Kid fit: Move to the groove

Minneapolis author John Coy wrote the picture book classics Night Driving and Strong to the Hoop, as well as the young adult novels Box Out and Crackback. I spoke with John recently about writing, teaching, movement, and his Basketball Poetry workshops.

Workshop students compare breathing at rest and during exertion and play with imagery, figurative language, rhythm, and editing.

Minnesota Parent: How’d you think to combine basketball and poetry?

John Coy: It’s funny. Adults always ask that question, but kids never do. Movement just comes naturally to them. Basketball involves tremendous rhythm — bouncing, running, and talk — there’s a verbalness you don’t find anywhere else. We often have this Midwestern tendency of avoiding strong language out of a desire to get along, but when we play a game, we find an intensity that we don’t find elsewhere.

MP: How do you physicalize your own writing?

JC: I have a big studio where I move around to get in positions of a character — a physical connection helps me form an emotional connection.

MP: How do you hook kids during a workshop?

JC: I start with a reading, which I memorize so I can watch kids while I read. I study reactions — survey for kids having a hard time sitting still. Some kids just can’t sit for a book — many don’t get read to at home. I teach to them.

MP: Do you teach differently to different ages?

JC: I teach K–12. With high school kids, I follow their lead a little more. I’m often astonished at how prepared teenagers are to be disrespected by adults, so I try to be up front about letting them know how invaluable they are to my writing. I ask questions like, "What don’t adults understand about being 16? or "What isn’t in books now that should be?" Most kids like hearing I’m interested in how they think.  

MP: How can parents energize learning at home?

JC: Encourage outside play before homework, not afterward.

MP: Describe transitioning from picture books to young adult novels.

JC: Many editors said Strong to the Hoop felt more like a novel than a picture book, which stuck with me. So I wrote Box Out, which spotlights unconventional coaching — the girls’ coach has players call out their own warm-ups and visualization exercises. Coaches who break monotony bring success.

MP: Tell me about your Crackback.

JC: It’s about an average Midwestern 16-year-old — so much YA these days seems to be so extreme and edgy. The kid plays high school football and has to make important choices about how much to wrap his identity into it. Peer pressure and steroids are also factors.

MP: What’s in the hopper?

JC: A series of four books about four 10-year-old friends playing four different sports together through elementary and into middle school — designed to hook boys exactly at the point when they begin to lose interest in reading. Book one, called Top of the Order, comes out March ’09.

A publication party for Top of the Order will be held March 13 at 7 p.m. at the Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul. Sheff Otis (a.k.a. "The Dadiator") is a local writer, fitness fiend, and father of seven. He blogs at and


Crackback received 2007 Young Adult Choices List Book of the Year honors, awarded by the International Reading Association. Learn more about John’s life and books at or contact him at [email protected].


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