Bad Boy

Bad Boy

4.0 131
by Walter Dean Myers

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Into a memoir that is gripping, funny, heartbreaking, and unforgettable, Walter Dean Myers richly weaves the details of his Harlem childhood in the 1940s and 1950s: a loving home life with his adopted parents, Bible school, street games, and the vitality of his neighborhood. Although Walter spent much of his time either getting into trouble or on the basketball

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Into a memoir that is gripping, funny, heartbreaking, and unforgettable, Walter Dean Myers richly weaves the details of his Harlem childhood in the 1940s and 1950s: a loving home life with his adopted parents, Bible school, street games, and the vitality of his neighborhood. Although Walter spent much of his time either getting into trouble or on the basketball court, secretly he was a voracious reader and an aspiring writer. But as his prospects 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 his books for comfort. Here in his own words is the story of one of the strongest voices in children's and young adult literature today.

Editorial Reviews

Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA)
A powerful read. Will make the reader laugh out loud & sigh with satisfaction.
Horn Book
Many of the individual scenes have power…and the author's voice and heart are consistently heard and felt throughout.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
This memoir joins the ranks of stellar literary autobiographies, such as Fleischman's Abracadabra Kid and Zindel's Pigman and Me.
Chicago Tribune
A thoughtful, cautionary and inspiring tale.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Myers paints a fascinating picture of his childhood growing up in Harlem in the 1940s, with an adult's benefit of hindsight. His previous 145th Street: Short Stories conveys a more vivid sense of day-to-day life on Harlem's streets, and readers learn little here of the effects of global events (such as WWII). What they will come away with is a sense of how a gifted young man, both intellectually and athletically, feels trapped in his own mind as he tries to find a place for himself in the world. Some insightful teachers make a huge difference in his life: a fifth-grade teacher who avails Walter of her classroom library; his sixth-grade teacher, Mr. Lasher, who recognizes the boy's leadership qualities; and a high school English teacher who spots him outside the guidance counselor's office and says, "Whatever happens, don't stop writing." Perhaps the most poignant and carefully crafted chapter involves the 16-year-old's thought process in response to his guidance counselor's question, "Do you like being black?" Throughout the volume, Myers candidly examines the complexities of being black in America, from his first exposure to slavery in a seventh grade American history class, to the painful realization in adolescence that his blond, blue-eyed best friend is invited to parties where Walter is not welcome. Other chapters sometimes feel haphazard (a foreshadowing of Walter's discovery that his father is illiterate, for example, undercuts a powerful later scene that explores this more fully). 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. Fortunately, this bad boy turned out to be a fine writer. Ages 12-up. (May) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
Walter Dean Myers, the much-honored dean of African-American writers for young people, grew up in Harlem. This is his memoir of those years in the 1940s and early 1950s. The title is a misnomer, for Myers was not a bad boy at all. Rather, he was a hyperactive child with a low boiling point who was trying to find his place as an adopted child in a mixed marriage (his adopted father was black and illiterate, his mother of German and American Indian extraction), as well as in a society, where his best friends could be white only until adolescence. Add a speech impediment and an early love of books to this mix and the result is a very confused youngster. Myers paces his story slowly and thoughtfully, creating not so much a picture of his world around 126th and Amsterdam as an inner universe of the evolving mind. His ultimate crash during high school is sad but believable, and when the author leaves us en route to the Army, one finds oneself saying, "Next! What happens next?" 2001, HarperCollins/Amistad, $15.95. Ages 12 up. Reviewer: Kathleen Karr
Walter Dean Myers, the author of numerous books for children and YAs, grew up in Harlem in the 1940s and '50s. This memoir tells of his early years up until he enlisted in the Army when he was 17 years old, before he finished high school. One constant was his love of stories and reading, even when he was a discipline problem in school. His parents tried their best with him, but didn't have a lot of resources themselves. He credits their belief in him and their love, however, for his eventual success in life. A lot of these memoirs consist of anecdotes about the mischief of little boys in elementary school. A white teacher believed in Walter's intelligence and got him through the tests that would enable him to enter one of the best high schools in the city—Stuyvesant—but truancy and confusion resulted in failure. Walter was a tall boy, good in sports, which saved him somewhat. However, a