Bad Boy: A Memoir
Bad Boy: A Memoir

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Series: Amistad   

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Annotation: From mischievous pranks at home to fighting in the classroom, especially when teased about his speech impediment, Walter was a handful.
Genre: Biographies
Catalog Number: #21816
Format: Perma-Bound Edition
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Common Core/STEAM: Common Core Common Core
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Publisher: HarperCollins
Copyright Date: 2001
Edition Date: 2002
Pages: 214 pages
Availability: Available
ISBN: Publisher: 0-06-447288-4 Perma-Bound: 0-8000-4552-1
ISBN 13: Publisher: 978-0-06-447288-3 Perma-Bound: 978-0-8000-4552-4
Dewey: 921
LCCN: 00052978
Dimensions: 19 cm.
Language: English
ALA Booklist
I didn't want to be defiant. I wanted to be in the system that I was walking away from, but I didn't know how to get in. Many teens will see themselves in Myers' account of his troubled coming-of-age, especially since he offers no pat solutions. He doesn't analyze or laugh at his youth from an adult perspective, and he doesn't overdramatize his childhood self. He remembers how he felt: detached, hurt, lonely, ashamed, a failure. He loved his Harlem neighborhood, but it was hard being black and poor and a reader, especially since moving into a world of books isolated him from those around him. He was big and physically aggressive, quick to get angry and punch kids who laughed at his speech defect. He was always in trouble at school and often truant. In fact, he dropped out of high school, read and wrote alone, and narrowly escaped jail. The narrative is sometimes rambling and repetitive, and sometimes abstract: for example, Myers just touches on his searing discovery that his stepfather couldn't read. The most beautiful writing is about Mama: how she taught him to read, sharing True Romance magazines. He still feels ashamed about how he hurt her: Later when I had learned to use words better, I lost my ability to speak so freely with Mama. The aching truth is that although books saved him and helped him become a famous writer, they moved him away from the adoptive parents he loved.
Horn Book
While the facts might make Myers's life seem a tale of hoodlum-turned-writer, the more pertinent truth evidenced here is that the writer was there all along--and the hoodlum's fists only struck out to protect him. The memoir is diffuse and confused by digressions, but many of the individual scenes have power, and the author's voice and heart are consistently heard and felt throughout.
Kirkus Reviews
Catalogues of books alternate with battles against educational authorities in this memoir from one of the deans of young-adult literature. Myers ( The Journal of Biddy Owens , below, etc.) paints a picture of a boy in love with words, an avid reader, and later an enthusiastic writer, but also one whose quick, violent temper kept him in constant trouble. From a cozy childhood in the embrace of his foster parents to an alienated and depressed adolescence, Myers consciously sets out to identify those elements that made him what he is: a black writer of books for all children. One of the book's strengths, no surprise, is its careful and loving depiction of Harlem's black community, and readers familiar with Myers's other work will recognize in many of the figures and situations he describes the inspirations for his fiction. Another is Myers's wry commentary on his youthful actions and attitudes: when describing his spiritual uncertainty, for instance, he writes, "I wanted to hear a big voice on the phone say Yea, verily, this is me, God. It's all good, my man, and will be ultracool in the end.' " No life can be as tightly plotted as a novel, though, and the text sometimes moves unevenly from anecdote to unrelated (albeit interesting) anecdote, hindering a smooth narrative flow. His attempt to show how his life was constructed, moreover, results in a rather deterministic text from which one has the sense that much was left out, and his musings on the effects of institutionalized racism on his development as a young man and a writer become didactic interruptions plunked into a story which likely could speak for itself. Myers is arguably one of the most important writers of children's books of our age, however, and this glimpse into his own childhood is wonderfully valuable, fascinating, and even inspiring. (Autobiography. 12+)
Publishers Weekly

"Myers paints a fascinating picture of his childhood growing up in Harlem in the 1940s, with an adult's benefit of hindsight," wrote PW. "What emerges is a clear sense of how one young man's gifts separate him from his peers, causing him to stir up trouble in order to belong." Ages 13-up. (May)

School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-This superb memoir begins simply with an account of Myers's family history and his boyhood. Vivid detail makes the Harlem of the `40s come alive, from the music and children's games to the everyday struggle for survival. As Myers grows older, however, his story also grows in complexity. Soon readers are caught up in his turbulent adolescence and his slow, painful development as a writer. Even while performing poorly in school, the teen endlessly devoured great works of literature, often in secret. He also wrote, sometimes quitting out of discouragement but always beginning again. Eventually he attended school less and less often, sometimes fighting roaming gang members or delivering "packages" for drug dealers. After dropping out of high school, he enlisted in the army. Sadness and bewilderment infuse these last chapters as Myers faces a bleak future. Intellectually, he's left his family and friends far behind, but his race and circumstances seem to give him few choices. After years of menial jobs, Myers remembered a teacher's advice-"Whatever you do, don't stop writing"-and in time his persistence paid off. This memoir is never preachy; instead, it is a story full of funny anecdotes, lofty ideals, and tender moments. The author's growing awareness of racism and of his own identity as a black man make up one of the most interesting threads. Young writers will find inspiration here, while others may read the book as a straightforward account of a colorful, unforgettable childhood.-Miranda Doyle, San Francisco Public Library Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Starred Review for Publishers Weekly

"Myers paints a fascinating picture of his childhood growing up in Harlem in the 1940s, with an adult's benefit of hindsight," wrote PW. "What emerges is a clear sense of how one young man's gifts separate him from his peers, causing him to stir up trouble in order to belong." Ages 13-up. (May)

Word Count: 45,884
Reading Level: 6.5
Interest Level: 7-12
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 6.5 / points: 8.0 / quiz: 49772 / grade: Middle Grades
Reading Counts!: reading level:6.6 / points:12.0 / quiz:Q25181
Lexile: 970L
Guided Reading Level: Y
Fountas & Pinnell: Y
Bad Boy
A Memoir

Chapter One


Each of us is born with a history already in place. There are physical aspects that make us brown-eyed or blue-eyed, that make us tall or not so tall, or give us curly or straight hair. Our parents might be rich or poor. We could be born in a crowded, bustling city or in a rural area. While we live our own individual lives, what has gone before us, our history, often has some effect on us. In thinking about what influenced my own life, I began by considering the events and people who came before me. I learned about most of the people who had some effect on my life through family stories, census records, old photographs, and, in the case of Lucas D. Dennis, the records of the Works Progress Administration at the University of West Virginia.

The Works Progress Administration was a government program formed to create jobs during the Depression years. It did this by starting a number of projects, including state histories. Among the notes of the interviewers putting together a history of West Virginia, I came across this entry.

Lucas D. Dennis was one of the one hundred and fifty slaves that Steve Dandridge owned before the Civil War. This slave is ninetyfour years old. He was born in Jefferson County. His mind is very bright, he still has two of his own teeth, his hair is gray and he wears a heavy beard which is also gray.

After the Civil War he came to Harpers Ferry and built himself a house, which is on one of the camping grounds used during the war. This house is on Filmore Ave. and the corner of a lane leading to where many soldiers were buried and later taken up and carried to their burial ground in Winchester.

He lives with his wife, she is eighty-four. He saw John Brown and remembers well the day he was hanged.

Lucas D. Dennis was my great-great uncle. Prior to the Civil War, when West Virginia was still part of the state of Virginia, these ancestors of mine were slaves on a plantation called The Bower in Leetown, Virginia. The 1870 census still listed had Lucas D. Dennis as living on the plantation, but I knew, from family stories, that he did indeed move to Harpers Ferry and that part of the Dennis family moved to Martinsburg, West Virginia, less than ten miles from 'Me Bower. At the time of the interview with Lucas D. Dennis, the Dennis family in Martinsburg had merged with the Green family. One of the women of the Green family, Mary Dolly Green, later became my mother.

I have no memory of Mary Dolly Green. I know that she gave birth to me on a Thursday, the twelfth of August, 1937. 1 have been told that she was tall, with a fair complexion. Mary had five children: Gertrude, Ethel, George, me, and Imogene. Shortly after the birth of my sister Imogene my mother died, leaving my father, George Myers, with seven children, two of them, Geraldine and Vida, from a previous marriage. When I imagine her, I think of an attractive young woman with the same wide smile my sisters had. I wish I could have known her. However, today, when I think of mother, I think of another woman, my father's first wife, Florence Dean.

Florence Dean's mother emigrated from Germany in the late 1800s. A cook by profession, Mary Gearhart settled outside Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, in New Franklin, Pennsylvania. There she met and married a Native American by the name of Brown. The couple had one daughter, Florence. Mary Gearhart, a small, pleasant woman, worked at a number of restaurants before finding a job in a German hotel in Martinsburg, West Virginia.

When Florence was old enough to work, she also came to Martinsburg. It was while working at the hotel that she met a young black man, George Myers. The two young people began to see each other socially and were married when Florence was seventeen. From this marriage came two children, Geraldine and Viola. Unfortunately, the marriage ended in divorce, and Florence returned to Pennsylvania. The fact that Florence had married a black man did not sit well with her German relatives, and she was made to feel unwelcome. She decided to move to Baltimore, Maryland, where she met Herbert Dean.

Herbert Dean lived in Baltimore with his father, stepmother, two sisters, Nancy and Hazel, and his brother, Leroy. His father, William Dean, was a tall, handsome, and opinionated man who had little use for formal education aside from reading the Bible, and even less use for women.

He ran a small hauling business in Baltimore that consisted of several wagons and teams of horses. He expected his sons to enter the business when they were of age. When trucks began to replace horses and wagons, he scoffed at the idea, labeling the trucks as a mere fad that would never last. Even as his business declined, he stubbornly stuck to his beliefs. By the time he was nine, Herbert Dean was already working, pulling a wagon through the streets of the city, collecting scraps of wood, cutting it for kindling, and selling it door to door to light the fires in the old coal stoves that most people had at the time. Herbert had left school after the third grade, realizing that he was needed to help support the family.

By the time Herbert reached manhood, his father's hauling business was no more than a way of making a few dollars on occasion, and when William Dean still declined to invest in trucks, both of the boys struck out on their own. Leroy decided to remain in the Baltimore area, and Herbert decided to try his luck in New York City . . .

Bad Boy
A Memoir
. Copyright © by Walter Myers. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from Bad Boy: A Memoir by Walter Dean Myers
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

New York Times bestselling author Walter Dean Myers traveled back to his roots in this memoir that is gripping, funny, and ultimately unforgettable. Don’t miss this memoir by a former National Ambassador of Books for Young People!

As a boy, Myers was quick-tempered and physically strong, always ready for a fight. He also read voraciously—he would check out books from the library and carry them home, hidden in brown paper bags in order to avoid other boys' teasing. He aspired to be a writer (and he eventually succeeded).

But as his hope for a successful future diminished, the values he had been taught at home, in school, and in his community seemed worthless, and he turned to the streets and to his books for comfort.

Here, in his own words, is the story of one of the most important voices of our time.

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