Today is National Gun Violence Awareness Day. It also kicks off Wear Orange weekend, a movement to honor the millions of lives taken or forever changed by gun violence. In recognition of this day, I’m sharing a book recommendation for teens that brings this issue to light in one incredible read: Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds.
Long Way Down tackles teenage gun violence in short, staccato verse. The entire plot takes place in 60 seconds—the time it takes for Will to decide if he is going to kill his brother’s murderer—and it’s told through poetry. It’s also a page-turner.
We read this book as part of our homeschool literature/writing class. It sparked powerful discussion that centered on revenge, cycles of violence, and The Rules (neighborhood rules that Will is expected to follow). The book served as a window into issues that are a reality for millions of young kids. It also served as a reflection—mirroring their own needs to follow social rules and codes (often unspoken).
Long Way Down was the last book we read for the year, and I was inspired by the theme, so I assigned final projects that were completely up to the student. I gave them options such as:
- Spoken word poetry
- Poems in the shape of the subject
- Oral history interview (someone whose life has been affected by violence)
For my daughter’s final project, she created an iMovie, putting together clips of news reports of gun violence, along with hopeful music and performing a dance.
Another student wrote a poem, placing the words on the page to resemble caution tape.
A third student created a Flag of Tears on fabric. The fifty tears represented the heartbreak of gun violence and the red stripes, the blood shed. Quotes from the book were written on the stripes.
We highly, highly, recommend the book, and also following the work of author, Jason Reynolds, who is the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. His Write. Right. Rite. series includes several short videos to get young writers’ imaginations firing.