When I Was the Greatest: Jason Reynolds


Jason Reynolds is a very character centered author.  His story When I was the Greatest centers around some amazing characters.  Allen a.k.a. Ali is a very down to earth young man who understands sometimes you have to do, what you have to do in order to take care of family.  His dad teaches him this while his mother teaches him that there is no bond stronger than blood.

Roland ‘Noodles’ James would often act out getting himself into trouble.  And though he constantly looked out for his brother, Ricky ‘Needles’ James, it was seldom needed even in the harsh streets of Brooklyn.   Ricky has Tourette’s Syndrome and would often blurt out inappropriate things.  Noodles was the only person always tripping about Needles.  Despite the head swipes, Noodles was super-protective over his brother, and paranoid that people were laughing at him”(17).

My students could get a great deal from this book.  They could explore the bonds of brotherhood and friendship that often have a darker side such as Noodles blaming Needles for his father leaving due to his condition.  Or they could discuss how teens would likely feel the same as the boys and try to get into the party for social gains.

My students could learn empathy for a person with a disorder or for the family of that person.  They could learn compassion from Doris as she taught Needles how to knit to occupy his body and mind and find relief from Tourette’s.

I think it would be interesting to have my students try to honestly answer if they would act more like Ali or Noodles at the party during the fight and why they think that they would be like that character.  Why do they think each character acted as they did?  Would they stick up for Needles or try to talk their way out of a fight?  Would they be able to raise above the violence of the party, of the city around them?


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