Best children’s books of 2018
Jason Reynolds often tells fans that he didn’t read a novel cover to cover until he was 17. The admission gives him credibility with middle-schoolers who don’t want to be seen at the library. It also brings a sigh of relief to parents who struggle to get their kids to read. After all, this nonreader turned into a best-selling author. “Lu,” the final book in his middle-grade track series, published last month.
Reynolds says the stories available to his young self weren’t appealing. They didn’t speak to his life, growing up in Oxon Hill, Maryland, in the 1990s. What did fascinate him were words. When asked about the books of his childhood, Reynolds mentioned Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are.”
“It was the first time I heard the word ‘mischievous,’” he said recently.
Another favorite was Dr. Seuss, a master of wordplay.
“Dr. Seuss was a king to us,” Reynolds said. “That kind of stuff stays with you.”
At age 9, he discovered other words that would stick with him: the lyrics of hip-hop artists. Not only did he like the stories, which reflected modern life, but he also liked the form. It was poetry, and he said it seemed like a magic trick, “the masterful ability to make words that you don’t think are supposed to go together go together.”
So Reynolds began to write poems.
“I became obsessed with how can you say a whole lot without saying much of anything,” he said.
At 16, a friend’s cousin introduced him to places he could read his poetry.
“The city had an openmic night every night of the week in a different place, and I wanted to be there,” he said.
That passion for poetry led him to the University of Maryland, where he studied English. After graduating in 2005, he and artist friend Jason Griffin headed to New York with a self-published novel in verse, hoping for