Thursday, February 05, 2015

Books Alive 2015 Photo Blog: 1

Our first visitor for Books Alive 2015 was Kwame Alexander, who had just the same week won the Newbery Medal for Outstanding Contribution to Children's Literature. He gave a free talk at the Bay County Public Library. Here are photos from the evening, along with my article advancing his appearance, as it appeared at and in The News Herald:

Alexander greets a fan at the library
 PANAMA CITY — Fresh off winning the Newbery Medal for outstanding contribution to children’s literature, poet and author Kwame Alexander will speak at a free event hosted by the Bay County Public Library.

“I am so excited and elated,” said Sandra Pierce, head of Youth Services for the library. “We are so blessed to have an author of his caliber visiting our library and our schools.”

Alexander, whose novel-in-verse “The Crossover” was named a Newbery winner Monday, will visit with Hiland Park Elementary School third-graders and Bay High School freshmen Thursday morning. That afternoon, he will address a group of students from the After-School Assistance Program and Girls Inc.

“Generally I like to inspire kids to read and write,” Alexander said by phone Tuesday. “I use poetry to do that. We are immersed in poetry, and often kids will leave saying, ‘I had no idea this was poetry.’ ”

Kathie Bennett & Marjory Wentworth
Alexander will then speak at the Bay County Public Library, 898 W. 11th St. in Panama City, at 7 p.m. Thursday. The event is free and open to the public. The BHS jazz band, Bay Blast, will play music during the event, and BHS cadets will act as door greeters and ushers. Representatives from the Alpha Kappa Alpha and Delta Sigma Theta sororities will provide refreshments.

“This is an excellent opportunity to see a children’s author in our community share his knowledge and some poetry,” Pierce said. She also called “The Crossover” a powerful book. “It reads with such rhythm. It’s about the family life and relationships of two teenage boys, it’s about character building.”

In the book, 12-year-old narrator Josh Bell uses the rhythms of a poetry jam to emulate the “moving and grooving/popping and rocking” of life on the basketball court with his twin brother, J.B.
“I wanted to write a book boys would pick up,” Alexander said, noting evidence boys are hesitant to spend time reading rather than in physical activities. “They want books that are exciting to them, so I framed it in things boys are interested in. It’s about friendship, family and love, couched in terms of basketball.”

Pierce speaks to BHS band
Alexander addresses the audience at the library.

 The founder of two literacy organizations — Book-in-a-Day and LEAP for Ghana — Alexander conducts writing and publishing workshops at schools and conferences throughout the nation. He has owned publishing companies and has written for the stage and television (including TLC’s “Hip Hop Harry”). He recorded a CD, performed around the world, produced jazz and book festivals, hosted a radio show, worked for the U.S. government and taught high school. He will serve as the Bank Street College of Education's first writer-in-residence this year.

“I just finished a novel about a boy who loves soccer but hates books,” he said of his next project. “It’s inspired by boys I met on this book tour. I wanted to explore that transformation.”

Alexander is the author of 18 books, including “The Crossover,” which received its honor from the American Library Association on Monday. It also was chosen as a Coretta Scott King Honor Book and was called “a beautifully measured novel” by The New York Times.

“You can’t get better than that,” Pierce said of the honors the book received. “I was so excited I couldn’t catch my breath.”

The Newbery Medal was named for the 18th-century British bookseller John Newbery. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the author of the year’s most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.

Alexander’s visit is part of the library’s annual BooksAlive festival, which brings nationally-known authors to Panama City for free workshops and speaking sessions. The main event will be 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at Florida State University Panama City. For details, visit

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