Just Imagine


Authored by Kwame Alexander
Illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile
Published by Andersen Press

Rebound is a verse novel about a long, hot American summer and the grief of a young man who has suddenly lost his father – ‘my star exploded/ and everything/ froze‘.

Unable to talk about his sorrow, Charlie Bell retreats into his comics, stays close to his two school friends and freezes at the sound of a siren. When he is not completely truthful, his mum sends him away to his grandparents. There he eventually finds himself under the influence of his cousin Roxie, his straight-talking Granddaddy and basketball. Things start to settle down. Yet his yearning for Air Jordans leads him astray. ‘Why can’t/ my mother/ understand/ that the shoes/ are not just/ for my feet/ but my heart,/ too?’

This verse novel is like a finally crafted piece of music. At different moments different voices take centre stage. The corny rhymes and home truths of Granddaddy and the calming words of Grandma together with her fried chicken and peach pie nurture Charlie’s soul. The monosyllabic conversations between Charlie and Mom demonstrate how they can’t find a way through their joint grief, while CJ’s ability to effortlessly talk to Charlie nonstop shows a true friendship.

The visual aspects of Rebound are central to the power of the text. The occasional comic strips by Dawud Anyabwile represent Charlie’s fantasies and memories. The innovative use of fonts, sizing and punctuation reminded me of concrete poetry, where image is integral to meaning. The punctuation of The Last Shot brought me to a standstill when reading it for the first time, imitating the movements in the basketball match.

This is the Newbury Medal-winning author’s third verse novel and it has been shortlisted for the Carnegie and the CLiPPA prizes 2019. It is already hugely successful and the genre of the verse novel has become extremely popular in recent years and with good reason. Readers can enjoy the satisfaction of completing a story in one sitting and really getting to know the voices of the characters.

In school this text is versatile. It would work well as a Y5 to Y7 whole class text and a free CLPE teaching sequence will be available from 17th May. Alternatively I would use it as a read aloud text in class although I would want to share the comic strips and the layout via a visualiser. Copies in the school library would also work well for a small book group of basketball enthusiasts or for readers who enjoy a shorter text. The opportunities are endless.