Mentor Author – Jason Reynolds

Jason Reynolds is the man. You have probably seen a number of his written works on lists of must-reads for YAs and teachers on topics of race. He is a New York Times bestselling author, a NAACP Image Award Winner, a National Book Award Finalist, and has received multiple honors from Coretta Scott King Award. Reynolds is currently the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature through the Library of Congress.  

Jason Reynolds, 2020-2021 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, January 16, 2020.
Photo by Shawn Miller/Library of Congress.

When I have a reluctant reader in class, especially a teenage boy, many of Jason Reynolds’ books have become my automatic go-to choice to encourage that student to try a new book. He is real. He is raw. And he is passionate about writing interesting books stating,  “Because even though I’m a writer, I hate reading boring books too.” on the ‘about me’ page of his website. 

I read All American Boys from our library upon recommendation from my school’s media specialist (side note: support your public school libraries). I loved it so much that I bought a copy to have in my classroom. Given the current state of our world, I have been drawn to All American Boys even more. 

Image from Jason Reynolds’ website.

All American Boys, a Coretta Scott King Author Honor book in 2016, is written by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely together. The story is told through the eyes of Rashad Butler and Quinn Collins as they offer their own perspective of the same violent moment of unnecessary force by a police officer. I could go on to summarize more, but I believe in the power of this story.  Read it.  Think about what you read.  Make it available for your students to read it. Be aware there is the type of “inappropriate” language in the book that many educators probably would not condone being said by a student; I point this out as transparent awareness not a discouragement. I do not believe in limiting literary experiences for students. Literature empowers the truth of the world we live in. It offers a perspective and a chance for thought.  You can purchase All American Boys directly from the publisher or from my local, Black-owned bookstore, Semicolon Bookstore in Chicago, Illinois. 

Fall book club selection day! Students posed with their books which all explored essential questions about identity. Reynolds’ works of Ghost and The Boy in the Black Suit were options for students to read.

Jason Reynolds was a part of the curriculum in my classroom on other occasions this school year.  His books Ghost and The Boy in the Black Suit were a part of our fall fiction book clubs where students explored the concept of identity with their peers in small reading groups. Each student was able to select their choice in text based on availability.  

Students select their book club text by exploring each option using a Keynote presentation that includes the book trailers, a quick YouTube video, for each book. 

Reynolds writes the Track series of four different middle school runners who are forced to come together despite their very different backgrounds through an elite track team with sights on running in the Junior Olympics.  Ghost is the first book of the series and is a National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature tells the story of Castle “Ghost” Cranshaw who is a natural-born talented runner who has been running against literal and figurative challenges including an abusive father who threatened to kill him and his mother with a loaded gun. The series follows each of the four runners through the other three works: Lu, Patina, and Sunny. You can purchase Ghost directly from the publisher or from my local, Black-owned bookstore, Semicolon Bookstore in Chicago, Illinois.

Image: Track book series by Jason Reynolds from his website.

The Boy in the Black Suit is a 2016 Coretta Scott King Author Honor book that tells the tale of Matt a seventeen-year-old who wears a black suit every day for his job at the funeral home. Matt needs the $15 an hour pay to take care of himself and his father who now drinks a lot following the death of Matt’s mother after a battle with breast cancer.  In his role at the funeral home, Matt is able to process his grief in a real and meaningful manner that is not “too masculine and manly” and yet not “too sensitive” as he meets Lovey who has lost even more than Matt has and remains extremely tough.  Matt wishes he could be more like Lovey and that is part of his draw to her. You can purchase The Boy in the Black Suit directly from the publisher or from my local, Black-owned bookstore, Semicolon Bookstore in Chicago, Illinois.

Image from Jason Reynolds’ website.

As the school year transitioned to online learning, so did our plans for learning.  Our school’s media specialist organized a teacher read-aloud of Look Both Ways, a 2020 Coretta Scott King Honor Book. Reynolds writes of middle school life after the final bell rings as ten different kids take their walk home from Lattimer Middle School in the form of ten different short stories.  A range of emotions and topics is covered in this novel and it is sure to bring a life lesson or two. Look Both Ways will most definitely become another book in my tool belt for reluctant readers. You can purchase Look Both Ways directly from the publisher or from my local, Black-owned bookstore, Semicolon Bookstore in Chicago, Illinois.

Image from Jason Reynolds’ website.

My most recent, and favorite, project of Jason Reynolds has been his Write. Right. Rite. Series as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature through the Library of Congress where kids are encouraged to “grab the mic” and tell their story.  The Write. Right. Rite. Series is fun and light hearted while encouraging kids to think deeply and express themselves creatively.

Jason Reynolds appears on CBS This Morning as the Library of Congress’ new National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.

During online learning, my classes participated in this new series from Jason Reynolds. I created templates for students to respond to the prompts of Write. Right. Rite using Apple’s Numbers.  For each assignment, students were able to select one of three prompts to respond to allowing for amplified student voice and choice in their learning. I will be building more templates and using this Series from Jason Reynolds in the fall! 

An image of the home screen on the Numbers file I created for students as they participated in Write. Right. Rite.
If you would like file access, please let me know and I can email it to you.
An example of one of the three options for students to respond to during Write. Right. Rite.
If you would like file access, please let me know and I can email it to you.

Last week, Kojo Nnamdi Show had a conversation with Jason Reynolds on his show on WAMU, Washington D.C.’s NPR station, in an episode called Kojo For Kids: Jason Reynolds Talks About Racism And The Protests.  The conversation was thoughtful, honest, and age-appropriate for kids. Give it a listen.  To quote Jason Reynolds from that conversation “Young people are ready and they’re willing and they’re prepared to take on this discussion, if we as adults figure out how to have it with them.”

Let’s have the discussion. And let’s continue to utilize literature and the power of written word as we teach the next generation.

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