Wednesday, April 27, 2016

#AuthorApril: W is for Walter Dean Myers #AtoZChallenge

Dear Alison,

Thank you for your post about Vera B. Williams. Her last art show in Narrowsburg, NY left a lasting impression on me. One I know I've shared with you. Vera's scribbles and doodles and daydreams remind me of my middle daughter. My eleven year old's notebooks, folders, and walls (yes, walls too) are as much as part of her identity as a creative as her hands and feet. At her root, she imagines and reimagines worlds, and we, as parents, let her.

But your post spoke to me in another way. 

I love how you read to your son each night, and it reminds me of my own son, now thirteen and the evolution of our reading relationship. Sure, my son still sits and listens to the picture books I read to my daughters but I no longer read his books aloud to him. We react to them instead. Sort of a mother/son book club.  

When he was in fifth grade, he brought home Kick by Walter Dean Myers from the school library. 


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He soon developed Walter Dean Myers fever. There wasn't a Walter Dean Myers book in the elementary school library, he didn't read, and if someone else had the nerve to check it out before he read it--well, let's just say he mastered the evil eye. We bought books from the bookstore, we ordered online, we went to local library, and in all these places including our own bookshelf, Walter Dean Myer's Monster tempted him to pick it up and start reading. 

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I wanted him to wait--as an eleven year old, I didn't feel like he was ready--but honestly, I think it was me who wasn't ready for him to see this part of the world. I wanted to keep him bubble wrapped and surrounded by pigs and elephants and giraffes who jump around in joyful jubilation. I struggled with indecision I wanted to do right by him and the reality of our world. When he turned 12, I let him read it.

Monster haunted him for a long time and for good reason. The story of Steve Harman’s incarceration and the trial that decided whether he could return to his parent’s home and remain the budding film student and son or become one of the monsters found guilty for shooting a man and spending the next 25 years behind bars strikes a chord in even the most innocent of readers because Steve Harman could be any one of them. 

At 16, Steve’s entire life is ahead of him. He has possibility. He has promise. He has potential. Then he's identified as the lookout man for a robbery that went bad and charged with murder. He places his trust, his life, in the hands of his lawyer, Ms. O’Brien. A white woman who he's fairly certain thinks he's a monster.

To cope with the stress of the trial and the daily life of a prisoner, Steve creates a movie script complete with film editing details. The movie script format of Monster is appealing to readers. One, because it's easy to read. Two, because the story is always moving forward even when the main character is sitting in a jail cell or in the courtroom. 

Monster examines the perceptions Steve develops through the course of the trial. He believes he is a monster, a monster clumped with other monsters. His perception of himself grows increasingly disjointed as the trial drags on. This loss of self cannot be undone by a Not Guilty verdict. 

Monster will haunt you and cause you to examine your perception of your actions towards those charged with a crime regardless of the verdict. The tale Walter Dean Myers wove is a complicated, tangled web. 


Sharing the writer love one letter at a time,

Kim