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The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Richard Wright's Black Boy is a brutal and disturbing portrait of this best-selling, award-winning author's experiences in the American South during the 1920s. Hungry, degraded, and living under the constant threat of violence and death, Wright somehow emerged as a self-respecting man of ideas, and so his story is as inspiring as it is upsetting. The book, which reads like a novel, shows numerous incidents of white-on-black and black-against-black violence -- from children being "whipped" to teens assaulting each other, to adults being shot and killed. There's some profanity, but most foul is the combination of cruel language with racial slurs ("black bastard," "stupid n----r"). Also disturbing is Wright's indoctrination to alcohol as a child. Younger teens may need some guidance to comprehend the effects of Wright's living with so much deprivation and under the constant threat of physical harm.
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What's the story?
BLACK BOY details the formative years of Richard Wright, a best-selling author and activist who grew up during the 1920s in Mississippi and Tennessee. The book reveals the extreme emotional and physical depravation of Wright's childhood -- hunger and the threat of violence were Wright's most constant companions. After his father abandons the family, Richard, his mother, and his brother move from town to town, in and out of relatives' homes, in a constant struggle to survive. Richard wants to be educated, but never knows year to year whether he will be able to enroll in school -- because he can't afford the books he needs, hasn't proper clothing, or has to care for his ailing mother. Yet, somehow Wright managed to retain some semblance of self esteem, and a keen awareness of the injustice of racial prejudice. Writing from an adult perspective, he shows clearly the desperation born of bigotry and brutality, and the ways that learning and ideas helped to liberate him.
Is it any good?
Black Boy is painful to read; the emotional and physical assaults Wright suffered as a child are as upsetting to parents as they will be to children. However, this is an extremely revealing, eloquent, and important book. There is so much to learn from Wright historically, and in our ongoing effort to understand the long-term effects of racial prejudice and child abuse. Black Boy continues to be an enormously effective and moving autobiography, and it's a must-read for students learning about the Jim Crow South.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why Black Boy is on the list of Frequently Challenged and Banned Books. Do you think the book's message is important enough for schools and libraries to keep it on their shelves?
How much have things changed for African Americans since Richard Wright was a young boy in the South in the 1920s? Why do you think this book continues to move readers so many years after it was written?
There's a lot of hazing and testing among students at the schools Richard attends; Richard often has to fight other kids to begin to belong. Does anything like this go on at your school?
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.