In a sense, Kayla Alexander has accomplished her goals.
She received a scholarship to play basketball in college. She graduated from that college – Syracuse University – as the program leader in six different categories, from points to blocks to games played. She was an honorable mention All-American her senior year, helping her become the number eight pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft.
Yet for all her accolades, she never accomplished a goal she set in elementary school: to become a teacher.
“In grade one and two, I had this teacher, Madame Cossette, she was amazing,” the Canadian native said. “She was patient, she was super-artistic, she actually helped bring out the art in me. It was because of her I said I was going to be a teacher one day.”
With the Aug. 29 release of her children’s book “The Magic of Basketball,” Alexander, currently playing for the Chicago Sky, is now one step closer to finally teaching young kids.
The book, which uses rhyme to chronicle Alexander’s basketball career and the lessons it taught her, has been in the works for years.
“I went to school for education, I love kids, working with kids, educating, teaching them, inspiring and motivating them,” she said. “I love art, I’ve been doing art since I was a little girl, and I love basketball. I was trying to find a way to combine all of these three things, the three passions of mine that I enjoy so much.
“And one day it hit me, ‘Kayla, write a children’s book.’”
Alexander planned to do all the illustrations in the book, leaning on past art projects she had undertaken. In 2016, she and her sister Kesia, the co-author of the book, began printing and selling Alexander’s illustrations on mugs, a project they called “Kups by Kayla.” They then created K. Alexander Creations to sell all of Alexander’s artwork.
While her passion for art helped push her to make a children’s book, creating the illustrations for the book wasn’t easy, as Alexander struggled to find the right style. At one point she even considered bringing in someone else to do the artwork, until Kesia stepped in.
“My sister and my friends were like, ‘Kayla, why are you doing that? Stop being lazy. As much as you want someone else to do the illustrations for you, that’s what you do, you love to draw. So suck it up, make a game plan, figure out what style you want to do and then get it done yourself,’” she said.
“Looking back now, just with anything you want, I find that anything that is valuable and that you enjoy, it is going to take some time and a lot of work. It was the exact same process for this book, but it was rewarding, and I am thankful that I stuck it out and sacrificed and persevered and did it myself and got it done.”
Alexander ended up doing all the artwork herself, yet felt she needed help with the words of the book. Enter Kesia, who according to Alexander, can make any sentence sound better.
“She is so gifted when it comes to words,” Alexander said. “I envy her for that, but I was like, ‘you need to help me.’ So I got her on board to help me, and I am so thankful to her, because she is so gifted in that area.”
Kesia helped Alexander shorten the book and make it rhyme – a taxing process that led to the duo deciding the plot of the story was more important than making every word rhyme.
“There are also times we had to scrap a sentence all together or come up with a new way to explain what we want to portray the message to say,” Alexander said. “We noticed sometimes we used the same words, and we were like, ‘nope, we can’t use that again.’ We need to rephrase it, or we need to put it in the trash and get a new idea. So at times it was frustrating, but it was fun at the same time too.”
In addition to encouraging readers to follow their dreams and work hard, the story is unique for its protagonist, a black girl. According to a study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center based on 2018 publishing statistics, of the 3,134 children’s books they reviewed, only 10 percent had African or African American protagonists.
Alexander said that while representation wasn’t initially an aspect she considered, the statistics she found made her think back on her own childhood.
“Growing up…I was surrounded by diversity,” she said. “I didn’t really hit me until I moved (away) where I was like, ‘Oh, this isn’t normal. Not everyone is exposed to the kind of diversity that I am exposed to on the regular. It was kind of an eye-opener.
“That was very important to me, to make sure all the characters are very diverse. I tried to represent everybody in the book, and just make it a book that everybody can enjoy.”
The Magic of Basketball is now available on Amazon in paperback and for download as an eBook on Kindle.