School’s out for summer, but reading — both assigned and for pleasure — continues for kids of all ages. We consider the latest titles creating a buzz, from colorful picture books that appeal to toddlers to novels in verse that can draw in even the most reluctant teen readers.

Guests

  • Kwame Alexander author, 'The Crossover'; poet; founder, Book-in-a-Day
  • Heidi Powell Manager, Children and Teens Department, Politics and Prose; co-founder, An Open Book Children's Literacy Foundation

Reading List

See Heidi Powell and Kwame Alexander’s picks for best summer books for kids and teens.

Transcript

  • 13:25:08

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIWe're heading into a long holiday weekend and between the heat and the rain, the forecast might be conspiring to keep kids inside. In an effort to steer them away from the screen, whether TV, computer or Smartphone, offer up pages for turning instead, whether they're chipping away at a stack of assigned books for school or taking a dive into a riot of colorful pages for fun, it's time for summer reading. And here to tell us what's hot for kids and teens is Heidi Powell, manager of the children's and teens' department at Politics and Prose Bookstore and co-founder of An Open Book Foundation. Heidi Powell, good to see you again.

  • 13:25:42

    MS. HEIDI POWELLThank you very much.

  • 13:25:43

    NNAMDIAlso joining us in studio is Kwame Alexander. He's a children's book author and poet whose latest work is "The Crossover." He's also the founder of Book-in-a-Day, a writing and publishing program for students in elementary, middle and high school. Kwame Alexander, welcome. Thank you for joining us.

  • 13:25:57

    MR. KWAME ALEXANDERThank you for having me.

  • 13:25:59

    NNAMDIWe'll take your comments, questions, 800-433-8850. What's on your child's summer reading list, whether for pleasure or for school, 800-433-8850? Heidi, in your role with An Open Book Foundation you work to promote reading with a focus on disadvantaged areas of the district. How do you do it and what do you make of these new guidelines for reading to children that we were just discussing?

  • 13:26:22

    POWELLYeah, the former manager of the children and teens department, Daryl Deport and I started An Open Book Foundation about three-and-a-half years ago. We recognized that we had wonderful events at the bookstore for children but the children who came to our author events and bought books were children who were from upper northwest Washington, lived near the bookstore or attended school near the bookstore. And we were really missing about 99 percent of the area's population that way.

  • 13:26:51

    POWELLSo we thought it would be a great thing to be able to take authors and illustrators to Title I and other disadvantaged schools in the area and send every child home with a signed book. We also give a book to every classroom and a set of the author's or illustrator's works to the school library. I did hear the piece on NPR last week about the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations. And I was thinking about an angle that Dar and I have been looking at which is working with teen moms and their babies.

  • 13:27:26

    POWELLWe've done this at high school and also at Sasha Bruce House locally where we get the teen moms together with their infants or toddlers and we model reading with them. We show them how to read to the babies, what might be good books for the babies. And then we give -- again, give every teen mom a board book to take home with them. We'd like to do more of that. We have a lot of things we want to do but that is one of the programs we'd like to explore a little bit more.

  • 13:27:54

    NNAMDIKwame Alexander, sticking with the littlest readers for a moment, it's my understanding that on any given day you might face some stiff competition for your daughter's designation of favorite author. Who's your main rival and what's he up to?

  • 13:28:10

    ALEXANDERI don't want to mention Mo Willems but I will. We have this running joke in my house between my daughter, who's five years old, and Samaya (sp?) and myself. And I ask her who is your favorite children's author? And of course, I've written a few children's books. And she looks at me, I guess, depending on how my mood and how I appear to be and maybe what she wants to watch on television, she'll either say Kwame Alexander or Mo Willems.

  • 13:28:35

    NNAMDIAnd she says Mo Willems just to get on your nerves.

  • 13:28:37

    ALEXANDERExactly. And of course, I love Mo Willems. I mean, he has a new book out this summer, "The Elephant and Piggy" series, so he's a big -- we love his books in our home.

