Dressed in all black, author Jason Reynolds sat in the back a young adult book seminar with a sense of calm until he was called to the front. As he was being interviewed, his passion, intelligence and light began to fill the room.
Reynolds, a Brooklynite, discussed his literary works. He published his first book with his roommate Jason Griffin entitled My Name is Jason. Mine too.: Our Story, Our Way, a seamless collaboration of art and poetry and his two novels. He also discussed his two novels, When I Was the Greatest and The Boy in the Black Suit. (I haven’t read the latter, but I will!) When I Was the Greatest is set in an unforgettable summer in Bed-Stuy where a teenage boy learns about family, loyalty and integrity. The cover is of a knit-bombed gun against a black background. It’s symbolism. More importantly there’s a dope story between the pages and is highly recommended to everyone–especially young adults. Find it. Read it. Share it. You’re welcome.
For many Black and Latino students, the materials given in schools aren’t relatable or interesting. Jason Reynolds was one of those students until he read James Baldwin. It opened his eyes and sparked a flame. Reynolds explains in the “About” section of his website:
Here’s what I know: I know there are a lot —A LOT — of young people who hate reading. I know that many of these book haters are boys. I know that many of these book-hating boys, don’t actually hate books, they hate boredom. If you are reading this, and you happen to be one of these boys…know that I feel you. I REALLY do. Because even though I’m a writer, I hate reading boring books too.
Here’s what I plan to do: NOT WRITE BORING BOOKS.
That’s it, and that’s all.
His objective seems so simple, yet so vital. According to the 2014 New York State Test Results: New York City Grades 3–8 published by the New York City Department of Education, Black and Latino student are not doing as well as their other counterparts under the Common Core curriculum.
Description of English problems:
This year’s English questions included texts that were on grade-level and had more rigorous vocabulary words; students needed to be able to cite evidence to support their answer, not just share their opinion.
Description of math problems:
On this year’s Common Core questions, students had to solve more problems that included multiple steps and could not be determined by one, simple calculation.
In extremely simple terms: the tests are wordier. This means reading comprehension is crucial to achieving a high score. If a student isn’t a good reader how are they supposed to score high in either subject?
Back to Reynolds. One day while working in a shoe store, the late Walter Dean Myers (his son, Christopher and Reynolds are good friends) walked in to talk about When I Was the Greatest. They discussed the math of it, how often did he write and how many pages he turned out. Then Myers gave him two gems of wisdom, the first was to always have material for the publishers by constantly writing and secondly, “it is OK to speak in your voice.”
The voice that Myers spoke of is the familiar. No stranger to writing it, he knew that if reluctant readers were able to connect to the familiar, it would become a gateway to an affinity with literacy. The main setting of When I was the Greatest is a stoop. So while turning the pages, you are sitting next to the characters, Ali, Noodles, and Needles with Jazz at the window. Hence, there is “power and magic in the normal”.
Reynolds isn’t the first or the only author to speak in their voice, but his works are definitely great additions.* He also just won a Coretta Scott King Book Award for When I was the Greatest.
*Reynolds books alone won’t close the education gap alone, but if it helps one student with her school work. He will make a world of a difference.