Kwame Alexander Creates WordPlay, A Digital Video Series on Writing

The award-winning author partnered with Adventure Academy, a subscription-based digital education platform, to inspire kids to write.

Kwame Alexander―poet, Newbery and Caldecott medal-winning, best-selling author, and founding editor of Versify, an imprint of HMH Books for Young People―has spent years visiting elementary and middle schools to share his love of writing with students. But Alexander wanted to reach more kids than he can with school visits―even before the pandemic made those in-person events impossible. He wanted to teach young people that writing is cool and inspire them to tell their stories. 

With that goal in mind, he partnered with education technology company Age of Learning to create WordPlay, a digital series that combines live action and animation.

“I tried to create a master class for kids, to teach them about writing and how cool it is,” he said after a Zoom screening of the first episode of the series. “It’s my idea of what a writing class looks like for young people. How do we get them excited to put pen on paper? How do we get them engaged in literature?”

Episodes will start to roll out in September and be available only as part of Age of Learning's interactive learning platform Adventure Academy. Additional complementary learning activities from the Adventure Academy teachers and curriculum experts will be available with each episode.

As teachers seek new ways to engage students remotely and some families have decided to homeschool this year, the arrival of the 10-episode video series seems particularly well-suited to this time. The author of The Undefeated, The Crossover, and more than 30 other books, believes writing can help young people through these difficult times.

“How do we heal, how do we deal, how do we cope?” Alexander said. “Words have the power to really help us take in the world around us, understand it, see it then be able to react to it, make it better, imagine it in a different way.”

The series is also an example of how arts and education can continue despite the health and safety protocols of the pandemic. The entire show was created and produced during the pandemic, according to Alexander.

Officially designated for elementary-age students, Alexander believes it can reach middle schoolers as well, calling the “sweet spot” third through seventh grade.

[Read: Newbery winner Kwame Alexander curates young readers imprint.]

The show is about Alexander overcoming challenges to write his first short story, he said.

“And you―young people out there―are doing it with me.”

It also gives kids a window into Alexander’s life and personality. Early in the first episode, the ever-energetic Alexander walks by a picture of him and his mom.

“She taught me everything I know about writing,” he says in the episode. “ ‘Thank you, mom, for teaching me how to use my words.’”

Reminiscent of Mr. Rogers, Alexander takes off a sweatshirt and changes his sneakers when he walks into his animated studio. There will be repeated elements, such as a musical vocabulary lesson from Toni Blackman and Randy Preston and a dramatic acting out of the plot of a popular book by the kids in the Pajama Drama Club. Each episode will also have a guest author answer a few questions. Marc Tyler Nobleman, author of The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra, was the first guest. He and Alexander discussed using outlines. Guests in other episodes include Nic Stone (Dear Martin), Kwame Mbalia (Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky), and Alicia D. Williams (Genesis Begins Again).

Watch the trailer:

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