  • 13:28:49

    NNAMDI"My New Friend is So Fun! (An Elephant and Piggy Book) by Mo Willems spelled W-I-L-L-E-M-S, is a hit in Kwame's house, sometimes more than he is. You've made a lot of visits to schools near and far both through An Open Book and through your work with Book-in-a-Day. Lately you've been talking to students about your new work "The Crossover." Who are Josh and JB and what inspired you to tell their story?

  • 13:29:12

    ALEXANDERWell, you know, they are twins. They are twin basketball stars who have a pretty amazing relationship with their dad who's their hero. He has fun with them. He teaches them how to make free throws. Their mother is the assistant principal, so you can imagine that she's more the stern one. I wanted to create a story that young boys would be interested in, something that would appeal to them. And so I decided to write a book in verse.

  • 13:29:35

    ALEXANDERHeidi and I were talking about it earlier. There's a proliferation of books in verse that are coming out. I think books in verse, they have a lot of white space on the page. It's not as intimidating to reluctant readers. And I wanted to create a story that one, appeal to that audience but two, really show the relationship between boys and fathers, one that I had, very functional and very fun, and something that I thought would be able to inspire young people.

  • 13:30:01

    NNAMDIYour dad was a basketball star.

  • 13:30:03

    ALEXANDERHe was a basketball star. He was very cool, Kojo, like. But this was before I was born, you know, so I got the PhD from Columbia. I got the academic who forced me to read. Talking about reading to children at that very early age, I grew up in what you would call a Wal-Mart of books. We were surrounded by books. My father wrote these huge educational tomes that I had to read. I couldn't watch television. So I remember getting that very uncool immersion in books. And of course, I went to college to become a doctor and 18 books later, look where I am.

  • 13:30:37

    NNAMDIBut the genesis of this book was tied to Book-in-a-Day through which you teach elementary and high school students at 69 schools across the U.S., the Caribbean and Canada to write and publish an anthology of poems that they write. How did that lead to "Crossover?"

  • 13:30:52

    ALEXANDERWell, I interact with young people in the Book-in-a-Day program on a daily basis, on a weekly basis, as you mentioned. And so I get to hear their language. I get to hear the trash talk on the basketball court. And when we were -- as I've been working on poems with young people around the country, you see a lot of this banter between boys being able to come across in a very intellectual and articulate manner on paper through poem, through the rhythm, through the energy.

  • 13:31:18

    ALEXANDERAnd so I really wanted to capture that and utilize that mode of speaking, of communicating on paper. I thought that boys would be able to relate to it. The stories that I've heard of young boys who have never read a book or aren't interested in reading, how they've been able to pick up "The Crossover" in one setting and finish it. And that's very humbling, very inspiring. And so I think to some degree we were able to accomplish what we set out to do.

  • 13:31:45

    NNAMDIOne group of people who couldn't seem to relate to it initially, publishers, after (word?) dozens of rejection letters in the publishing process. What has the reaction been to the book when you talk to young readers and their parents and teachers about it?

  • 13:31:58

    ALEXANDERKojo, you trying to call people out now.

  • 13:32:00

    NNAMDII am, indeed.

  • 13:32:01

    ALEXANDERI was very fortunate that after four years of trying to get the book published, Houghton Mifflin, Margaret Raymo's my editor. She's also Lois Lowry's editor, "The Giver."

  • 13:32:11

    NNAMDIYeah, we'll talk about Lois too.

  • 13:32:12

    ALEXANDERYeah, I was very fortunate that she got it, she saw it. And I think that in my travels around the country, the young boys and the girls, they understand it. They get it. They -- one boy in Annapolis, Md., 11-year-old, he said, when I looked at it I said, this is poetry. I'm not going to like it. And he said, I couldn’t put it down. Another boy in Minneapolis, he looked at me and he said, man -- he's about 17 years old -- he said, man, I don't even read books, Kwame, but I read this book and I loved it.

  • 13:32:42

    ALEXANDERAnd so I think, you know, all of these elements, the poetry, the basketball, the relationship between the family, the mother, the father, the sons, I think all those things come together to really build the kind of story that seems to be resonating with young people, librarians, teachers and parents across the country.

  • 13:33:01

    NNAMDII don't know any teenager these days who doesn't know what a crossover is. So the title itself is attractive. We're talking about summer reading for kids and young adults. And you can send your suggestions for kids and teens summer reads on Twitter with the hash tag kojoreads. Can also go to our website kojoshow.org to see the suggestions that are being made by our panelists. Heidi, you've noticed a recent surge in the popularity of novels in verse for young readers at Politics and Prose. What do you think is behind it?

  • 13:33:28

    POWELLYeah, I don't know. I've been talking about it with my co-workers. And Kwame and I were talking about it earlier before the show. You know, I don't know if -- there are authors who've always written in verse. Margarita Engle, "The Silver People" which is one of my favorites. And Helen Frost, for example. Sharon Creech has books that were in verse. She hasn't always written in verse but she has some in verse.

  • 13:33:50

    POWELLAnd then I think there are poets who've decided to sort of try their hand at it, which is what Kwame was doing. He's a poet and then he was trying it very successfully. I'm not sure if people are just jumping on the bandwagon because they think it looks like it's easy. I think maybe some of the people who are writing -- Kwame and I were joking that it seems that it could be a novel and they've just sort of chopped it up where they felt like it might make sense or maybe doesn't.

  • 13:34:18

    POWELLBut I don't know. I find that as with graphic novels, it takes a little bit of educating our customers to say, give this a try. Sometimes they think it looks too easy. As Kwame said, a lot of white space on the page can be nice for a reluctant reader. For someone who's a big reader, sometimes it takes some convincing that this is actually a book that's worth reading, it has some content and it's important.

  • 13:34:40

    NNAMDIWell, one title you both selected in this genre, in addition to Kwame's book, is "Silver People: Voices From the Panama Canal." What's the story this novel in verse tells?

  • 13:34:52

    POWELLIt's a novel of building the Panama Canal. It's a historical fiction. And Margarita Engle does such a great job of alternating voices. Everyone from the people who were down in the trenches building the Panama Canal -- they were known as the silver people because they were paid in silver. The people who weren't down in the trenches were paid in gold. Everyone from the people building the Panama Canal to the animals and the trees of the rain forests who were being displaced. Teddy Roosevelt even makes a cameo appearance, Jane Addams.

  • 13:35:28

    POWELLIt's a really wonderful story. And I think a little known one about the construction of the Panama Canal, what went into it and the dangers associated with it.

  • 13:35:39

    NNAMDIYou also recommended it, Kwame.

  • 13:35:40

    ALEXANDERYeah, and I'd also add to that, what she really does magically is paint a picture of the workers, the laborers who were peoples of color from around the Spanish world and how they were paid in silver versus the white workers who were paid in gold. And that was a big thing. And so she also looks at -- she paints pictures of the building of the Panama Canal by giving voice to howling monkeys and trees. So she's not just talking about people or not writing from the perspective of people. She's writing from the perspective of different objects as well.

  • 13:36:19

    ALEXANDERAnd that's something that we've seen in "October Mourning" by Leslea Newman. That's also a part of the novel and verse, being able to give voice to these different people and these different objects and to make that a series of a storied book.

  • 13:36:35

    NNAMDIMade me remember what Republican Senator S. I. Hayakawa said during the early 1970s debate over the Panama Canal in Washington. He said, the Panama Canal is ours. We stole it fair and square. Just had to say that. Here is Annie in Washington, D.C. Annie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:36:54

    ANNIEHi. Well, I'm a mother of a 15-month-old and I teach 15-year-old students in high school. And I guess I'm wondering, is there a crucial time where if you don't get them you're not going to. Because I do, I have a lot of reluctant readers in my classroom who read it because they have to. And I'm just wondering what we can do because sometimes I feel like at 15 by sophomore year it's too late. They haven't got the passion.

