Boston Public Library’s partnership with the Massachusetts juvenile justice agency, the Department of Youth Services (DYS), is one of the key ways that BPL helps connect people of all ages and backgrounds with books that reflect their lived experiences. As part of these outreach efforts at DYS, on Wednesday, October 5th the Boston Public Library brought Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds, coauthors of the young adult book All American Boys, which examines police brutality from the perspective of two characters, to speak to youth in the DYS residential programs in Dorchester.
Kiely and Reynolds met with two groups of DYS youth to discuss how and why All American Boys, a 2016 Coretta Scott King Author Honor book, came to be. Jason Reynolds, recently short-listed for the National Book Award for Ghost, wrote about Rashad, a black teen who experiences violence at the hands of a cop. Kiely, author of The Last True Love Story and The Gospel of Winter, contributed the sections featuring Quinn, Rashad’s white classmate who witnesses the incident.
The book has roots in the authors’ own experiences and perspectives. When he was a teenager in Washington, D.C., Reynolds explained, he and three other black friends were pulled over by a cop for running a yellow light. When one of his friends opened the car door to hand the cop the registration, the cop pointed a gun at them. Four more cop cars pulled up, and the officers ordered the boys out of the car, handcuffed them, and searched the car. After the cops finally let them go, Reynolds and his friends never talked about the incident – for them, Reynolds said, there was nothing unusual about it. Kiely explained that growing up as a white kid in the Boston area, he didn’t have the same experiences as Reynolds, and he created Quinn because he wants people like him to understand that police encounters like the ones described in the book actually happen.
The DYS youth had plenty of questions for the authors. In response to a boy who asked what it takes to write a book, Reynolds replied “Discipline.” Another asked how they chose the title for the book, and Kiely and Reynolds said that they wanted to show that the character of Rashad is as much of a typical American as Quinn. Reynolds added that his one objection to the title is that it leaves out girls; he said that women have always been the backbone of change in America, and the book’s strong female characters reflect that.
In addition to bringing authors to DYS, BPL’s teen and youth librarians make monthly trips to the residential facility to give book talks and make books available for the youth to borrow. The youth can also request books, and the librarian will bring them on the next visit.
“Our partnership with DYS helps connect the youth residents to books with characters and experiences they can identify with,” says Jessi Snow, Central Teen Services Team Leader. “Talks with such notable authors as Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds get DYS youth excited about reading.”
Other Boston Public Library outreach initiatives for children and teens include visits to Boston’s Children’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital, where youth librarians read to patients and introduce teen parents to the BPL’s many free resources related to children and literacy.