We hear a lot about the need to get more boys reading. According to a 2000 study cited by the National Center for Education Statistics, boys lagged behind girls in reading performance across all age groups. Experts say the reading gap for African-American and Latino young men is even more pronounced. There are lots of factors that contribute to this problem. But here are two that seem solvable — Some boys find books boring and have trouble connecting with the stories. How can we turn that around? Give young men books that reflect their interests and lives.
12 Brown Boys (Just Us Books, 2008), the children’s book debut of best-selling urban lit novelist Omar Tyree, does that in a meaningful way. In this short story collection for middle-graders, Tyree explores the lives of a memorable cast of tween brown boys. His characters, with names like Red-Head Mike, Chestnut and Oneal, come from different family situations and backgrounds. They face different trials. They show diversity in their interests and beliefs. But they’re united in being young men with frailties and flaws, strengths and talents. Tyree succeeds in creating distinct personalities with complex lives.
He opens the book with the throw-back story of a boy named Michael who loves Heavy D and Rakim and looks up to an older teen named Cool Dave. Then, Michael discovers what Dave does for a living and things get more complicated. Tyree shows us a boy who struggles with reading in public until his dad teaches him a trick he used as a child. There’s a young artist and musician who inspires his friend. There’s an oldest son who stands up when he’s needed most. In Tyree’s book, we travel from Jamaica to Detroit, from Washington, D.C. to Charlotte and a camp in the Poconos to meet boys who stick up for their beliefs, have fun their own way, weather challenging moments and unfamiliar experiences to become their best selves.
12 Brown Boys is a needed book that gives African-American boys an important incentive to read — reflections of themselves.
Here is a Book Links article that offers more titles that celebrate African-American boys: