Books connect us? Award-winning author and poet Kwame Alexander thinks so. Alexander is the author of The crossover, rebound, and several other best-selling titles. Millions of young people around the world have read and loved his novels and poems.
On September 3rd, I spoke to Alexander at the National Book Festival in Washington, DC. I asked about his new novel. The Door of No Return, due September 27th from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. The novel follows 11-year-old Kofi Offin’s harrowing journey after tragedy changes life in his West African village.
Here are highlights from my conversation with the author, edited slightly for length and clarity.
The theme of this year’s National Book Festival is ‘Books Bring Us Together’. Do you think that’s true?
Absolutely, books can bring us together. Books can be mirrors in which we can see ourselves and books can be windows in which to see other people. We become more connected to each other and to ourselves.
Have any experiences inspired you to write? The Door of No Return?
I have been to Ghana in West Africa eleven times. [The name Kwame comes from Ghana.] Going there so many times, tasting the food, meeting the people and putting my feet in the sea, I felt a kind of kinship. I felt connected to this place. I wanted to write a story set there. These trips inspired me.
What do you think readers will like the most?
There is an interesting plot twist, and the ending is a mystery. It’s adventurous and exciting.
In the book, the character Kofi faces an unexpected challenge. How do you think challenges can bring us together?
We can’t figure everything out on our own. Sometimes we need help from other people. We realize that we have others around us who can support us, give us ideas and help us. It makes us a stronger family and community and stronger, better people.
Characters in your books look and act like kids I know. Why do you think it’s important to make your characters real and relatable?
Children can tell if a character is fake or not real and will be deterred. You don’t want to read the book. I don’t want kids to just enjoy the beginnings of my books and the endings of my books, I want them to enjoy everything in between. You have to make the characters believable.