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Best of the National Book Festival: Jason Reynolds, 2018

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Welcome to our ongoing celebration of the Library of Congress National Book Festival. Each weekday, we will feature a video presentation from among the thousands of authors who have appeared at the National Book Festival and as part of our new year-long series, National Book Festival Presents. Mondays will feature topical nonfiction; Tuesday: poetry or literary fiction; Wednesday: history, biography, memoir; Thursday: popular fiction; and Friday: authors who write for children and teens. Please enjoy, and make sure to explore our full National Book Festival video collection!

The following post was written by Sasha Dowdy and Monica Valentine, program specialists in the Library’s Young Readers Center.

This event from the National Book Festival is especially for children and teens, and this blog post includes prompts for writing and thinking that young readers, families and teachers can use to explore the author and the author’s work. Recommended for ages 10-18.

The award-winning author Jason Reynolds—appointed the seventh National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature in January 2020—talks about his novel “Sunny” on the Children’s Purple Stage at the 2018 National Book Festival in D.C. Listen as he discusses go-go music, the validation that it gave to D.C. youth and his role as a “lead talker” in youth literature. Jason is introduced by young people’s author Fred Bowen, who has written 24 books for kids and writes the weekly sports opinion column in KidsPost for The Washington Post.

Jason Reynolds’s performance starts at 2:44, and timestamps for major topics are below:

  • DC & go-go music (3:58)
  • Who is the “Lead Talker”? (6:49)
  • Why the call and response in go-go is a big deal (8:53)
  • Jason as a lead talker of young people’s literature and the power of representation (10:27)
  • What to do if this music sounds like noise to you (11:58)
  • Q&A from the audience begins (14:09)

Writing and Thinking Prompts

  • Have you read any of this author’s works? How did this author talk change what you think about the author?
  • What surprised you about the author talk? What does it make you wonder about?
  • If you had been there, what would you have wanted to ask the author?

Here are some prompts from a few moments in the author talk:

11:58: Jason Reynolds describes what it’s like to listen to a new kind of music for the first time: “What if we don’t know how to hear that music?… If you hear and you’ve never heard it, you will say it sounds like noise… But if you give it some time, a fair ear, a fair listen, lean in, have some patience—then at least you’ll understand why the music sounds so good to us.”

  • Have you ever started to read a book that seemed like noise to you because you had a hard time connecting to the writing, the setting or the characters? Try again and give it a fair shot. What was different the second time? Think of, or write down, a few things that the book helped you notice or understand that you could not before.

14:40: Jason Reynolds says that he didn’t know anything about dance, so he promised his dancer friend Aurelia that he would write her into his book “Sunny” if she taught him how to write about dance.

  • What is a special skill that you have that you could teach someone else about? What special language do you use to talk about it? How would you explain it to someone who doesn’t know anything about it?

16:19: Jason Reynolds says: “My mother always said, ‘Don’t ever trust nobody who is all cry and no laugh.’”

  • Write about a tough experience that you have been through. What was your primary feeling about it—anger, disappointment, fear? How did you see a small piece of joy, then or after? How can you make sure you include both “cry” and “laugh” in what you write about the experience?

18:44: Jason Reynolds’s advice to people who want to be writers is: “You got to read, you got to write.” Also, “Excellence is a habit… You have to create positive habits for yourself,” no matter whether you want to be a writer or anything else.

  • Take Jason’s challenge: Write down what you want to be someday, and think of a positive habit that could help you achieve that goal. Describe or illustrate your habit on paper—you can make it visual if you want to. How can you make sure your habit stays a habit?

Explore More

Want to learn more about Jason Reynolds, go-go music and Washington, D.C.? Explore these online resources from the Library: