Tag Archives: Jason Reynolds

For Everyone, by Jason Reynolds

For EveryoneJason Reynolds is the author of a number of brilliant novels for tweens and teens, including Ghost and Long Way Down, to name just two. I have had the privilege of hearing him speak several times, and he is always a moving storyteller, but more to the point, he reveals himself to be both a deep thinker and a hard worker.

This new title is in a different category than his novels. It made a perfect gift for a recent graduate of my acquaintance. It is a long, poetic letter to everyone who has a dream. Reynolds gleans from his own experiences for some of the content, relating the internal burning to express oneself and the collaboration with friends who are also yearning to realize their dreams. He talks about starting on his journey as a little child, but he also tells the story of landing back at home in his mid-twenties to discover that his mother, who had retired from her 9-to-5 career, had found her dream of helping children and caring for the needy. So, you’re never too old to begin. He is a creative person, but he extends the net to others who want to be athletes or entrepreneurs. He describes the fear and doubt that creep in, keeping us from leaving a place of bland security, and tells us to “jump anyway.”

Reynolds was on an author panel once when he was asked that perennial question: “What advice do you have for aspiring writers?” His answer was simply, “Do the work.” He keeps to an incredibly disciplined schedule and is a living mission statement for children’s authors. When he writes an inspirational book like For Everyone, it is not to encourage young people to keep on believing that all good things will fall into their laps. No, it is to encourage them to do the work, feed the burn, and jump anyway.

This is a small, inspiring book for all ages and all walks of life, everyone who needs a match to relight that candle. It is for everyone.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Long Way Down, by Jason Reynolds

Long Way DownWill’s brother, Shawn, was shot in front of him. Dead, lying in the street. While Will’s mother tried to drown her sorrow, Will went to the jammed drawer in Shawn’s dresser and got out his pistol. He knew the Rules, the Rules that Shawn lived by, and that their father had lived by before him. Because he loved Shawn, Will had to find his murderer and shoot him dead. He was pretty sure it was Carlson Riggs.

Will had never even touched a gun before, but he tucked the pistol in the back of his pants and got on the elevator. He hit the “L” button for the lobby, but it stopped on the very next floor, the 7th floor, where his Uncle Buck got on. His Uncle Buck, who was… dead.

The ride down to the lobby took one minute and seven seconds, but not a second was wasted. Each floor brought years of wisdom and memories, and the Will that lands in the lobby is seven stories older than the one who stepped into the elevator.

Written in crackling verse, this 304-page novel flies by. Jason Reynolds’ first YA novel packs a whirl of emotions—anger and sorrow, hatred and regret— into a tight economy of words. Here’s the problem for his readers to ponder: There are places where murder is so common that there are established rules for generations of boys to follow when it happens. How can they break out of that cycle of violence?

Highly recommended for teens and adults.

Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this book, which will be available on October 24th. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Ghost, by Jason Reynolds

GhostCastle Cranshaw runs so fast that his nickname is Ghost—now you see him, now you don’t. Castle found out just how fast he could run the night his drunken father tried to shoot him and his mother. His dad’s in jail for ten years now, but Castle isn’t sure that’s long enough. His mom works long hours at the hospital, bringing home cafeteria food for their dinner, and the bully at school taunts him about all of these things every day, which causes Ghost to rack up quite a few “infractions” with the principal.

Other than serving out suspensions and chewing sunflower seeds, Castle’s life is pretty aimless. He’s always set his sights on basketball fame, and had never heard of running track before, but one day he stumbles upon the try-outs for a community team, and he’s in.

Reynolds paints a picture of a good kid whose life squeezes him into agonizing choices, some terribly wrong. Most of the adults in this slender, middle-grade novel are big-hearted people who work hard and do their best for the kids in their lives. Running doesn’t magically change Castle’s life, but it gives him goals and a new circle of friends who are all learning discipline, focus, and teamwork.

Jason Reynolds says on his website that his goal is to “not write boring books.” Success! He writes lots of great books! I’ve reviewed his more nostalgic novel, As Brave As You, earlier. This contemporary, urban story offers an appealing protagonist, a diverse cast of characters, real-world consequences, and hope. Recommended.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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As Brave as You, by Jason Reynolds

As Brave as YouGenie and Ernie’s parents are fighting all the time, so they decide to go on vacation and leave the boys with their grandparents in rural Virginia, which is surprising since their father and grandfather barely speak to one another. These city boys are stunned to discover that they are expected to do chores, including cleaning up after the dog. Although Ernie, the older brother, is super-cool and wears his sunglasses inside like their grandfather, Genie soon realizes that Grandpop wears dark glasses because he is completely blind.

On one level, this middle-grade novel can be read as a boys’ adventure story. Girl-crazy Ernie is so transparent as the kid who is trying hard to listen to all the right music and impress the confident young girl across the road. Genie is at a clumsy stage, and no matter how much he tries to do everything right, he is continually breaking things and making them worse by trying to fix them. Their wholesomeness feels almost nostalgic, although this novel also has a darker side.

Jason ReynoldsThere are several serious themes tucked into this semi-autobiographical story. As Jason Reynolds explained at the APA Author Dinner in Chicago, the kids whose parents were part of the African-American migration to the northern cities were so removed from their agricultural grandparents in the south that they had a hard time relating to them at all. Furthermore, Genie’s grandfather was a strong and forceful man who commanded respect. Genie does not know how to cope with the new understanding he has of Grandpop: his blindness, his anger, and his willingness to endanger others rather than admit that he may be wrong. What does a young boy do when he discovers that his hero is not perfect? Reynolds opines that he can either become bitter and angry, or he can do what he knows to be right and become a hero for someone else.

Fun, yet thoughtful, reading for boys from 10-14.

Disclaimer: I read a gift copy of this book, signed by the author. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Day of Dialog 2016: Up Close and Intense

Day of Dialog logo

My colleagues and I flew to Chicago to attend Book Expo America, a huge annual gathering of publishers, authors, booksellers, and, increasingly, librarians. BEA lasted three days, the first of which we spent at the Day of Dialog, presented by School Library Journal (for professionals serving youth) and Library Journal (for professionals serving adults). BEA has been in New York for a number of years, but this year was hosted in Chicago, just to give us a change of scene.

Day of Dialog is a wondrously concentrated dose of information tailored specifically toward librarians and teachers whose work it is to push books on kids. SLJ knows just what we need, and presents individual speakers, panels of authors who address trends and issues in current literature, and panels of publisher representatives who fill us in on the hottest upcoming titles by their respective authors. Except for lunch, the participants stay in one room and just soak it all up.

Richard PeckRichard Peck was our opening speaker. At 82, he is still as sharp and witty as ever, and his remarks applied his seasoned wisdom to the edgiest current topics. Nothing is off the table with Mr. Peck! Years ago, while I was in graduate school, I carpooled with a school librarian who was having a tough time with a class of rowdy fifth-grade boys. She asked me for a title that she could read to them, hoping to get them interested in books. I suggested Peck’s The Teacher’s Funeral. Although the humor was down-home, I thought boys would really appreciate it. A couple of weeks later, she thanked me profusely. She bubbled over with good news about her boys, marveling that you could hear a pin drop in her class now, unless the boys were roaring with laughter in all the right places, and that they couldn’t wait to get to her class to hear the next chapter. We felt much the same way on Wednesday, hanging on his every word. You can get a taste of his speech on YouTube here  and here. His latest book, The Best Man, comes out in September.

There were great discussions on the making of children’s nonfiction, particularly illustrated nonfiction guaranteed to entice young ones into learning. If I may recommend a few, don’t miss Will’s Words, by Jane Sutcliffe, who invites us to explore the words and phrases introduced into our language by the bard’s works, Some Writer!, by Melissa Sweet, a biography of E.B. White of Charlotte’s Web fame, and Around America to Win the Vote, by Mara Rockliff, one of many excellent books on women’s suffrage coming out in this 100th anniversary year.

