Sunday, October 23, 2016

Tweensread 2016: Jason Reynolds Comes to Town

Jason Reynolds is a rock star author for middleschool kids. Read about this man in Friday's Houston Chronicle. He grew up in the projects, loved Queen Latifa, figured out she was writing poetry about his hometown, tried his hand at poetry, finally began to write fiction about growing up black in the 1980s. Kids love his books and they love him, because he talks and writes about things that matter to them.
I thought about my four grandchildren and Christmas gifts. Decided I'd go to South Houston High School for Tweensread 2016. I'd hear Jason Reynolds give his keynote, and I'd buy good books for my grandkids, books that other kids already love.

Not disappointed. The school's auditorium was jammed, as were two gymnasiums, equipped with sound systems. Every school bus loaded with kids from other school districts had a seat and could listen to Jason Reynolds. And then, all day long, kids could attend breakout panel sessions with small groups of authors. Lunch break with food trucks. So wished my four grandkids were part of all of this.
I sat way down in the front, fourth row, left side aisle. Girls sat next to me with their teacher, whom I told looked just like Victoria Beckham. "Not as skinny," she said. "Victoria is too skinny," I replied. She said her students loved Jason Reynolds. He was so hot, she said, and the author who got to sit next to him on the stage was so lucky.
He did not disappoint as he roamed the stage, mic in hand, talking about the similarities between Langston Hughes and Queen Latifa, why rappers are poets telling the stories of their communities, how he came to write stories aimed at a young audience. I could see why kids love him. I loved him. Last night, I read 'Ghost', his newest novel. I see why kids love his stories. I loved his newest book.
AFter Jason spoke, all the authors marched up the auditorium aisles toward their appointed panel discussions. He passed by my aisle seat. The girl sitting next to me held out her hand and Jason Reynolds grabbed it. Just for a moment, he held her hand in his. She turned back to her friend in tears, hugged and hugged her friend. It had really happened. Jason Reynolds is a star. He held her hand. In a grandmotherly way, I was really tickled by the exchange.

I chose Girl Power breakout session with a panel of five authors: Kate Beasley, Ally Carter, Monika Schroder, Ursula Vernon and Lisa Yeese. Kids stood in line to ask questions of these five and so many of the questions were about writing. I think these kids want to be/will be writers. They have aspirations and were curious about the birth of ideas, the number of times a book must be rewritten. The authors answered their  questions, speaking as equals.The author's fan base received genuine and considered answers.
I thought about a friend of mine who's written about growing up South Asian in North Harris County. She has a strong, funny, ironic voice and several of us have encouraged her to make what she's written into a book.
Yesterday, I met her audience. They are yearning for what she has to tell them. Just as they yearn for Jason Reynold's stories. Warmed my heart to see girls and boys meandering through tables of books, pondering just how to spend their alloted money. May they be life-long readers. And may some of them be writers, too.

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