The Classroom Bookshelf
Inside The Classroom Bookshelf


Written by Kwame Alexander
Published in 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Grades 4-8
ISBN: 978-0-544-57098-6
Book Review
Newbery medal-winning author Kwame Alexander has another captivating and emotionally charged novel-in-verse in Booked. Nick Hall is an eighth grader who is both likable and relatable. He loves soccer, hanging with his best friend, and playing FIFA video games til 1:30 A.M. Other than thinking about the girl he has a crush on, Nick’s school life is marred by boredom: “Ms. Hardwick’s Honors English class/ is one boring/ required read/ after another./ So you’ve become a pro/ at daydreaming/ while pretend-listening.” Meanwhile, his home life is unraveling when his parents announce that they are separating and his mother is leaving. Full of wordplay and reflective narration, Bookedreads like a conversation Nick is having between himself and the reader. The novel is dotted with footnotes about unusual words that Nick’s father, a linguistic anthropologist, makes Nick learn by reading his Weird and Wonderful Words dictionary. While this requirement makes Nick feel like he is living in a “prison of words”, his attitude towards words, reading and writing changes thanks to the inspiration of the school librarian, a resident book whisperer. Ideal as a class read aloud or independent book selection, Booked offers a compelling story about family dynamics, the power of poetry, the potential of reading to transform, and the game of soccer.

