Guest Blogger

Each month, we ask distinguished authors or illustrators to write an original post that reveals insights about their process and craft. Enjoy!

Guest Blogger: Jason Reynolds is delighted to welcome author Jason Reynolds as our featured guest blogger this month.

Each month, we ask distinguished authors or illustrators to write an original post that reveals insights about their process and craft. Enjoy!

Jason Reynolds

All Voices Matter

by Jason Reynolds

This will not be a long blog post.

When I was growing up, I’d hear my mother talk to her sister in a language all their own. While shaking ice cubes in glasses, cigarette smoke lingering just above their heads, I’d sit off to the side and listen as they reminisced about their upbringing, first in the South, then in Washington, DC.

“‘Member Mama n’em use to say, ‘Yenna chirren, gwine get up off that porch and hep me thrash these peas,’” my mother would say.

“Ooooooh, lawd,” my aunt would howl, then continue. “And when we’d finish with the peas, Mama be done fix up some strick-a-lean or some souse and we’d be smackin’ on it and livin’ in hog heaven.”

“Ain’t that the lawd’s truth.”

I’d take it all in, digesting these words, this language, these codes and sounds sloshing around in my head, mixing with the language of my older brother and what I’d hear him saying outside with his friends, also a language all their own.

“Yo, you heard Chris snatched a dookie rope off a hype?” my brother would say to his friend, Kevin.

“Youse a lie. You always be talkin’ that yang.”

“No I ain’t. Straight flashed on him, yapped a dookie and a nugget ring.”

The only major difference between my mother’s and my brother’s way of speaking, is time. Generation. But it’s all informed by culture. This is the language that has always felt natural to me. The language I grew up hearing and speaking. A language all my own.

But teachers said I wasn’t allowed to have it. Or at least, I wasn’t allowed to use it. It was called improper, incorrect, ignorant, and some other words I refuse to type, rooted in prejudice and ugly biases that, in this case, existed more due to the discomfort of not understanding or wanting to understand the tradition these words — my words — are tethered to. So my relationship with language grew dissonant because my language was, apparently, “broken,” though it felt so whole.

What if my teachers had explained dialect to me? What if they would’ve explained voice, and how each of us has one, informed by our experiences and cultures, all valuable and capable of coexisting? What if, when teaching Shakespeare, I was instructed to translate it into “standard” english, and then into my own, not only to validate my interpretation of language, my voice, but to also better understand Shakespeare’s style and to better comprehend the story? What a powerful lesson that would’ve been, especially since it took me years after matriculating through the educational system to be okay with writing in my own voice — a voice all mine that school somehow convinced me I needed permission to access. The voice of my community, the voice of my family, and, funny enough, the voice that would change my life.

Just something to think about. That’s all.

Like I said, this ain’t ‘bout to be no long blog post.


Jason ReynoldsHear Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely discuss All American Boys.

Listen to the story behind The Boy in the Black Suit.

Hear about the inspiration for As Brave as You.

Listen to Jason Reynolds discuss his name.

Text and images are courtesy of Jason Reynolds and may not be used without his express written consent.


15 Responses to Guest Blogger: Jason Reynolds

  1. Jacquelyn S Meadows December 13, 2017 at 4:32 am #

    Thank you
    I feel pride in reading the article. Iam a retired educator giving my grandchildren the foundation of a lifetime through my African American and Caribbean literature based curriculum. It’s so important to know that we exist and aren’t hidden because we are who we are everyday. The curriculum is supplemented with the so called recommended books but seeing oneself is so important and not just once a year. Thank you I feel pride.

  2. Marita Dorozenski December 13, 2017 at 5:56 am #

    This is an amazing blog. I’ve been a language arts teacher for over 30 years. This year I was so excited to bring Ghost to my 7th grade class. I have a wonderfully diverse class, and I am always looking for voices in literature that represent the society we live in today. As teachers, we need to give all our children their voices. Gender, race, culture, and personal choices must all be validated. When some of my students read Ghost, they voiced concerns that the dialect might be “incorrect,” and this resulted in important conversations about language and power. I plan to continue to teach Jason Reynolds in my classroom along with powerful women authors and authors that represent America. I can’t wait to share this blog with my students to give them a voice, and to help them see that language is alive. It’s purpose is communication.

