Last Wednesday, September 24th, the 8th grade class of 2019 got to participate in one of the most interesting Flex Blocks we’ve ever seen: A long discussion about Banned Books Week (or, really, Challenged Books Week) and a Skype call with the author of When I Was the Greatest: Jason Reynolds. That should have caught your attention significantly, I hope. They got to Skype Jason Reynolds? Yes, we did. And I could go on for days telling you all about it, but I’m supposed to give you a little synopsis in a short, sweet article. The challenge begins:
We were all quite nervous about meeting him in the first place. We didn’t know what to expect: a tall man in a tie and a fedora, giving us a lecture about his amazing book? A young adult who was overjoyed at the fact that his book had gotten released? But the Skype call started, and we saw a big smiling face (and crazy cool dreadlocks) eager to tell us about his story.
Jason Reynolds wrote many novels before his debut novel When I Was The Greatest, and none of them had made it to the public. He was getting frustrated, as anyone who spends many years writing their stories and only see them get turned down would be. He was talking to Walter Dean Myers’ son, Christopher Myers, and telling him that he was going to quit writing, and move on to something else. His reply was, “If you stop writing, what about when my dad dies?* Who’s gonna carry on? Who’s gonna write those stories for the people out there to hear?” And Jason just said, “I don’t know, but it’s not gonna be me.” But then, after some more convincing remarks from Christopher, he went back home and started writing straight from his heart, a story that was his own. He wrote the raw truth about the poverty-stricken teenagers in Brooklyn, taking little pieces from people’s lives to create a woven story. The book made it out…and when he had started, he was just an hour away from quitting writing altogether.
To connect back to the topic of Banned Books Week, Ms. Seroff asked Jason about the criticism his book got, or if it was challenged at all. He mentioned that the cover was controversial. I mean, a book with a blank black cover except for a gun in a colorfully knitted cozy? It was bound to get some remarks regarding the implications and meanings of that gun. There were many requests, asking that he change the cover. He didn’t. He wasn’t erasing any part of his story. To this, he received a huge round of applause and appreciation from us.
With our time coming to an end, Ms. Gómez asked a much appreciated question: While we were keenly waiting for his book to reach us in the library, what books would you recommend to the 8th graders to read? Lucky for us, he gave us a long list of books, most of them sitting at his “bookshelf”, which were stacks of books in the fireplace (we all found this hilarious). Clarification: the fireplace doesn’t work, so there is no opportunity to burn the books, Fahrenheit 451-style. Okay, I know you all are bouncing up and down for the book list, and lucky for you, here are the authors Jason recommended to us that we can find right in the Castilleja Library:
Jacqueline Woodson (6 of her print books are in the library; three of her ebooks are in Overdrive)
Cynthia Kadohata (4 print books)
John Corey Whaley (Print book in the library)
Walter Dean Myers (11 print books; 3 ebooks)
Jandy Nelson (2 print books)
Neil Gaiman (3 print books in the library plus some short story collections; 11 ebooks)
NoViolet Bulawayo (Print book in the library)
Laurie Halse Anderson (11 print books; 4 ebooks)
Sharon Draper (2 print books)
Matt de la Peña (1 print book; 1 ebook)
Kiese Laymon (1 print book)
Zadie Smith (1 print book)
SO MANY BOOKS! After you drop by the library to put your name on the hold list for When I Was the Greatest, make sure to check out the authors above! I sincerely hope the hold list for Jason’s book will soon be the size of a full-blown Defense Against the Dark Arts essay by Hermione Granger.
There’s only one more thing! Jason was kind enough to give us some sneak peeks on his work soon to come out: The Boy in the Black Suit, a book about Matt recovering from the loss of his mother dying from breast cancer, is coming out next January. Jason has five more books in the works after that, sharing the stories of people all around the world, so there’ll be no shortage of work for him!
To wrap up the high-energy-level Flex period, Jason asked for us to take a selfie, or a groupie, really, with all of us in the picture. We, being experts at this phenomenon, all cheered and agreed. The picture’s on the portal for all of you to see! 🙂
I can’t wait to read his book as much as you. Happy reading!
-Athena N. ’19
*Unfortunately, Walter Dean Myers died this past July. Thankfully, Jason Reynolds decided to keep spreading his own stories.