This is a delightful story that plays with words and scores a nutmeg goal with the message that the best way to engage children with books is to let them select for themselves.
Chapter book, novel in verse
Interest Level: 5-8; Reading Level: 3.9
5 out of 5 stars
Kwame Alexander writes books that kids want to read. He adds sports and a true understanding of the struggles of tweens and teenagers to poetry and captures readers that would normally never look at a novel in verse. The primary and secondary characters in Booked are rich and well-developed.
Nick, the main character and voice of the story, is an eighth grader who loves soccer. He plays on a travel soccer team and has a friendly rivalry with his best friend, Coby, who plays on another team. Nick also struggles to deal with two bullies in his school, and he is trying to figure out how to talk to the girl he has a crush on.
Family is a big part of Nick’s story as well. He has a close relationship with his mother, but struggles to connect with his dad. His father is a linguistic professor who wrote a dictionary…a dictionary that he makes Nick read every night:
You’re the only kid
on your block
in THE. ENTIRE. FREAKIN’. WORLD.
who lives in a prison
He calls it the pursuit of excellence.
You call it Shawshank.
The changing relationship between Nick and his parents is another strength of the story. Nick’s parents announce they are getting separated and his mom is moving out. Alexander handles the confusion and mixed feelings that Nick goes through in a sensitive and honest way.
Throughout the book, Nick uses many of the fancy words found in his father’s dictionary. Alexander highlights these words by defining them in footnotes, just as they appear in the dictionary that Nick’s father created. This contrast between the hate that Nick shows for reading the dictionary and the extent that it has become part of his identity is interesting to observe.
In addition to celebrating words, Alexander celebrates books in the story. Nick ends up in the hospital and his parents make him read in order to earn time to watch TV. Forced into it, he luckily has an awesome librarian to help connect him with books that are interesting to a 12-year-old boy. Katrina Hedeen wrote in a review for Horn Book Magazine, “Alexander understands reluctant readers deeply, and here hands them a protagonist who is himself a smart, reading-averse kid who just wants to enjoy the words that interest him on his own terms.”
For students who are reluctant to read a book full of poetry, tell them that the pages have lots of white space, so it’s a pretty quick read! Then read them some of the poems:
WHAT HAPPENS TO A DREAM DESTROYED?
Does it sink
like a wrecked ship in the sea?
Or wade in the water
like a boy overboard?
Maybe it just floats around and around…
or does it drown?
In Booked Alexander has crafted a book that will engage all types of readers, even many of those who say they don’t like to read. And you’ll never believe how this book ends…
by Kwame Alexander
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016