  3. Sheila OGorman June 3, 2018 at 6:39 am #

    Blog definitely food for thought. Just received a class set of your novel, “Long Way Down” and will begin working with my sophomores on the southeast side of Chicago with the set.
    Great novel, thanks for writing it!

  4. Colin October 30, 2018 at 11:56 am #

    I think the dialect helps me understand the book because it shows me what situation this kid is. Another book that uses dialect is ” the eyes are watching”.

  5. Lezley Johansen January 15, 2019 at 10:21 am #

    Yes. Why is it that there is a . . . . a what. . . what’s the right word? A belief (?) that people should talk like I do? And by extension think like I do. I don’t believe that, when I stop to think – but until I stop to think. . . And when did that happen? Did I alway believe that way? Or was it groomed?

    Thanks for making me stop and think.

  6. Jaden January 15, 2019 at 1:18 pm #

    it was a good post it made me think a lot and how he sed the things what go on in his life

  7. Christine January 15, 2019 at 1:19 pm #

    The blog post definitely gave me something to think about. Everyone has a different background and everyone has their own voice which they should express. Time has truly made an impact on the way our society has evolved.

  8. Sam Kout January 15, 2019 at 1:21 pm #

    This is something that makes me think I can’t completely grasp what you have said. But Most of it made sense I like the way explain stuff and teach. And as a student and as classmates we have a different background from others. And we all learn differently.

  9. Tate January 15, 2019 at 1:22 pm #

    I think I would of thought about romeo and juliet differently in english class if i had to convert it back to english, but everyone has a different voice and dialect so I can agree that it would be hard to learn for some kids if they have a different dialect.

  10. Maddison Engelhardt January 15, 2019 at 1:22 pm #

    The post made me really stop and think. When he talked about the difference in his brother and mom are because of generation I strongly agree to that. Talking about his life makes me really think.

  11. Citlali August 17, 2019 at 5:33 pm #

    I think this an interesting blog!! Especially since you’re opening about your childhood. Me being a hispanic i went through the same thing. I grew up speaking my own language which is spanish. Even when I learned English people used to think i was “weird” because of how I pronounce words.
    Wonderful blog by the way.

  12. Ariyana September 22, 2019 at 7:55 am #

    This is a wonderful blog ! I love learning about other peoples lifestyle . Especially their childhood , its very interesting to me . The details you put about your mother and the rest of your family is very interesting . The way you talk about life makes me think . As i think about it I realize it’s very important , and everything I do now reflects my future . This is a great blog by the way !

  13. Rose June 10, 2020 at 3:18 pm #

    Amen! Jason this really takes me back. My senior year in college as an education major, I was doing my student teaching at a junior high school in Durham, NC with student on a 4th-5th reading grade level. On the day I was being observed by my professor, one of my students asked a question using what is best described as improper grammar. I corrected him and he said, “But, my mama says it like that?” He was black, and so am I. I wasn’t about to cast negative aspersions on his mom. With all eyes on me, I told him that when we are with different groups, we speak in different ways. Reminded him of how he talked with his friends, how I talk to my college friends, etc. But told him when in school or other settings, we needed to respond using the stuff we were learning in English class. They nodded and I was very pleased with myself. After class, my professor a white female told me I was wrong, I should have told him his mom was wrong and proceeded to give me a bad review. If it wasn’t for the lead teacher who overhead the exchange, I am sure I would have received low score.

  14. Lorna Jensen June 10, 2020 at 5:28 pm #

    At a time when social media employs algorithms to send more of what you already like to your news feed and inboxes, causing our minds to narrow with pinpoint precision, it is more important than ever to expose students to diverse thinking and teach respect for each other’s culture otherwise we run the risk of falling apart at the seams and besides….who wants to be JUST standard?… boring….

  15. Nicholas Hogan June 11, 2020 at 5:34 am #

    As a speech-language therapist , I have done the “code-switching” translation activity with primary school-elementary school children who are just learning to read if they have a “home dialect.”. It is fun for them and for their standard-English speaking classmates to hear, and it is very motivating to read one’s own words and voice. Great post.

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