[juicy review] How to Read a Book by Kwame Alexander and Melissa Sweet


For hungry minds, there’s nothing like feasting on a good book, from that delicious anticipation of first cracking open the cover, to devouring each and every word, to basking in the afterglow of a story well told.

In How to Read a Book (HarperCollins, 2019), Newbery Medalist Kwame Alexander and Caldecott Honoree Melissa Sweet celebrate books with a tantalizing banquet of juicy words and captivating art, illuminating the sensory, intuitive, and wildly imaginative aspects of the reading experience.

In this lyrical ode, which began as a World Read Aloud Day poem and later appeared on a National Poetry Month poster, Alexander employs an extended food metaphor to mouthwatering effect. Reading a book, he suggests, is like consuming luscious, ripe fruit — something to savor with full presence of heart and mind.



First, plant yourself beneath a tree or (if you prefer) sit on a stoop like Langston Hughes:

Once you’re comfy,
peel its gentle skin,
like you would
a clementine.

The color of

The scent of morning
and sweet
butterfly kisses.

Sensory rewards abound as you “dig your thumb at the bottom of each juicy section and pop the words out, piece by piece, part by part, page by rustling page.”



Exquisite pleasure!



Watch “a novel world unfurl right before your eyes” as you  “squeeze every morsel of each plump line until the last drop of magic drips from the infinite sky –”

Sweet’s handmade pictures, with their primary palette of neon orange and fuchsia, are by turns beautiful, fun, evocative, dynamic, engaging, and unabashedly exuberant. Her carefully structured line by line riffs, free spirited visual vignettes powered by pure joy, echo an elation avid readers know only too well when they are lost in the pages of a good book. Sweet’s masterful collages, chock full of charming details and delightful surprises, also include excerpts from the classic children’s book Bambi.



The whimsical hand-lettered text, sometimes raining from the sky or marching across the page, commands attention in playful, declarative ways through its inventive arrangement, variation in size, typeface and/or color. The letters brim with personality and are an integral part of the artwork, as they well should be, since a book is the art of words. Interesting symbols like concentric circles and arrows underscore expansiveness, layers of meaning, direction and movement. After all, reading is a personal journey which ultimately transports the reader through time and space, shifting his focus, affecting his emotions.


The “Once Upon a Time” book toaster is Mr Cornelius’s fave illo.


As the bright orange book becomes an umbrella, a toaster, a record player, a guitar, an 18-windowed bus, and a tent, we’re reminded of the transformative power of reading, with the young girl in her orange cape soaring through the sky as the super hero of her own story. And what reader would not be delighted by the SURPRISE book party gatefold spread, or when “bursts of ORANGE EXPLODE beneath a perfect purple moon” in die cut fashion?



Each illustration, created with watercolor, gouache, mixed media, tattered book covers, vintage papers and found objects, is a visual poem unto itself, expanding on Alexander’s premise that reading is an active, creative experience of total immersion, as distinctive and impactful for the reader as his imagination will allow.

Finally, there’s a nice balance between the bold, unleashed energy of reading and the private, introspective, cozy aspect of it, as we see a boy settled with his book in a comfy armchair, dangling upside down from a tree branch, or contentedly resting on a slice of the moon.

At the end, Alexander reminds us that reading shouldn’t be rushed:

Your eyes need
time to taste.
Your soul needs
room to bloom.

Just as when intently reading a good poem or novel, Sweet’s multi-layered art invites us to slow down, examine and discover.



As we digest and internalize all that a book can offer, its larger message and inspiration endures. Peel open How to Read a Book soon and wander through the wonder of this stunning treasure. It will satisfy your every craving for literary and pictorial excellence.




written by Kwame Alexander
illustrated by Melissa Sweet
published by HarperCollins (June 18, 2019)
Picture Book for ages 4-8, 32 pp.
*Backmatter includes Author’s and Illustrator’s Notes

**Starred Reviews** from BookPage, Kirkus, School Library Journal and ALA Booklist

♥ Visit the publisher’s website for Activity Sheets and an audio excerpt.

♥ Check out Melissa’s process photos at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

♥ Wonderful review of How to Read a Book at Librarian’s Quest



The lovely and talented Tabatha Yeatts is hosting the Roundup at The Opposite of Indifference. Swing by to check out the full menu of delectable poetic goodness being shared around the blogosphere this week. Happy November!


*Interior spreads posted by permission, text copyright © 2019 Kwame Alexander, illustrations © 2019 Melissa Sweet, published by Harper/HarperCollins. All rights reserved.

**Copyright © 2019 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

26 thoughts on “[juicy review] How to Read a Book by Kwame Alexander and Melissa Sweet

  1. So gorgeous! ♥️ Definitely on my “to buy” list. I love “pop the words out” and “Surprise! It’s a book party” and that highly impressive orange cape.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved this book so much, another one I had to purchase this year. We are indeed blessed with the special talents of Kwame Alexander and Melissa Sweet. Thanks, Jama, it is a “sweet” response to the book that we all need to “taste”!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jama, I am in love with this book that Kwame shared with me this summer when he was on Long Island. I wanted to run home with it but it was his only copy and he was leaving for a year-long stay in London with his family. It is simply delicious both in an artistic way and in content. The poetic language floats through the book as the illustrations amaze and delight the reader.

    Your quote, “After all, reading is a personal journey which ultimately transports the reader through time and space, shifting his focus, affecting his emotions,” is alive and operational in Kwame’s book.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ooh, this is so lovely, and the illustrations – so active and vibrant – just make it. The words just make you want to take a bite out of the book! Or those oranges… (And CLEARLY it is time for lunch.)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Melissa Sweet looks like she has outdone herself on this one – and the poetic strong voice of Kwame Alexander – how can this book possibly go wrong! One of my current heartaches here is that I still have not explored the libraries here in our new home in UAE – I do miss our fantastic libraries in Singapore, which I am pretty sure already carry this title – or if not, soon. Hope to get my hands on it! 🙂


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