A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
James Baldwin's memories and observations reflect the prejudice endured by Black Americans from the 1920s through the early 1960s, and beyond. His book is a historical document as well as a philosophical one, because it reveals prevailing points of view and during Baldwin's early life. The author also briefly discusses the fate of Jewish people during the Holocaust.
Just about every paragraph of Baldwin's iconic book contains unforgettable statements, but the most straightforward message is, "Whoever debases others is debasing himself."
Positive Role Models
Baldwin debates the merits of Christian leaders and Nation of Islam leaders. He helps readers understand the appeal of a religious life, and the path that the Nation of Islam advocates to address racist crimes. However, the best role model in this work is Baldwin himself. He encourages readers to think critically about the way the United States treats Black people, and what avenues Black Americans can take toward justice.
Violence & Scariness
Baldwin mentions the occurrence of violent events, including murders and World War II, but there's no graphic violence.
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Baldwin uses the archaic term "negro," and points to Elijah Muhammad's references to "white devils," but there's no cursing in this book.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Baldwin makes several references to adults drinking and being in bars, and describes a time in his life when his friends had started to drink and smoke.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that James Baldwin's short book of nonfiction The Fire Next Time, first published in 1963, includes two essays: "My Dungeon Shook -- Letter to my Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation" and "Down at the Cross -- Letter From a Region of My Mind." Baldwin discusses his relationship with his father, the role that religion played in his life, and his meeting with Elijah Muhammad, founder of the Nation of Islam. A couple of times, Baldwin compares the treatment of European Jewish people during World War II with the plight of Black Americans. He examines a world of issues facing Black Americans, including the damage wrought by racism, and the possible outcomes of reparations. Baldwin mentions drinking and smoking, as well as violent acts that were perpetrated on Jews and Black Americans. Most important, this book explores signnificant philosophical ideas around the civil rights movement, and continuing issues of injustice in America. This book was written for adults, but it's approriate for teens. The ideas are best digested by mature readers.
Is It Any Good?
This short nonfiction work by one of America's greatest writers is essential reading for teens wanting to learn about the American civil rights movement, the experience of Black citizens, and racism. Almost every paragraph has memorable lines that speak volumes about the effects of racism. Readers will learn about the disparate ideas being debated in the Black community during Baldwin's life, and they'll be fascinated (but probably not surprised) to note how many problems remain unresolved.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.