No one these days is delivering better sports books than Kwame Alexander. He writes other things too, but his sports books, including The Crossover and Booked, consistently reach readers who don’t usually read and provided satisfying stories for more experienced readers. Alexander’s inventive novel-in-verse format is engaging and accessible, and the drama in these books moves beyond scores and competition to address deeper real-life issues with authenticity and empathy.
Kwame Alexander’s newest book is The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in this Game Called Life. The cover nicely echoes The Crossover and Booked, while the contents are delivered in a unique multi-format presentation. Although readers can dip into The Playbook anywhere and flip or click through randomly, the material is organized into sections by topic: Grit, Motivation, Passion, Focus, Teamwork and Resilience. Within each section, the 52 rules are presented through original aphorisms supported by quotes from notable athletes, mini-memoir installments from Kwame Alexander, and (in the print version) photos and graphics. These varied texts find the sweet spot of saying important things in ways that are inspirational without being preachy.
The audiobook is excellent. One hour in length on one CD, it captures the same tight-loose approach of the print version. Going through it in order provides a cohesive listening experience, but certain tracks will be favorites for different listeners, and the production makes it easy to duplicate the skipping around that is so appealing in the print version. Section titles and corresponding tracks are printed on the CD. Narrator Ruffin Prentiss III sounds young, and his narration is friendly, sincere, and dramatic in the appropriate places. (Click here for a brief audio excerpt from The Playbook, courtesy of Recorded Books.)
Readers who discover The Playbook will likely be absorbed as they read and listen (and re-read and re-listen), but I can’t say enough about the value of this book and audiobook as mentor texts. The Playbook can be an exciting introduction to the concept of multi-genre writing projects. Using Kwame Alexander’s work as a model, students can focus on a specific idea and then write their own narratives, find or create graphics, research relevant quotes, and distill their learning into an aphoristic rule. Using the audiobook’s narration as a model for tone, students can record and edit their work into a finished production.
Kwame Alexander’s The Playbook is different from other books on the shelves. It’s a sports book that uses gamesmanship as a starting point for talking about the character traits and interpersonal skills young people are trying to develop. Providing access to the audio and print versions of The Playbook is an excellent way for grown-ups to help with that process.
I have a free copy of the audio book version of The Playbook for the first reader to request it in a comment below! (U. S. addresses only, please.)