Over the course of his writing career, Jason Reynolds has written over a dozen books for young people in various formats, and for his latest he is trying something new: the book is only three sentences long.
Granted, they’re long sentences – spanning over 300 pages, plus. The 38-year-old writer, who was named the Library of Congress’s national ambassador for children’s literature in 2020, today released “Ain’t Burned All the Bright,” which aims to create a framework for the year 2020 in America. under the pretext of taking three deep breaths.
“There’s this idea that when you’re in a time of anxiety – and people have different opinions on that, some say take 10 deep breaths – others say take three deep breaths,” says Reynolds. on the phone. “And the reason I built it this way is because in 2020 everything seemed to be attacking our respiratory systems. In 2020 you had the racial uprising, the murder of George Floyd. And he dies from suffocation, suffocation, suffocation. And then from there comes the indignation. And then you have protesters who then have to go through tear gas, and tear gas suffocation and what it feels like when they attack the lungs. “
The second breath is of course COVID-19, which attacks the respiratory system, while the third breath asks the question “where do you find an oxygen mask?” The three breaths are told through the perspective of a young boy watching the news on TV with his family, and on the third breath, the boy wonders where to find a respite, with all that is going on in the world.
“I think what we’ve all learned in 2020, and 2021 for that matter, is that all we need to survive – and continue to need to survive – are usually the things we take for granted. for so long, ”Reynolds said. said. “It’s like, ‘Dude, I don’t know if I’ve ever looked at my siblings like I’m looking at them now. I don’t know if I’ve ever thought about my annoying aunts and my mom, you know what I mean? It’s all those little things: having a place to live. Sit on the couch and tell your loved ones that you love them. The very small things are actually what gave us enough momentum to keep moving forward. And we realized that in order to keep breathing, you have to recognize the beauty and banality that surrounds it.
The book is a follow-up to “Stuntboy, in the Meantime,” released in November, which was a graphic novel for college kids that explored what it’s like to be a child of divorce. Reynolds focused on creating artwork for children, especially black children, to see themselves long before he became a national ambassador for the artwork.
“I was a kid who thought reading and writing, especially reading, was something for others,” he says of his childhood in Washington, DC “It didn’t seem like something that was intended for me. I mean, we’re talking about the ’80s and early’ 90s. And I felt like no one was thinking of how to describe my life in a book. For me it was like in school, they taught us all these stories, but all these stories felt like they were 50 years before I was born or about people who don’t know anything about what it means to be a black boy who is growing up during this time.
He didn’t start reading for fun until his late teens, but discovered writing earlier, through rap music, through Queen Latifah’s lyrics in the album notes.
Since then, he has felt compelled to ensure that young black children today have books that reflect their lives.
“We have to make sure they know, that we know they are in the world. That they are valuable, ”says Reynolds. “I have had the opportunity to write all of these books, contemporary tales about black children and all children. But stories “about black children”. When one day, when they are 40, someone says, “What was it like being a black kid in America in the early 2000s and 2020s?” They may say, “Here are 30 books written by the same person. “
“Ain’t Burned All the Bright,” which is aimed at teenagers, launched years ago, obviously with a very different substance. He had long struggled with the idea of writing a book about the boxes we put things we don’t want to deal with emotionally, working with his longtime friend Jason Griffin, who illustrated. For some reason, the concept just didn’t work. And then 2020 hit.
“We were sitting at my house and banging our heads against the wall as usual. And I was like, ‘Fro, I can’t even be creative. It’s really hard to think about because of what’s going on, ”says Reynolds. “I’m like, ‘We’ve been working on this book for all these years and I have nothing in me. I feel like I’m choking, you know what I’m talking about? And he said,’ Yeah, I feel the same. ‘ And he’s like, ‘And I’m just trying to figure out… the drawing has always been my oxygen mask.’ And then we kind of got there.