  • 13:37:20

    NNAMDIWhat do you say, Kwame?

  • 13:37:21

    ALEXANDERAgain, I am a big fan and supporter and active participant in the world of poetry. And I think it can be the bridge to get our children to appreciate more longer forms of language and literature. I've seen it happen. When you look at dribbling at the top of the key, I'm moving, I'm grooving, I'm krunking, crisscrossing, flipping, flossing, now I'm dipping. I mean, when I read that poem to kids, you know, whether we're in Washington, D.C. or on Long Island, the kids, the eyes, they're widened, the excitement, the enthusiasm that's on their face.

  • 13:37:55

    ALEXANDERPoetry when it's really done properly as in the case of Marilyn Nelson's book "How I Discovered Poetry," which we're going to talk about, or Margarita Engle. When it's really done right it can come alive and it can make children come alive and appreciate literature. And I think that may be one of the keys. We have to pay attention to the poetry.

  • 13:38:17

    NNAMDIAnnie, thank you very much for your call. Kwame, you're also interested in a poet's take on one of Aesop's Fables. How does Nikki Giovanni pay homage to and change up "The Grasshopper Song"?

  • 13:38:27

    ALEXANDERWell, if I could just interject this. I did want to sort of pay homage to Walter Dean Myers.

  • 13:38:35

    NNAMDII was going to bring him up but go ahead. Yesterday brought sad news for many readers that Walter Dean Myers, an award-winning author of children's books and recent national ambassador for young people's literature had passed away after a brief illness. Go ahead, Kwame.

  • 13:38:51

    ALEXANDERWalter Dean Myers was -- we talk about diverse books -- he was one of the most diverse writers, being able to write in verse, being able to write autobiography, being able to write fiction. He even wrote one book that was in a stage script as a theater piece. And, you know, his career was just amazing. And one of the things that I remember is that Walter Dean Myers was Nikki Giovanni's first editor.

  • 13:39:16

    NNAMDII didn't know that.

  • 13:39:17

    ALEXANDERHe was her first editor...

  • 13:39:18

    NNAMDIBecause that's the job he had before he even started writing himself.

  • 13:39:21

    ALEXANDERHe was at a company called Bob's Marrow (sp?) . And so Nikki Giovanni has been a mentor of mine, has written 30 plus books. But one of the books that most people don't know about is called "The Grasshopper Song." And it's based on an Aesop Fable. And every year the grasshoppers sing and they play instruments and the ants are working. The ants are working in the field. And the ants are working to the rhythm of the music that the grasshoppers are providing. Well, of course, when the harvest comes in the ants don't want to share. They feel like they've done the work and so they should be able to, you know, reap the rewards.

  • 13:39:54

    ALEXANDERWell, the grasshoppers decide that they're going to do what any smart person would do. They're going to sue the ants in America. And so they hire Robin, Robin, Robin and Wren, and they ask for half of the harvest. And they ask for R-E-S-P-E-C-T. This is what they want. So I think this is a really fun -- the illustrations are by Caldecott Winner Chris Raschka. And it's just a really wonderful book that I read with my daughter.

  • 13:40:19

    NNAMDIWell, earlier this year, Walter Dean Myers shone a spotlight on the lack of diversity in children's books, with a New York Times op-ed piece that has sparked a movement calling for greater diversity in the field. What do each of you make of the current state of diversity in kids books? And what, if anything, might be done about it? Starting with you, Heidi.

  • 13:40:38

    POWELLThe current state of diversity in children's literature really needs some work. As Walter Dean Myers and his son Christopher Myers, who both wrote pieces in that -- that's the paper for that same New York Times piece -- they pointed out the need, and many others have before and since then, for more diversity in children's literature. And that means people of different colors and backgrounds writing for children and books featuring people of different backgrounds and different colors as well. I know, you know, now that it's -- it started, I think, at the -- May 1, there was a We Need Diverse Books campaign that started on Twitter.

