Heavy Medal Mock Newbery Finalist: AIN’T BURNED ALL THE BRIGHT By Jason Reynolds
Introduction by Heavy Medal Award Committee Member Jennifer Whitten
AIN’T BURNED ALL THE BRIGHT is a collage of words and images resulting from a collaboration between Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin (former college roommates and also authors of My Name Is Jason. Mine Too.: Our Story. Our Way). During the pandemic, Griffin kept a moleskin sketchbook as a means of processing everything that was happening during the strange year of 2020. While speaking on the phone one day, Griffin said the sketches had become “sort of like an oxygen mask.”
That comment and image was the spark of what became AIN’T BURNED ALL THE BRIGHT, a mash-up of three long sentences separated by three breaths, with a text-image interplay that makes this book a unique reading experience. Don’t be fooled by the brevity of the text: Reynolds’s use of sensory imagery, repetition of phrases, and relatable metaphors effectively tell the story of a Black family suffocating inside their home during the summer of 2020 and struggling to find their breath, each in their own way.
In the first breath, the characters unfold across the pages: a mother glued to the news on the television, a brother who won’t move from the video game console, a sister planning to attend a protest for George Floyd’s murder, and our unnamed narrator, an observer, taking in both the news coverage with stories of police brutality and of people fighting for the “freedom to breathe.”
In the second breath, we meet the father of the family isolated from his family suffering from a respiratory illness (COVID-19?) that has him coughing and coughing, struggling through each breath, but fighting because “when he sees me he smiles because the fever ain’t burned all his bright up yet.”
In breath three, the young narrator is frustrated with the wait game where he begins his search for an oxygen mask. Through the search, the protagonist recognizes that we can find our breath in the simple things and people in our lives.
“worry is worn like a knit sweater in summer and can’t nobody breathe in a knit sweater in summer a turtleneck wrapped around my whole family our necks caught in a tunnel of too much going on and if feels like I’m the only person who can tell we’re all suffocating so I get up and look for an oxygen mask around the house”
Reynold’s prose is rhythmic and urgent. I read and listened to this book at least 20 times so far, and each time I discover something new about the genius of Reynold’s style, in addition to taking in how the visual images created by Griffin add to our interpretation of the text. 2020 was really the “strangest year of our lives” and I am grateful for the collaboration of Reynolds and Griffin as a reminder of all that we went through and continue to in the fight for “freedom to run and be out of breath and catch it again.”
Heavy Medal Award Committee members and others are now invited to discuss this book further in the Comments section below. Please start with positive observations first; stick to positives until at least three comments have been posted or we reach 1:00 pm EST. Let the Mock Newbery discussion begin!
About Emily Mroczek-Bayci
Emily Mroczek (Bayci) is a freelance children’s librarian in the Chicago suburbs. She served on the 2019 Newbery committee. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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