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“All American Boys” Authors Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely Discuss Racism, White Privilege, and Censorship in Today’s Civic Landscape, a guest post by Lisa Krok

In the midst of a week full of national dissent and tension, Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely took to the stage to get real with a live audience. The Ensemble Theatre in Cleveland Heights, Ohio was the perfect venue for an intimate discussion on serious subjects. Reynolds and Kiely first became friends a few years back while touring for their debut books, When I Was the Greatest and The Gospel of Winter, respectively. The Trayvon Martin tragedy had occurred already, and after Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri, the two friends had some candid discussions about racism and police brutality. This prompted them to begin writing All American Boys together. Told in alternating perspectives of Reynold’s black teen, Rashad Butler, and Kiely’s white teen, Quinn Collins, the story opens with Rashad being beaten by a police officer while Quinn witnesses from down the street. As the plot unfolds, family, friends, and the community have different takes as to the officer’s culpability. When protests begin with kids at school, Quinn has mixed feelings about what to do next.

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Aside from the Martin and Brown situations, the authors had their own anecdotes from their teenage years that sparked their interest in collaborating on the book.  Reynolds’ terrifying   run-in with D.C. police at age 16 while in a car with friends couldn’t be more opposite of Kiely’s tale of being pulled over while driving his mom’s minivan in Boston. While Reynolds and his black friends were presumed to be criminals, Kiely and his white friends were let off and told to go home and be safe. Why? Racism and white privilege. Both were polite and respectful to police, but nonetheless, biases prevailed. The biggest difference, according to Kiely, was that he was nervous, but didn’t have anything to fear other than being caught. “I think about the fear I never had to experience, the accountability I never had…it is a tug to remind me what it means to have white privilege in America.”

all american

All of this dovetails into censorship and book banning of both All American Boys and another book depicting police brutality, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Both have been challenged and/or banned in some areas, most recently in Charleston, South Carolina. When the Wando High School summer reading list included the two titles above, Charleston area police protested the books, stating that they promoted negativity and distrust of police. The three authors responded in a joint statement:

“Our books are not anti-police, they are anti-police brutality. We’re proud of the teachers at Wando HS who are using literature that reflects the lives of so many young people across this country. To deny these books from reading lists would deny too many young people the reflections of the reality they know and experience.”

-Jason Reynolds, Brendan Kiely, and Angie Thomas

Reynolds expounded upon this on stage, revealing he and Kiely have police officers in their families, and they value and respect the job police officers do. He reiterated that they are just anti-police brutality, and would love it if police were anti-police brutality, too. “We just hope that for us as a community, in order for things to shift, we gotta be able to engage and lean into these discussions…this book hopefully will serve as a platform and a framework for us to have these discussions, these uncomfortable discussions, in healthy and safe ways…It’s okay for you to disagree, just not okay for you to disengage.”

See Jason Reynolds’ impassioned remarks here:

Kiely emphasized that censorship especially impacts marginalized people. “When you are censoring over and over and over again stories that feature characters who live marginalized experiences, you are censoring the people whose lives their stories reflect. You’re censoring their life existence in your community. That to me is part of the injustice. That’s part of the real cruelty to people who live in our own communities.”  When thinking about a whole variety of marginalized experiences, it worries him when people use things like language as an excuse to censor, or use things like “well but there are choices characters make in this book,” or “we can’t have people knowing that they can make this choice and still survive.” “Censorship, in my opinion, is one of the most unethical things we can do when it comes to literature,” Kiely continues. “I think about the places where our book has been banned and think about how so many students in those communities who have experiences like Rashad and his family and his church community and the whole book and all the white kids who then don’t get an opportunity to reflect in ways that they haven’t been asked to reflect on before. That censorship is robbing them of part of their own humanity as well.”

Reynolds brought up a strong point about how people don’t get worked up about censoring video games that simulate war. “Why books?” he pondered. “Nothing else gets this kind of flak. Most cartoons are worse than the books we write, and nobody seems to care.  Ask your kids what the words in their favorite rap song are.  Ask them to rap it out for you. Nobody seems to mind as long as they’re doing the dance”.  He expressed concerns about kids who can’t afford to buy a book, and the book is taken out of their schools. Reynolds credits fellow author Laurie Halse Anderson as noting “It is the insecurity of adults that gets in the way of children.” He continues, “Everybody in this room has to make a decision to be more loyal to their futures than to their fears.”

Kiely says people don’t want to process the racism. “People use a number of excuses to talk about why the book shouldn’t come into communities. They would say well it might incite a riot.’”  It is hard for Kiely understand how this is possible. Those who have read the book know that “the book is anti-violence and it exposes the harm violence really causes families, communities. I struggle with those excuses, but I think they are all codes for ‘we don’t talk about the stuff that would make us have to shift the power dynamics that currently exist in our community.’”