  • 13:41:24

    POWELLMay 1, 2 and 3, there was a #WeNeedDiverseBooks, and Politics and Prose and An Open Book participated. The first day was a visual statement. So you were supposed to take photographs of your coworkers and your kids and yourselves holding up signs about why we need diverse books. And the reasons why we need diverse books ranged as much as the people who were holding up the signs. But primarily I think we need diverse books so that children and adults -- but children especially -- can see themselves in the books. And I think it's important that children see other people in the books as well. And that we can see what we share in common and how we differ.

  • 13:42:07

    POWELLIt's such an important thing. And we have always really made an effort, I have to say, at the bookstore to display diverse books, to make sure they are face-out so that we are welcoming to everyone who comes in. And they can find themselves on the shelves.

  • 13:42:22

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue this conversation on kids and young adult summer reading. Remember you can go to our website, kojoshow.org, and see all of the suggestions being made by our panelists. You can also send us your own suggestions for kids and teens summer reads on Twitter with the hashtag kojoreads. But if you have comments or questions that you'd like to call in, 800-433-8850 is the number. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:44:38

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking kids and young adults summer reading with Kwame Alexander, children's book author and poet, whose latest work is "The Crossover." He's also the founder of Book-in-a-Day, a writing and publishing program for students in elementary, middle and high school. And Heidi Powell is the manager of the children and teens department of Politics and Prose Bookstore. She's also co-founder of An Open Book Foundation. We were talking about "The Grasshopper's Song." Heidi, for another twist on a familiar tale, those who tire of assigned reading might enjoy, "I Kill the Mockingbird." How does the Harper Lee classic figure in to this tale?

  • 13:45:12

    POWELLThis is a very clever and creative story that's a really great summer reading novel. It's about three kids who are very good friends. They've just finished 8th grade. At the end of the eighth-grade year their favorite teacher, Fat Bob, passes away. They want to figure out how to pay tribute to him and also sort of how to have a fun summer. And they come up with a really ingenious way of paying tribute to him by making scarce his favorite book and one of the kid's favorite books, "To Kill a Mockingbird." And they do it in a very creative way using the Internet and Twitter and all sorts of other tools at their disposal. And it becomes sort of a nationwide phenomenon.

  • 13:45:58

    NNAMDIEnough said. Kwame, for an entirely different kind of bird, what would we find in Aviary Wonders?

  • 13:46:06

    ALEXANDERWell, you know, birds are extinct. The year is 2031.

  • 13:46:10

    NNAMDIOkay.

  • 13:46:11

    ALEXANDERAnd so...

  • 13:46:12

    NNAMDIOuch.

  • 13:46:13

    ALEXANDER…yeah. When I -- this book is odd but yet it's swoon worthy, Kojo.

  • 13:46:19

    NNAMDIIt's swoon...

  • 13:46:19

    ALEXANDERSwoon worthy. I'll say this, what happens when there are no more birds? Well according to Kate Samworth, who was a Publishers Weekly flying start as of yesterday, Aviary Wonders Inc. has a catalog that will allow you to assemble bird parts and create the type of bird that you want. There are even instructions in the back for how to teach the bird to sing. I mean it's just -- it's a really clever book. And it really -- she started writing it because she lived in New Orleans before Katrina. And she was listening to a news report after Katrina and someone who had returned to live in New Orleans said that they couldn't find -- they didn't see any birds.

  • 13:46:59

    ALEXANDERAnd so she really wanted to look at that and, you know, give us a satirical look at that type of life but also make us pay attention to some of these realities that are in front of us. But it's a really clever book.

  • 13:47:11

    NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here is Heather in Reston, Md. Heather, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:47:17

    HEATHERHi, it's actually Reston, Va. How are you?

  • 13:47:19

    NNAMDIHi, Heather.

