Show, don’t tell: Poetry, relevance sell middle schoolers on reading

 

By Dawn Miller

“What would you say to the kids in the room to encourage them to read?” Newbery Award winner Kwame Alexander was asked at the West Virginia Book Festival in Charleston.

“I wouldn’t say anything,” Alexander answered.

“Who wants to be told? If you really want to connect and make somebody feel engaged, show them. That’s the real way to reach anybody. Make them feel something.”

From one of the readers in the crowd, Alexander borrowed a copy of his novel Rebound, a story about a 12-year-old boy who is dealing with loss, who can’t play basketball, but wishes he could. “This is what I would do,” he said, and recited an excerpt from the novel, which like all his books, is written in almost singable poetry.

It’s so singable, Alexander’s musician best friend Randy Preston, a retired teacher, brought hs guitar and sang a song from it. The two perform together now. They have visited almost 900 schools in the last three years.

“I don’t think you have to tell kids why they need to read,” Alexander said. “I think you’ve got to show them.”

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