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Greenburgh Students Meet Award-Winning and New York Times Best-Selling Author Jason Reynolds, Who Also Happens to be One of Their Favorite Storytellers

Award-winning author Jason Reynolds visited with Greenburgh’s Richard J. Bailey Intermediate School students on May 6th. The special event was a collaboration between GCSD parent, Elena Giovinazzo, who has three children in the district, Lori D’Andrea, K-12 Literacy Coach,  Danielle Allyne, ELA/SS fourth grade teacher, and Shqype Rraci, RJB Principal.

Unique to this author visit is how students were fully prepared in advance. Fourth, fifth, and sixth graders have been reading his books in school, thanks to a generous donation by publishing house Simon & Schuster. In addition to scheduled reading time, students journaled, drew pictures of characters and scenes, and prepared questions to ask him during his visit. What made this special to Esme, a sixth grader, is the way it changed the way she reads. “While I’m reading I can think about what I want to ask him, because we will actually get that chance when he’s here,” she said of the book, As Brave as You. “The prompts in the journal gave me more things to think about while I’m reading. The one I liked the most asked to make a prediction in the story. It made me think more about the details in the book to develop ideas.”

Organizing author visits and reading events across the district has been a way for Ms. D’Andrea to make the reading experience fun and interesting for students. “The exposure and interaction with authors gives words on a page context, and adds a deeper layer and level of understanding of the craft. Learning about the process directly from authors about how their ideas and inspiration become stories and how characters are shaped adds immeasurable value to students at every stage of their literacy development,” she said. “Another reason the visit will be really special for our students is Jason Reynolds' understanding of the importance of representation in his books.” 

Robert Giovinazzo, a RJB fourth grader, is reading Stuntboy. “The characters are really enjoyable and the illustrations are great. It’s one of my favorite books and I loved the sequel too. I really hope when he comes here next week, he will talk about a third book coming soon in the series,” he said. “This book has helped me develop a bigger passion for reading,” said Masen, another fourth grader reading Stuntboy. “There are things I can relate to in the book. It makes me think about how books can sometimes connect to your own life. It’s like a way of reflecting on what’s happened to you in the past.” Sydney, a fifth grader, read Ghosts. Her favorite part of the journaling process was also been the prompts. “Whenever I read a book I always think about what the characters look like, but I never stop to think about how I would draw them. I really liked that there was a prompt for that.” she said. “It also really helps with understanding the book because you have to go back and read how the author describes the characters.”

A self-described reluctant reader as a child, Mr. Reynolds has made it his life’s work to change that for others. A prolific author of popular books and series, Mr. Reynolds is the recipient of a Newbery Honor, Caldecott Medal, Printz Honor, NAACP Image Award, and multiple Coretta Scott King honors.  On The John F. Kennedy Center for Arts Education website, the description of the author reads “Inspiring young people to write, as well as read, is part of Jason Reynolds’s life mission. He urges everyone to express their lives in words and art, whatever form that takes—prose, poetry, song lyrics, comics, anything at all. “The greatest gift [young writers] have is the voice that feels most natural,” he says. “Not sure how to start? Watch for striking images and listen for powerful phrases from your own life and experience, then write them down.”

 “I have a professional working relationship with Jason Reyonolds and I’ve been waiting for the right time to have him come to the school to share with students his experience and passion for writing,” said Mrs. Giovinazzo.  “My son Robert loves his books. I wanted to create a special opportunity for other students to be able to connect with his stories and writing as well.”

Jason Reynolds' arrival to RJB on the morning of May 6th was met with full RJB fanfare. Chorus students greeted him in song with a performance of “Lovely Day” by American R&B artist Bill Wither. Mr. Reynolds, humble by nature, found himself in the moment with the students and sang along with them. The gymnasium was adorned with banners of the artwork of the books the students made of the books they have been reading in preparation for his visit. The art project was facilitated by Terri Dove, RJB art teacher. One of the biggest surprises to come for  RJB students was learning that Mr. Reynolds would be signing all 354 students' books after the Q&A session

The magic extended into the gymnasium where each grade level had an opportunity to hear from the author and ask him their well-crafted and thoughtful questions that they had been working on. The part of their journaling assignment to come up with questions to ask the popular author relating to their assigned book - Stuntboy (fourth grade), Ghosts (fifth grade), and As Brave As You (sixth grade) came in very handy. Before even asking their questions, Mr. Reynolds made it very clear to students that nothing is off limits. “The rule is you can ask me about anything you want,” he said. “Any question is OK with me.”

Their questions ranged from wanting to know what threats he feels, to which he answered, “I’m scared of letting myself down and I don’t love air travel”, to why he put commercial breaks in his Stuntboy Books, “When I was growing up, television was the primary source of entertainment, unlike today,” he said. “Back then, commercials allowed for a break so you wouldn't miss any part of a show if you had to leave the room. It was a pause. In my books, it's a timeout to find the humor.” One surprising question that came up in each grade level was Mr. Reynolds’ age. The student’s estimation of his year of birth being between 1964 and 1997 amused Mr. Reynolds. The answer, met with much excitement from the students, was 1983.

However, most of the students’ questions centered around wanting to know what inspired Mr. Reynolds to become a writer, how he comes up with story ideas, and if the characters are based on people in his life. “Writing became a way for me to take all the things that were happening inside of me and give it a place to put it somewhere. Sharing makes me feel good and makes me whole. All of my books come from parts of my life and some characters are either inspired by or based on people I know or have known,” he said. “You might not realize that all of you are writers too. You are writing your own story, maybe not on paper, but by living it each and every day. Remember that you can be the best version of yourself, even when it feels hard, by choosing to be whoever you want to be.”