Many thanks to Heights Libraries for sponsoring this event!

Books related to the Black Lives Matter movement, specifically regarding police brutality:

tyler johnsonTyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon

alfonso

I Am Alfonso Jones by Tony Medina

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

dear martinDear Martin by Nic Stone

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

For more information, see the following resources:

https://www.postandcourier.com/news/charleston-area-police-protest-the-hate-u-give-school-assignment/article_facc8330-7df9-11e8-8a0a-8331f0a41cbe.html

https://www.oif.ala.org/oif/?p=15093

https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=sc-police-union-challenges-summer-reading-list-hate-u-give-american-boys

https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=brendan-kielys-and-jason-reynoldss-csk-author-honor-speeches-for-all-american-boys

https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=making-the-personal-political-angie-thomas-on-the-hate-u-give

http://oaklandlibrary.org/blogs/childrens-services/talking-kids-about-race-and-racism

http://sfusd.libguides.com/blacklivesmatter

https://www.aclu.org/know-your-rights/what-do-if-youre-stopped-police-immigration-agents-or-fbi

lisakrok

-Lisa Krok is branch manager of Cleveland Public Library’s Harvard-Lee branch, a member of the Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers team, and a Ravenclaw. She can be found being bookish and political on Twitter @readonthebeach.

Book Review: A Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

long way downPublisher’s Book Description:

A cannon. A strap.
A piece. A biscuit.
A burner. A heater.
A chopper. A gat.
A hammer
A tool
for RULE

Or, you can call it a gun. That’s what fifteen-year-old Will has shoved in the back waistband of his jeans. See, his brother Shawn was just murdered. And Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Revenge. That’s where Will’s now heading, with that gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, the gun that was his brother’s gun. He gets on the elevator, seventh floor, stoked. He knows who he’s after. Or does he? As the elevator stops on the sixth floor, on comes Buck. Buck, Will finds out, is who gave Shawn the gun before Will took the gun. Buck tells Will to check that the gun is even loaded. And that’s when Will sees that one bullet is missing. And the only one who could have fired Shawn’s gun was Shawn. Huh. Will didn’t know that Shawn had ever actually USED his gun. Bigger huh. BUCK IS DEAD. But Buck’s in the elevator? Just as Will’s trying to think this through, the door to the next floor opens. A teenage girl gets on, waves away the smoke from Dead Buck’s cigarette. Will doesn’t know her, but she knew him. Knew. When they were eight. And stray bullets had cut through the playground, and Will had tried to cover her, but she was hit anyway, and so what she wants to know, on that fifth floor elevator stop, is, what if Will, Will with the gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, MISSES.

And so it goes, the whole long way down, as the elevator stops on each floor, and at each stop someone connected to his brother gets on to give Will a piece to a bigger story than the one he thinks he knows. A story that might never know an END…if WILL gets off that elevator.

Karen’s Thoughts:

Written entirely verse, Reynolds explores the life of a teen boy as he seeks to exact revenge after watching his brother shot down in the street. In his life, revenge is about duty and honor and respect; it’s what he owes his brother. It’s the code, not an option. The next day, with a revolver in his waistband, Will gets on an elevator and as it descends each floor a new person from his life gets on and drops some wisdom and perspective on him. It’s a brilliant device for exploring complex ideas, and a surprisingly quick read which proves that brevity can pack just as much punch as a multi-tome story.

A Long Way Down is one of the most brilliant novels I have ever read. As the elevator descends and we meet a new person from Will’s life, the cycle of violence is explored in very nuanced and gut wrenching ways. I do not have enough superlatives in my vocabulary to recommend this book, but it is a must have. Readers will turn the last page but they will not stop thinking about this book for a very long time.

Coming October 24th from Antheneum

Take 5: A YA Puerto Rico Booklist and the #PubforPR Auction

As they often do, the KidLit and Publishing community has come together to help the people in Puerto Rico after being hit by a devastating hurricane. You can visit the #PubforPR auction here to bid on a variety of amazing packages and help them raise money for the recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. Please visit and bid today to help them in their efforts.

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Also, here are a list of authors and YA titles that hail from and uplift Puerto Rican voices that you may want to check out and add to your collections if you don’t already have them.

Adam Silvera

they both

Adam Silvera is an amazing author who writes compelling YA including More Happy Than Not, History is All You’ve Left Me and They Both Die at the End.

Publisher’s Book Description:

On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today. Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure and to live a lifetime in a single day.

Kiera Cass

selection

Kiera Cass is the author of the wildly popular The Selection series.

Publisher’s Book Description:

For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in a palace and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn’t want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she’s made for herself—and realizes that the life she’s always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.