  • 13:47:20

    HEATHERHi. It's funny you should bring up "To Kill a Mockingbird." I actually just wrote down that as a suggestion for my daughter because it's one of my favorite books. You were asking what kids are reading nowadays. My daughter is reading "The Fault in Our Stars." And the way that I have gotten her to read books is when they become movies I tell her, you can go see the movie, but you have to read the book first. So she read "The Fault in Our Stars," wanted to go see the movie. Then I asked her to compare the book and the movie.

  • 13:47:53

    HEATHERAnd I told her over the summer, if you read a book and write a paragraph about the book and tell me what it was about, I will give you $5.00. And I hate that I have to blackmail her to read...

  • 13:48:03

    NNAMDILet's just call it a bribe. Okay.

  • 13:48:06

    HEATHERYeah. But it's -- in this day of, you know, iPods and iPads and things like that and, you know, Twitter and all kinds of stuff, it's what you have to do nowadays, unfortunately. And she's -- it's the one thing that does get her to read, because she does want to see these movies that all her friends are going to go see.

  • 13:48:27

    POWELLWe'll let Heidi tell you about that, because the summer box office and summer reading sometimes overlap. As she pointed out, the movie adaptation of "The Fault in Our Stars" made a big splash last month. A lot of people are eagerly anticipating the film version of Lois Lowry's classic, "The Giver." What kind of spike in demand do you see at the bookstore when a movie version of a young adult novel comes out?

  • 13:48:49

    POWELLOh, we definitely see a huge spike in demand. "The Maze Runner" is another one. "Divergent." But what we also see is children -- younger and younger children coming in for these books. Because once they become movies, and they've either seen them or their friends have seen them, they're coming in and -- I'd just say sometimes I think it's a little bit unfortunate because many of these books are, you know, really made for, you know, upper-middle and high-school students. And we've got children as young as eight and nine coming in for these books.

  • 13:49:17

    NNAMDIWow.

  • 13:49:17

    POWELLSo I'd say, please hold off on bringing your children in. But, yes, huge spikes in demand based on movies, definitely.

  • 13:49:26

    NNAMDIHere is Emily in Annapolis, Md. Emily, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:49:32

    EMILYHi, yes. I teach high school and I teach all grades. And I have to say that one author that my kids love is Christopher Moore. And he does a series of different books. He's got "The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove." He's got "Lamb," which the kids absolutely adore. And he's got "You Suck" and "Bloodsucking Friends." He's got a whole array of different books. They're easy to read. And all of my kids from all walks of life just get hooked because it's so easy to read. And it really has nothing to do with anything I teach in the classroom. But it gets them reading.

  • 13:50:07

    NNAMDIOkay, good.

  • 13:50:08

    EMILYWell, I highly -- because I have a lot of kids who just don't want to read. And this is -- I mean, this is great because they're so easy. And the kids really love them.

  • 13:50:17

    NNAMDIOkay, good. Thank you very much for your suggestion. Nonfiction has been big for young readers. And yesterday we marked the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act in this country. You each have titles on your list that speak to that era. Kwame, what will young readers learn about the Civil Rights Movement from the poetry of Marilyn Nelson?

  • 13:50:35

    ALEXANDEROh, wow. Her book is a stunning memoir in verse. They tell the story of her 1950s childhood as the daughter of one of the Tuskegee Airmen -- one of the last Tuskegee Airmen. And she does this. She offers these snapshots of her life through these unrhymed sonnets of 14 lines. But she does it using humor, poignancy. I mean, the first poem in the book starts off, "Once upon a time. Upon a time? Something got on a time? What is a time?" When it got on a time, Kojo, did it get off?

  • 13:51:09

    ALEXANDERI mean, so she takes us on this -- she starts on this journey with this humor and she takes us through this, you know, these episodes of her family traveling all around the country, because her father was in the military, and offers a really just a dynamic and a very personal and a middle-grade view of what it was like in (unintelligible)

  • 13:51:25

    NNAMDII remember having that exact thought when I was a kid. What is this about once upon a time. How do you get up on a time? I don't understand.

