My New Favorite Author: Jason Reynolds

When Jason Reynolds Came to My School

Jason Reynolds at O. Henry!

Every once in a while, an author comes along that I can’t resist. I usually try to read one or two books by an author and then move on because, as Frank Zappa says: “So many books, so little time.” Jason Reynolds’s books, both young adult and middle grade, are the exception. His voice is so authentic, his characters and situations so real, his humor flows so smoothly to poignancy, and he so totally nails human nature that I can’t help but binge-read his books.

The Event

Thanks to the generosity of our local, independent book store, BookPeople, we get to host fabulous authors at O. Henry, authors like James Dashner, Neal Shusterman, Laurie Halse Anderson, and Kwame Alexander to name a few. All of the above-mentioned were amazing at connecting with our students. Most adults are wary of presenting to members of iGen without some flashy technology or at least something visual to keep kids focused. Not Jason. He spoke directly to our students. He began talking about Ramen noodles and pouring sugar in the Kool-aid, and I wondered where this was heading. In the end, his personal story, narrated authentically with humor and power, kept our 250 middle school students mesmerized.

Connecting with Every Kid

Jason with the Word Wizards: Sixth Grade Book Club

When it was time to sign books, Jason made a personal connection with each child. His talk changed us. Jason tells a great, personal story that resonates for all. Here are among his most potent words:

“Do yourselves a favor…realize that the greatest gift you can give you IS you. Figure that out now so you don’t have to spend 20 years of your life trying to be Queen Latifah or whoever else you idolize. Owning your stories now it’s easier reading mine. It’s easier to read stories and understand them if you understand your own.”

Infectious Creativity

Jason talked about his difficult childhood growing up in DC. But through it all, he wanted to be like Queen Latifah, and he wrote rap lyrics in his notebook. No matter what tragedies occurred, he wrote about them. Suddenly our students are creating homages to Jason. Here’s one boy’s rap poem:


And here’s another girl’s portrait:

Jason Reynolds as Queen Latifah portrait











Relationships, Not Algorithms

As the poet William Butler Yeats said: “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” That’s what Jason did for my students. In these days, while school districts spend thousands on online reading programs with selection based on Lexile levels, they should instead invest in the human connections and relationships, the librarians and library support staff that make the magic happen and keep the authors coming.

Jason signing books










If I Had One Wish

As thankful and excited as I was to host Jason at our school, I wish we could beam him into every school. His message of hope and resilience, of the power of words to transform lives, embodies what motivates us most as librarians to young people. But at least students who don’t have the chance to see Jason can read his powerful novels. We can’t wait to read his next book Long Way Down.

Ms. McCulloch’s reading class all got personal copies!


Author: Sara Stevenson

I’m a reader, writer, swimmer, and a public middle school librarian. I love all things Italian. I was honored to be Austin ISD’s first librarian of the year in 2013.

Categories: Blog Topics, Collection Development, Community/Teacher Collaboration, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

5 replies

  1. Love this post!! Touches on all the important pieces that make up the puzzle of why reading matters, and what contributes to helping children want and love to read. If only Jason Reynolds could be cloned….

  2. I highly and enthusiastically recommend Reynolds to my students!

  3. Thanks, Sandra and Marta. I read yesterday that Long Way Down, his latest, has already received SIX starred reviews! : )

  4. Thanks for sharing! I really loved hearing Reynolds’ insights about failure and success here.

  5. Oh my gosh! That’s exactly how I feel right now! We just had Jason at our high school and the students (and teachers!) are still raving. He did exactly what I hoped, reached those students who felt disenfranchised/disconnected.

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