reader can’t see the game in their head, as long as they have the reading endurance to push through those moments they will be able to engage with the driving storyline about the Bell family.


The protagonist’s mother has a doctorate and is the assistant principal at a middle school, his father has a college degree and was an Olympian and professional basketball player, and the family is able to afford a competitive basketball team along with cars, a house, and frequent stops at Krispy Kreme.  The family is anything but impoverished, nor are their friends, coaches, teammates, or classmates.




3 thoughts on “The Crossover

Add yours

  1. Kwame Alexander’s words sing from the page. What a way to provide students with a book that embodies modern day verse in a way that tells a story in its entirety and gets them turning the pages. This could be used as an author study to show the the celebration of language in a way that shows how the use of authentic language to bring a story to life. Alexander’s black characters are positive models for overcoming obstacles, maintaining strong family values, supporting one another in competition, and finding the best in others.


  2. This book hooked my boys! It was so cool to see how many of my reluctant readers could not wait to get back into this book each day. I love how you are choosing such relevant and engaging texts!


  3. I really like the double voice poem. That structure looks like it would be really difficult to work in, but as a reader, it makes it very easy to think about multiple perspectives. The story of the author not quitting after getting rejection after rejection is powerful, too. I think students need more stories of how successful adults needed perseverance to become successful.


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