  • 13:51:34

    ALEXANDER"How I Discovered Poetry" by Marilyn Nelson. Brilliant book.

  • 13:51:36

    POWELLYep.

  • 13:51:37

    NNAMDIHeidi, who are "The Port Chicago 50" and what made their story stand out for you?

  • 13:51:43

    POWELLThis was a book I recommended and reviewed in our summer favorites. It's a book by Steve Sheinkin, who's an award-winning writer. He's -- actually while doing research for his award-winning book -- multiple award-winning book, "BOMB," he discovered a lesser-known story that he wanted to share about the Port Chicago 50. And these were 50 African-American sailors who were stationed at Port Chicago near San Francisco. And they had virtually no training in loading bombs and crates of ammunition onto ships. And in addition, the white officers who were supervising encouraged them to go quickly by pitting sort of the divisions against one another.

  • 13:52:26

    POWELLAnd some of the sailors, recognizing the dangers and inequities of their situation, took a stand and really helped to spark this country's Civil Rights Movement.

  • 13:52:38

    NNAMDIAnd the name of the book again?

  • 13:52:39

    POWELLIt's "The Port Chicago 50" by Steve Sheinkin.

  • 13:52:42

    NNAMDIOn to Norma in Silver Spring, Md. Norma, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:52:47

    NORMAHi, thank you for taking my call. I just wanted to share. I have a daughter who's now 42, but when she was very young and we lived in Arizona -- we're African-American -- there are so few books and so much lacking in diversity. And I was an elementary school teacher, so I searched hard and wide. But I wanted to provide her something that was really fun and easy and that she would enjoy. So I chose a Walt Disney character that you probably wouldn't see, Thumbelina. And I had a book about Thumbelina and I colored her brown. And so that was one of her favorite books.

  • 13:53:25

    NORMAAnd we read it all the time. And it wasn't until she got to be 16 or 17 that she happened to see the real Thumbelina. She thought it was just hilarious that I had colored it.

  • 13:53:34

    NNAMDIBecause she thought Thumbelina was black.

  • 13:53:36

    NORMAYeah, she thought Thumbelina was black.

  • 13:53:39

    ALEXANDERThumbelina is black.

  • 13:53:40

    NNAMDIThank you very much.

  • 13:53:41

    POWELLYour mom did that too, huh Kwame?

  • 13:53:42

    ALEXANDERNo, she didn't.

  • 13:53:44

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Norma. Ann emails, "When my son was young, I drove him to preschool every day. Knowing hearing language was important for him developmentally, I made up stories for him while I drove. This is a very inexpensive way to introduce story components to a young child. As my son grew, he still demanded stories from me. The art of storytelling, although the written component is missing, is still a good tool." What say you, Kwame?

  • 13:54:08

    ALEXANDEROh, definitely. I mean, my parents read me stories. My mother was a storyteller. I mentioned my father was a writer. And to sort of tie this into the We Need Diverse Books, I'm very adamant about -- I'm very supportive of that movement, let me first say that. I'm also very adamant about the reality that we need diverse-thinking people. There are books by Jackie Woodson, Walter D. Myers, E.B. Lewis, Eric Velasquez, Kelly Starling Lyons. There are many books by writers of color.

  • 13:54:36

    ALEXANDERThere are books featuring children of color. We need people who are going to have on their shelves the kind of books they claim they want representative of this world that they envision. So are you -- what are you doing to support that -- to support that notion? Publishers are going to publish books that are going to make money. There are so many independent publishers, small presses, and there are so many books out there that are already diverse. Looks at your shelves, people, and what kinds of books are on your shelves.

  • 13:55:07

    NNAMDIHere's Joyce in Chevy Chase, Md. Joyce, your turn.

  • 13:55:11

    JOYCEYes. I just wanted to compliment Heidi and Kwame on an excellent program and to say that Heidi...