Teaching Ideas / Invitations for Your Classroom:
Grades 4-8
Booked. The title of the book refers to a soccer term, booked, which is when a player commits a foul that is worthy of a red or yellow card and the referee records the details in his notebook.  Explore the metaphorical extension of the term in Nick’s life. What are the “fouls” he is made to feel he committed according to his parents, his teacher, and his peers, particularly the class bullies? Have students consider the ways books themselves play a central role in Nick’s life. What are the ways books “foul” him at the beginning of the story? Coopt the word into a positive term and have students write their own definitions of the word booked by considering the positive change Nick experiences when he finds books he actually wants to read.
Text Clubs: Novels in Verse. The choice to write the novel in verse rather than prose is intentional and, as such, integral to students’ understanding of Booked. Watch an interview with Kwame Alexander during the PBS coverage of the Los Angeles Times Festival of the Books where he discusses his intentions with the use of the form. Next, support students in text clubs to read other novels-in-verse such as Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover, Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming, Locomotion, Peace, Locomotion, or Andrea Davis Pinkney’s The Red Pencil. In what ways would these novels have been different if written in prose? Consider what would be lost if they were not written in verse. Have text clubs present their favorite poems as a way of explaining the characters, key plot points, and central themes of the story they read. 
Exploring the Sounds, Structures, and Language of Poetry. Listen to Kwame Alexander’s interview on NPR about Booked with special attention towards what he says about the power of poetry to tell stories in a small space. Have students select poems in the book that play with sounds such as alliteration, repetition, and rhyme. Then, have students select poems in the book that play with language such as the words Nick says his father makes him learn through his dictionary reading. How do these words add to the playful nature of the poems? Next, have students select poems to analyze the structures Alexander uses including white space, length of stanzas, line breaks, use of italics, bold words, and capitalization. Finally, have students select poems that they want to pay tribute to in some way by writing their own versions of the poem. We can pay tribute to an existing poem by drawing from the title, use of language, structures, sounds, and themes. Share these tributes through a class performance or on a physical or digital bulletin board for others to comment on.
Found Poetry.  As a consequence for daydreaming and using a malapropism in class, Nick is given an additional assignment from his English teacher to find an example of a malapropism in The Adventures of Huckelberry Finn. Instead of a traditional written response, Nick uses a found poetry method of blacking out all of the text except for a few select words from a page of The Adventures of Huckelberry Finn. His method inspires the school librarian, The Mac, to make his own found poem from The Three Musketeers. Have students explore the work of poets that use the form of found poetry using noticing different techniques poets use. Learn more about variations of found poems at the Found Poetry Review siteincluding erasure, cut-up, and free form. Next, have a range of pages copied from canonical texts as well as newspapers and magazines for students to engage in the creation of their own found poetry. Discuss with students how the process of creating found poems is similar to making a collage. Decisions of word choice and form are up to the poet. Display these poems for other classes to enjoy. Have found poetry materials available in a poetry center throughout the year as an inspiration for students to find their inner poet.
Conversation Poems. We learn more about Nick’s relationship with his mom through his use of conversation poems. That is, he writes a series of questions his mom asks along with his responses. Highlight the poems that use this form throughout the novel and support students to write their own conversation poems by thinking of someone from their own life and using the question-answer format to relay a typical or memorable conversation from their life.
Footnotes: A Duet Model. Kwame Alexander uses footnotes throughout the book to define words that Nick has to read and memorize in his dad’s tomb, Weird and Wonderful Words. In addition to a traditional dictionary entry that includes the pronunciation, part of speech, and definition of the word, Nick’s footnotes also include his inner thoughts on the words.  Engage students in a discussion of how the footnotes add another layer to the story by giving readers something new and unexpected. How do the footnotes change the reading experience for them? Pair Booked with Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime another work of fiction that uses footnotes. Compare each author’s use of footnotes to provide more information to the reader that isn’t found in the narrative. How do the footnotes in both books represent the imaginations and splintered worlds of the main characters? Consider why more authors don’t use this powerful tool. Have students do a tour of their writing from the year and to find a piece that would benefit from the inclusion of footnotes. Challenge them to add footnotes to both explanatory and narrative texts noting differences in their use of footnotes across genres.
Critical Literacy
Rethinking What It Means to Be a Boy. In his interview on NPR, Kwame Alexander discusses the ways he was in touch with his emotional side as a boy and that he wants to shine light on how boys are multidimensional—that boys smile, laugh, love, cry, and hope. In what ways does Alexander achieve the goal of expanding our definitions of what it means to be a boy in both Booked and in The Crossover. How does his use of sports as a central metaphor and topic in both books further contribute to dominant cultural models of what it means to be a boy?
Women’s Soccer Pay Discrimination. How would Booked have been different if it had been written from a female player’s point of view? After an initial discussion of this question, support students to research female perspectives on the game. For example, despite what they define as superior achievements, the U.S. Women’s Soccer team earns less than the Men’s Soccer team. Read about the controversy and the ensuing legal battle in sources such as The Wall Street Journal. Encourage students to write their own narrative with female sports players. Or write a letter as a class to Kwame Alexander asking him to consider writing a novel-in-verse that has a female protagonist that is also a sports player and sports fan.
Further Investigation
Online Resources
Kwame Alexander’s Site
Follow Kwame Alexander on Twitter and Facebook
Mr. Shu Reads Interview with Kwame Alexander
NPR Interview with Kwame Alexander
PBS Coverage of L.A. Times Festival of the Book
Found Poetry Review Site Found Poem Examples
Alexander, K. (2013). He said she said. New York, NY: Amistad Press.
Alexander, K. (2009). And then you know. Kingsport, TN: Word of Mouth Books.
Alexander, K. (2007). Crush: Love poems. Kingsport, TN: Word of Mouth Books.
Haddon, M. (2004). Curious incident of the dog in the nighttime. New York, NY: Vintage Contemporaries.
Woodson, J. (2010). Locomotion. New York, NY: Nancy Paulsen Books.
Woodson, J. (2010). Peace, locomotion. New York, NY: Nancy Paulsen Books.

Katie Cunningham About Katie Cunningham

Katie is a Professor of Literacy and English Education at Manhattanville College. There she is also the Director of the Advanced Certificate Program in Social and Emotional Learning and Whole Child Education. Her work focuses on children’s literature, joyful literacy methods, and literacy leadership. Katie is the author of Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning and co-author of Literacy Leadership in Changing Schools. Her book Start with Joy: Designing Literacy Learning for Student Happiness will be released September 2019. She is passionate about the power of stories to transform lives.


  1. As always, your suggestions are thorough and right on-point!
    I'm about 30 pages away from the end of Booked. I've been enjoying it tremendously. (I'm eager to see how it ends so I skipped over your synopsis just in case you gave anything away.)

  2. I really enjoyed The Crossover despite not being a basketball fan, so as a fan of soccer, I've been waiting for this one. Thanks for the comprehensive review!

  3. Thank you Katie. Just in time for my webcast with Kwame on Monday!