Miles Morales: Spider-man by Jason Reynolds

milesmorales

In this version of Spider-man, the boy who can sling webs is played by a teen of Puerto Rican descent. And you can never go wrong with a Jason Reynolds title, or superheroes.

Publisher’s Book Description:

“Everyone gets mad at hustlers, especially if you’re on the victim side of the hustle. And Miles knew hustling was in his veins.”

Miles Morales is just your average teenager. Dinner every Sunday with his parents, chilling out playing old-school video games with his best friend, Ganke, crushing on brainy, beautiful poet Alicia. He’s even got a scholarship spot at the prestigious Brooklyn Visions Academy. Oh yeah, and he’s Spider Man.

But lately, Miles’s spidey-sense has been on the fritz. When a misunderstanding leads to his suspension from school, Miles begins to question his abilities. After all, his dad and uncle were Brooklyn jack-boys with criminal records. Maybe kids like Miles aren’t meant to be superheroes. Maybe Miles should take his dad’s advice and focus on saving himself.

As Miles tries to get his school life back on track, he can’t shake the vivid nightmares that continue to haunt him. Nor can he avoid the relentless buzz of his spidey-sense every day in history class, amidst his teacher’s lectures on the historical “benefits” of slavery and the importance of the modern-day prison system. But after his scholarship is threatened, Miles uncovers a chilling plot, one that puts his friends, his neighborhood, and himself at risk.

It’s time for Miles to suit up.

I am J by Chris Beam

iamj

Chris Beam writes about the experiences of a Puerto Rican teen who is also transgender.

Publisher’s Book Description:

An inspiring story of self-discovery, of choosing to stand up for yourself, and of finding your own path – readers will recognize a part of themselves in J’s struggle to love his true self.

“Hola, Jeni.”

J spun. His stomach clenched hard, as though he’d been hit. It was just the neighbor lady, Mercedes. J couldn’t muster a hello back, not now; he didn’t care that she’d tell his mom he’d been rude. She should know better. Nobody calls me Jeni anymore.

J always felt different. He was certain that eventually everyone would understand who he really was: a boy mistakenly born as a girl. Yet as he grew up, his body began to betray him; eventually J stopped praying to wake up a “real boy” and started covering up his body, keeping himself invisible – from his family, from his friends…from the world. But after being deserted by the best friend he thought would always be by his side, J decides that he’s done hiding – it’s time to be who he really is. And this time he is determined not to give up, no matter the cost.

An inspiring story of self-discovery, of choosing to stand up for yourself, and of finding your own path – readers will recognize a part of themselves in J’s struggle to love his true self.

The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano by Sonia Manzano

revolution

The beloved Maria from Sesame Street writes about the experiences of a teen with Puerto Rican heritage.

Publisher’s Book Description:

One of America’s most influential Hispanics — ‘Maria’ on Sesame Street — presents a powerful novel set in New York’s El Barrio in 1969

There are two secrets Evelyn Serrano is keeping from her Mami and Papo? her true feelings about growing up in her Spanish Harlem neighborhood, and her attitude about Abuela, her sassy grandmother who’s come from Puerto Rico to live with them. Then, like an urgent ticking clock, events erupt that change everything. The Young Lords, a Puerto Rican activist group, dump garbage in the street and set it on fire, igniting a powerful protest. When Abuela steps in to take charge, Evelyn is thrust into the action. Tempers flare, loyalties are tested. Through it all, Evelyn learns important truths about her Latino heritage and the history makers who shaped a nation. Infused with actual news accounts from the time period, Sonia Manzano has crafted a gripping work of fiction based on her own life growing up during a fiery, unforgettable time in America, when young Latinos took control of their destinies.

Plus a Bonus 2017 Debut Author

The Evolution of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera

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Publisher’s Book Description:

Pretty in Pink comes to the South Bronx in this bold and romantic coming-of-age novel about dysfunctional families, good and bad choices, and finding the courage to question everything you ever thought you wanted—from debut author Lilliam Rivera.

THINGS/PEOPLE MARGOT HATES:

Mami, for destroying my social life
Papi, for allowing Junior to become a Neanderthal
Junior, for becoming a Neanderthal
This supermarket
Everyone else

After “borrowing” her father’s credit card to finance a more stylish wardrobe, Margot
Sánchez suddenly finds herself grounded. And by grounded, she means working as an indentured servant in her family’s struggling grocery store to pay off her debts.

With each order of deli meat she slices, Margot can feel her carefully cultivated prep school reputation slipping through her fingers, and she’s willing to do anything to get out of this punishment. Lie, cheat, and maybe even steal…

Margot’s invitation to the ultimate beach party is within reach and she has no intention of letting her family’s drama or Moisés—the admittedly good looking but outspoken boy from the neighborhood—keep her from her goal.

As always, if you have authors or titles to add, please share with us in the comments.