MG topicThe middle grade author panel was worth the price of admission for me. Middle grade books are the ones that we remember fondly from childhood, and almost all of the great classics fall here, from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to The Secret Garden. These new authors discussed the truth that we find in children’s literature and the sometimes overwhelming issues that children deal with, whether the adults in their lives try to shield them or not. Middle Grade PanelAdam Gidwitz described his new medieval novel, The Inquisitor’s Tale, which he researched while in Europe with his historian wife. Quite a leap from his Tale Dark and Grimm and Star Wars retellings! I am looking forward to this one. Jason Reynolds, author of As Brave as You (among others), held us spellbound as he mused on the themes that were common to all of us as we read stories of other cultures. As he said, stories are true when they explore the fundamental touchstones of life, such as family and the universal need to be loved. I had the privilege of hearing Jason again at the AAP Children’s Author Dinner that evening (see photo below) when he went into greater depth about his new book that explores a boy’s discovery that his grandfather, who has always been his hero, is totally blind. It is our response to life’s surprises that makes us grow bitter or grow into heroes ourselves. I have a feeling Jason will be a new favorite author for me.

Betsy Bird

Betsy Bird

During lunch, I was able to speak to Betsy Bird, purveyor of SLJ’s celebrated blog Fuse#8, about the fabulous Children’s Literary Salon that she had hosted a couple of weeks before. Presented with the topic “Death and Theology in Children’s Literature,” Nathan (N.D.) Wilson, of 100 Cupboards fame, and Jeanne Birdsall, author of the beloved “Penderwicks” series, discussed the Christian and post-Christian humanist points of view, respectively. SLJ has made this and other webcasts available here. I highly recommend this webcast, particularly for Christian teachers and parents, and for fans of C.S. Lewis who want to see the author lauded for his children’s and adult works. I confess that I watched it live in my family room, weeping and saying, “Yes! This is why we sacrifice for the children!”

YA PanelAfter lunch, Laini Taylor gave a wry and thoughtful speech about genre fiction, which I love, but which is often not valued as highly as realistic fiction. Her hot pink hair was also on display in the following panel of women writers of young adult fiction. Here’s a new statistic by Bowker: more than half of all YA fiction is read by adults!  I do know a lot of adults who read YA, but I thought my perspective might be skewed by my environment.

The day rounded out with a full panel of picture book authors and illustrators. I must admit that I was flagging by the middle of the afternoon, but certainly not because of the program. Another smashing success! Kudos to School Library Journal.

Jason Reynolds

Jason Reynolds

The Association of American Publishers (AAP) Children’s Author Dinner was held at the opulent Palmer House Hotel that evening, and in addition to another brilliant panel of authors, I was surrounded by terrific children’s librarians from around the country. All kinds of shop talk went on while consuming a scrumptious meal accompanied by generous amounts of wine. After dinner, the authors spoke about their books, which included picture books, graphic novels, middle grade fiction, and young adult fiction.

One of the great advantages of attending events like Day of Dialog and the authors’ dinner is that I learn which books the publishers are featuring this season and next season, and I will be sure to order all of these titles, if I haven’t already! That is their point, of course, but it is also the point for me. As a selector, I have learned over the years that if a publisher is pushing a title, they think it deserves to do well, and, conversely, if they choose to market a title strongly, it will do well as a result! This helps me to spend the taxpayers’ money wisely and get the books that kids will love. All of this is in addition, of course, to being starstruck by meeting the authors of my favorite books—my rock stars! Truth be told, I only geeked out once, and that was on Friday, which will be another post!

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The image of the SLJ Day of Dialog logo was obtained from Google Images, as was the image of Betsy Bird. The other grainy, dreadful photos are my own. Apologies to the photogenic originals!

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