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BookMark: "How To Read A Book" By Kwame Alexander & Melissa Sweet

Karla Schmit reviews "How to Read a Book" written by Kwame Alexander and illustrated by Melissa Sweet

It’s that time of the year when the Pennsylvania Center for the Book celebrates the winner of its Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award for Children.

This year’s winner is “How to Read a Book” by Kwame Alexander with art by Melissa Sweet. Alexander also won a Hopkins Poetry Award and a Newberry Medal for “The Crossover” in 2015. Sweet is a Caldecott Honoree.

Alexander describes the writing of this poem as his way of capturing his family’s reading experiences. The result is a book that paints a picture of the journey readers take each time they open a book. The imagery the words evoke give the reader an emotional response to the joy of reading. One of my favorite lines in the poem illustrates that feeling. It goes:

“So get real cozy between the covers and let your fingers wonder as they wander…Squeeze every morsel of each plump line until the last drop of magic drips from the infinite sky.”

The ending of the book reminds me of a student in one of my third-grade classrooms back in the 1980s. He had closed his book and put it down during a cherished silent reading time. I asked him if he had finished the book. He responded, “No, I’m near the finish. It’s so good, and I just don’t want it to end.”

Alexander’s poem echoes that sentiment of a book being just so wonderful that you don’t want it to conclude. He writes at the poem’s end:

“Don’t rush though: your eyes need time to taste. Your soul needs room to bloom. Now, sleep. Dream. Hope. You never reach the end.”

Just as compelling as the words in the poem is the art that Melissa Sweet uses to capture the experience of reading a book. The colors are vibrant with collages created from discarded books and book covers, paint, and found materials. Sweet writes that she tried many materials before deciding the pages from a worn-out copy of “Bambi” felt like the perfect fit. She says the colors were beautiful and the fawn from the beloved children’s book provided vivid imagery. Sweet felt affirmed in her choice when she came across a poem by Nikki Giovanni that began with these words: “poetry is motion graceful as a fawn…”

Readers will not only enjoy the words of the poem in this picture book, but they will delight in poring over the art. The colorful, many shaped letters and words are a feast for the eyes. And discovering snippets from “Bambi” is amusing. These elements will make readers of all ages come back to the book again and again to experience the wonder of “How to Read A Book.”  

Reviewer Karla Schmit is the director of the Pennsylvania Center for the Book.

Kwame Alexander frequently appears on NPR to talk about poetry. He will accept the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award for Children at a virtual celebration on October 22nd at 1pm. Details for the event can be found on the Pennsylvania Center for the Book’s website and Facebook page.


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