There are very few people who can manage to put together a free-verse, young adult novel about baseball and jazz and relate it seamlessly to young love and the trials that challenge teens, but that's what Kwame Alexander has done with Mary Rand Hess in his latest book, “Swing."
As part of his book tour, the award-winning Alexander will visit Franklin on Wednesday with Mayor Eugene Foulcard in front of more than 200 students. He’ll also put on a community event from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday at the Main Library in Baton Rouge.
Part of the author’s goal when visiting schools is to spread the word about his recently launched #huglife campaign. He said it’s a chance to help make positive change, starting in the classroom.
“I want people to do better,” Alexander said. "I want people to focus on the positive and not the negative. I want people to respect the humanity of not only the people who live in their homes but who live outside of their homes and don’t necessarily look like them.”
That includes children who may not always receive the positive attention they deserve, he said.
“I want people to have an understanding, an appreciation, a caring, a kindness, a compassion for black boys,” Alexander said. “I want them to know that they matter. They’re just like any other kid, any other boy. And we have to embrace everyone."
He said he also hopes to expose kids to literature in a different way and encourage them to explore books beyond the classroom.
“I hope that when I leave an assembly with a group of kids that they want to go and read,” he said. “That they have a different sort of relationship with words — with poetry. That they think ‘maybe this can be cool. Maybe books are cool.’ I feel like I’m the ambassador of cool. I self-appointed myself that.”
And the visits have benefits for him as well, Alexander said.
“I find myself inspired by how excited and engaged the kids get when I interact with them,” he said. "It works. The poetry does work.”
Although poetry may not seem like an obvious choice for children, Alexander said verse is beneficial in many ways.
“Poetry is a great way to get kids to find their voice — to build confidence — because it’s so short,” he said. "And it still packs the same amount of emotional weight that prose does, in a more compact size. I think it’s a great tool, a great strategy to create better human beings."
Alexander said it’s important to start teaching messages of kindness at a young age, and literature is one of the ways to facilitate that.
He recently partnered with Follett Corp. to launch All Books for Kids, a literacy campaign. Follett is a Westchester, Illinois-based company that provides a variety of educational products to schools, colleges and public libraries through its subsidiaries.
Alexander said he hopes to bring books to children with all different backgrounds. But his goals reach beyond just getting books in their hands. Alexander said he wants to help mold a positive generation.
“If you want kids to be polite as adults, you teach them how to do it as kids," he said. "If you want them to think that they matter, to think that they are important, to have a positive self-esteem, you begin to teach that to them as a child. I tell people all the time ‘the mind of an adult begins in the imagination of a child.’ So let’s start early creating the kind of humans who can imagine a better world."
Kwame Alexander event
Alexander will read from and sign copies of his new book, "Swing."
WHEN: 6 p.m. Wednesday
WHERE: East Baton Rouge Parish Main Library, 7711 Goodwood Blvd.