By Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
On Monday, March 27, the co-authors of one of the nation’s most powerful novels on racial tensions for teens will be visiting the KDL Wyoming Branch wrapping up the Community Reads program.
“All American Boys,” written by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, is the selected man title for this year’s Community Reads program. The story centers around two teenagers – one black and one white – classmates, who are forced to grabble with the repercussions of a violent act that leaves their school and their community bitterly divided by racial tension. Unique to the book is that Reynolds writes from the perspective of that young black boy, while Kiely writes from the white boy who witnessed the assault.
The story line should sound familiar as Reynolds has stated the book is based off similar events that have taken place in such communities as Ferguson, Mo. The goal was to create discussion, especially among students, about those issues playing out in the headlines.
“I realize that these conversations were totally divorcing themselves from young people,” Reynolds has said in previous interviews. “We want to create a tool for young people to enter into that conversation in a healthy and safe way.”
The book was chosen by the staff of the KDL Wyoming and Grandville branches – the two libraries partnered together for this year’s Community Read – because of its accessibility to students and that it makes a great discussion book because of the timelessness of the themes and the way the story is told from two different viewpoints, according to KDL Wyoming Branch Manager Lori Holland.
“When selecting titles we have a planning committee made up of library staff who meet to review titles,” Holland said. “This year we had both Grandville and Wyoming staff looking at and discussing various titles and authors that we have read and loved in the past year or two. We are looking for titles that engage a variety of readers in order to promote literacy. The book must have compelling characters and themes and foster discussion around issues that are important in our communities.”
Another factor in the selection process is that the authors should be compelling speakers and able to engage their audience. ” One of our staff members had seen Jason Reynolds speak and had been blown away by his presentation,” Holland said. In fact, Reynolds’ “Ghost” was the middle school selection for the Community Reads program and the picture book “Friendshape” by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld was selected as a companion title.
Because students in Wyoming, Grandville and Godwin high schools are participating in the program, the selected book is then presented to school staff for review and feedback. “They loved the title and were enthusiastic supporters,” she said.
“All American Boys” has earned numerous awards including the 2016 Coretta Scott King Author Honor.
Monday’s program is for adults and teens in grades 6 – 12. For more information, visit www.kdl.org.