  • 13:55:16

    NNAMDIHey, hey, I'm here too.

  • 13:55:17

    JOYCEWell, I mean, but they are the featured guests and Heidi is a colleague of mine...

  • 13:55:20

    NNAMDIGo ahead, go ahead, go ahead, go ahead.

  • 13:55:22

    JOYCE...in the Children's Book Guild, along with her work for An Open Book Foundation and Politics and Prose. And she and I are working together on our luncheon program for the year. And Kwame Alexander will be one of our speakers.

  • 13:55:35

    NNAMDITell us a little bit more about the luncheon program.

  • 13:55:37

    JOYCEThe Children's Book Guild of Washington D.C. has a membership that includes authors, illustrators, children's literature specialists, which is the category that Heidi's in. And every month, for 10 months of the year, we put on a program, usually at Busboys and Poets. Most of the programs are open to the public, if they come as guests of a member. And we have a different, wonderful speaker every time. And I'm really excited that Kwame Alexander will be one of them.

  • 13:56:07

    NNAMDIOkay. Thank you.

  • 13:56:07

    JOYCEAnd in addition, one last thing.

  • 13:56:09

    NNAMDIGo ahead.

  • 13:56:09

    JOYCEThe Children's Book Guild gives a nonfiction award every year to a writer of children's nonfiction for a body of work. We've done this for about 40 years. And we've honored Katherine Paterson, Seymour Simon and Doreen Rappaport, among many others. So I just to mention that.

  • 13:56:24

    NNAMDIThank you so much for your call, Joyce.

  • 13:56:25

    JOYCEYou're welcome.

  • 13:56:27

    NNAMDIKwame, you just returned from a trip to Ghana and you've worked overseas on numerous literacy projects. How does your work there compare to what you do here?

  • 13:56:35

    ALEXANDERWow. We work in a village called Konko and it's an initiative called Leap for Ghana, that Queen Mother Juanita Britton and Tracy Chiles McGee and I are leading. And each August we take 20 writers over. We'll be taking Nikki Giovanni over in August. And we go over because the illiteracy rate in the rural regions is on average 60 percent. And so the idea is to model read-alouds in the classrooms to train teachers on how to teach reading and writing. And to offer materials that children are going to be able to relate to, whether it's in their native language or in English, which is the primary language in Ghana.

  • 13:57:13

    ALEXANDERWhat I've found, to answer your question, is that the levels of poverty seem extremely low -- dire in many cases in some of these rural areas. But if you look in the eyes of these children, they want to learn. They want to read. They want to be read to. You contrast that with some of the young people that I have encountered in some places here in America, and you don't see that same level of ambition, that same level of hope, that same level of interest.

  • 13:57:41

    ALEXANDERAnd of course the resources and the opportunities are here in this country. So we're trying to make sure, through LeapforGhana.org, that we're able to provide some resources and opportunities for these young people to read and to learn.

  • 13:57:53

    NNAMDIKwame Alexander, he's a children's book author and poet whose latest work is "The Crossover," founder of Book-in-a-Day, a writing and publishing program for students in elementary, middle and high school. Kwame, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 13:58:03

    ALEXANDERThank you for having me.

  • 13:58:04

    NNAMDIHeidi Powell is the manager of the Children and Teens Department of Politics and Prose Bookstore and co-founder of An Open Book Foundation. Heidi, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:58:12

    POWELLThank you.

  • 13:58:13

    NNAMDIAs I said, you can go to our website, kojoshow.org, and find the list of suggestions from our panelists. And thank you all for listening. Have a happy Fourth. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Coming up Monday on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," the long shadow of poverty. A 20-year study in Baltimore finds upward mobility is tough when you start out poor. Then at 1:00, the U.N. and Haiti. Residents struggle to sue the United Nations, saying it's peacekeepers sparked a public health crisis. "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," noon till 2:00 Monday on WAMU 88.5 and streaming at kojoshow.org.

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