speech impediment, which he was hardly aware of himself, caused him to be the butt of teasing and caused teachers to sometimes think he was stupid. There were teachers, however, who eventually got him speech therapy to correct this problem. His memoirs help those who read his fiction to understand how well he knows the neighborhoods he frequently writes about. His take on growing up black, hardly aware that he was in fact black, is an interesting element to the story: when he finally encountered racist attitudes as a teenager, he was astounded and deeply hurt. This is basically a gentle memoir, without the punch of The Color of Water by James McBride, but certainly of interest to his many readers. KLIATT Codes: JS—Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2001, HarperTempest, 214p.,
— Claire Rosser
In his memoir, popular young adult author Walter Dean Myers recalls the life path that lead him to a career in writing. The Dean family reared Walter Myers in 1940s Harlem, New York. Not only were the Deans his "informal" adoptive parents, but Florence Dean also was the white exwife of Myers's biological father, George. This complex, yet interesting family dynamic sets the stage for the author's life journey. His personal account allows the reader to get a glimpse of Myers, the man, touching on the issues of racism, adoption, self-identity, alcoholism, gang violence, and a speech impediment that almost altered Myers's path to the written word. At the height of his difficulties, an English teacher told Myers, "whatever happens, don't stop writing." Despite his troubles, Myers remained an avid reader and writer; he discusses the texts of Camus, Faulkner, and other writers that he devoured as a teen. At the same time, Myers struggled to express himself on paper because he could not do so verbally. Bad Boy is more than just an appropriate book for a biography or Black History Month assignment. It is a powerful read that will reaffirm one's belief in the power of reading and writing, and it will make the reader laugh out loud and sigh with satisfaction. Teens might need to be directed to this book if they are not interested in biographies, but once opened, it has definite appeal because of its honesty, humor, and hope. PLB . VOYA CODES: 5Q 3P J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Will appeal with pushing; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2001, HarperCollins, 224p, . Ages 13 to 18. Reviewer: Nicole A. Cooke SOURCE: VOYA,June 2001 (Vol. 24, No. 2)
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up-This recording of Walter Dean Myers' autobiography (HarperCollins, 2001) will engage those familiar with his fiction as well as those who have not read Motown and Didi (Viking, 1984), Fallen Angels (Scholastic, 1988), the Printz-winning Monster (HarperCollins, 2001), or any of his other children's and young adult literature. Actor Joe Morton reads smoothly and with subtle inflections that augment passages producing shared laughter or horror with the storyteller's view of events. Bad Boy recounts Myers' roots; his unofficial but permanent adoption as a toddler; how his mother planted and nurtured his life-long love of reading; the academic trials and victories he met in his Harlem grade school and accelerated junior high years; and the deleterious combination of speech impediment, depression, racism and alienation he experienced through his high school career. Eventually, he left school, without a diploma, to serve a stint in the army, followed by a decade of manual labor, before rediscovering his writer's voice and strengths. In addition to providing a chronology of Myers' personal growth and offering insights on the times, his autobiography is rich with references to the many books he found through teachers, librarians, and his own browsings. His introductions to such works as Camus' The Stranger are presented in a manner sure to entice teens to borrow from the Myers canon. With a bit of music to announce the beginning and end of each cassette's side, the production quality is befitting of this major new literary work.- Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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) 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.
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
“This memoir joins the ranks of stellar literary autobiographies, such as Fleischman’s Abracadabra Kid and Zindel’s Pigman and Me.”
The Horn Book
“Many of the individual scenes have power…and the author’s voice and heart are consistently heard and felt throughout.”
The Bulletin for the Center for Children's Books

“This memoir joins the ranks of stellar literary autobiographies, such as Fleischman’s Abracadabra Kid and Zindel’s Pigman and Me.”

Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
“This memoir joins the ranks of stellar literary autobiographies, such as Fleischman’s Abracadabra Kid and Zindel’s Pigman and Me.”

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
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Sales rank:
970L (what's this?)
File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Bad Boy MOBChapter OneRoots

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 inWinchester.

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

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