Juvenile Urban Literature

While there is a substantial body of literature for young adults and adults relating to life in the inner city, there are relatively less materials written for a younger audience. Partially this is because some of the language and situations popular in the works written in the genre are considered inappropriate for children. Perhaps there is a sad truth in this, that the real life experiences of children in the inner-city and the poorest areas contain sexuality, language, and violence that is generally considered inappropriate in literature for their ages. Regardless, there are some works that attempt to convey an image of the inner-city life for children. It may be a cleaned up world, slightly foreign to children there, but it does address some of the issues and themes they face. The Dream BearerWalter Dean Myers is a very popular author of YA literature featuring the gritty reality of the inner city. In The Dream Bearer, Myers writes for a younger audience, but includes many of the same themes. Young David lives in the inner city, his father has serious mental health issues, and his older brother has started getting involved in drugs. For this summer, David faces these issues through the stories he hears from a strange homeless man Moses Littlejohn about dreams. The issues that David faces are typical of those of many children his age, and the account is written without graphic language or explicit violence, making this appropriate for 5-6 graders.

All of the Above Shelley Pearsall’s All of the Above also features inner city children who experience typical struggles with poverty and their families. This book is set in Cleveland, in economically challenged middle school. This is not a book about the teacher who saves the day with his commitment to the children, rather it is about a regular teacher and regular students who do something amazing. The teacher proposes the project to create a tetrahedron out of frustration with his job, never thinking anyone will actually take him up on it. The students come for a variety of reasons: one wants to go to college, one comes so he wont fail, another has no where else to go, and another couple come to impress the ladies. But this unlikely group creates something amazing, in a truly inspiring tale, most of all because it is based on a true story. An inspiring tale, appropriate to 4th graders and up, though perhaps as a read-aloud.

Chess Rumble G Neri’s Chess Rumble is a great book, not so much because of its originality, as because of its execution. The story is about an inner-city boy who is in trouble at school, and who finds a way to channel his anger and learn decision making skills through playing chess with an older mentor. Not anything earth shattering, but the text is easy to read, poetic, and realistic without being vulgar. AND it has some stunning illustrations that add to the ease of understanding the text and the message. Plus it is at a reading level and topic that would appeal to boys from 3rd grade through high school.

To see some more that I recommend in this area, visit my goodreads.com site to view my bibliography.

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