“All American Boys” Authors Meet with 7th Graders

Two stories of two teenagers located 400 miles apart in two metropolis US cities 20 years ago inspired one novel that is relevant, important and most of all needed.

Jason Reynolds, from Washington, DC, and Brendan Kiely, from Boston, MA, both now living in New York City, visited Bank Street School for Children in early April to talk to the 7th graders about their co-authored novel, “All American Boys.”

ason Reynolds (left), Brendan Kiely (right)
Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Winning by a landslide and beating nine other titles, our 7th graders voted “All American Boys” to be awarded Bank Street’s Mock Printz*, winner. Also receiving a Coretta Scott King Honor and the Walter Dean Meyer Award from We Need Diverse Books, ‘All American Boys’ is igniting conversations on race and police brutality.

Reynolds and Kiely shared their two separate stories of personal interactions with police officers as teenagers. Both stories involved minivans, friends and good times.

However, Reynolds’ story exhibited the negative consequences of being a black male in America while Kiely’s story reiterates the privileges of being a white male in America.

“The barrel of a gun is tiny until it’s in your face,” says Reynolds, depicting a vivid picture of a DC neighborhood where he was forced to exit a friend’s vehicle to only witness the officers savagely ransack the minivan to find nothing illegal. Perhaps the police officers’ actions would have been warranted if they’d pulled over Kiely in Boston, who was driving 30 miles over the speed limit resulting in the police chasing him for a long distance before he pulled over to only receive a warning for his actions. Unlike Kiely, Reynolds and his friends proceeding through a yellow traffic light at an intersection weren’t breaking any laws.

“All American Boys,” derived from these stories, is a fictional story through the lenses of two high school students, Rashad and Quinn. Each chapter alternates the point of view of the main characters to construct a narrative that mirrors current social justice and race issues in America. Reynolds and Kiely’s advocacy for racial justice has produced a story that draws the reader in and breaks the ice for tough conversations to be had among all races.

Reynolds earnestly stressed to our 7th graders to never forget the name, Michael Brown. Kiely reminds the students of the story of Tamir Rice. Trayvon Martin is to post-millennials as Emmitt Till is to baby boomers. The 60-year difference between the two generations and the similar tragedies may echo a message that not much has changed regarding race in America. However, the hope is that literature like “All American Boys” will influence these future adults to strive for more change.

*The Bank Street Mock Printz Award is based on but not affiliated with the Association for Library Service to Children’s Printz Award. Each year, 7th graders are presented with ten books selected by the School for Children librarian to read and then vote on to select a winner.