My students are quite varied in socioeconomic background and skill level. They bring a fresh attitude to class and have a lot of life in them. Some are tentative about participating in class, while others have their hands up before I even ask for comments or questions. Some will engage only if the materials speak to them fairly specifically--if they recognize elements of themselves in the readings.
These are people with a lot of potential.
A lot of them, though, don't have the resources to maximize that potential, or they don't take advantage of the resources that are available to them. With the proper guidance, they can achieve great things.
Jason Reynolds has made it his mission to create books that teens love, that aren’t “boring,” that feature relatable, non-stereotypical characters, well-rounded characters of color, and books that boys who claim to not like reading will fall in love with. And he has succeeded.
Publishers Weekly says, “Reynolds…addresses much more—race and class divisions in New York, taking ownership of one’s actions, and standing up for what’s right—without ever sounding preachy.
Reynolds also upends tired stereotypes…while leaving in enough sass and grit to keep the story believable. Snappy descriptions…and a hard-won ending round out a funny and rewarding read.”
We, the sophomore teaching team, want to read When I Was the Greatest with our 264 sophomores for all of the reasons stated above, and also because this book provides students at a critical age the opportunity to witness how Ali navigates tricky situations with integrity, and without sacrificing others for his own benefit. He is a thoughtful character who is pressed to decide how he will show up in the world, what kind of man he will be, and he manages it with grace and humility. He is a truly memorable character, as are the secondary characters—a strong mother, a friend with Tourette’s Syndrome, a veteran who coaches Ali in boxing and life. And Ali is as much of a blessing to them as they are to him.
One of the themes of our curriculum (and of teens lives) is identity, and how we begin to gravitate to and pull away from various influences in order to define ourselves and take a stand for what we believe in. Our students will not only recognize themselves in this book, the writing is superbly crafted and will keep them hooked from cover to cover.
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