Book Review Number Two: Finding Courage and Growth in the Classroom!

With this final post of 2021, Immersed returns to an idea from Gab Sussman, English Language Arts (ELA) teacher for upper elementary and middle school students at The New Century School. Ms. Sussman thought it would be nice to feature stand-out book reviews by her students, both to recognize their hard work as well as to encourage others to give these worthy assignments their all.

Immersed sees yet another advantage to this scheme: highlighting the exemplary ELA program at TNCS. Ms. Sussman has worked hand in hand with TNCS school counselor Daphnee Hope and TNCS Dean of Students Adriana DuPrau to integrate her core class subject with the important social and emotional learning that has been emphasized this year. Reading books and writing about them is a way to connect to our inner selves as well as to the world outside, a truth Ms. Sussman holds dear. And this book? It’s tailor-made for teens in tough situations.

A Book Review of Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes: By Dez Horvath

Bronx Masquerade is written by Nikki Grimes, and was awarded the Coretta Scott King Award, which is awarded annually by the Ethnic and Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table, and is only awarded for “the most distinguished portrayal of African American experience in literature for children or teens.” Nikki Grimes was also awarded the 2017 Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, the 2006 NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children, and the 2016 Virginia Hamilton Literary Award. Ms. Grimes also has published other books, such as What is Goodbye?, Garvey’s Choice, and Coretta Scott King Author Honor books Talkin’  About Bessie, Jazmin’s Notebook, The Road to Paris, Words with Wings, and Dark Sons. Ms. Grimes is also the author of Meet Danitra Brown, and lives in Corona, California. Fun fact, Ms. Grimes had the idea for this book for 5 years before starting to write it down, and it’s a good thing they did because this book had such an impact. It has such an impact, schools started their own “Open Mike Fridays.” With all these awards Ms. Grimes has gotten, Bronx Masquerade has GOT to be good.

All of Ms. Grimes awards are amazing, but the only way to get awards is to have a good story. Bronx Masquerade’s partly main character is Tyrone Bittings, and I say “partly” because they are the only one that speaks after everyone else’s chapters, and they are the character that introduces you to the story. Tyrone is currently in high school, along with pretty much all the other characters introduced in the story. Wesley Boone, Chankara Troupe, Raul Ramirez, Diondra Jordan, Devon Hope, Lupe Algarin, Gloria Martinez, Janelle Battle, Leslie Lucas, Julianne Alexander, Tanisha Scott, Sterling S. Hughes, Amy Moscowitz, Sheila Gamberoni, Steve Ericson, Raynard Patterson, and Porscha Johnson. All these characters are important because they all interact and impact each other’s lives, there is also one or more chapters written from their perspective. All these characters are in an English class together, and their teacher, Mr. Ward, starts an exercise called Open Mike Friday where students read their poems aloud to the class. At the start, everyone thought of everyone a certain way, that didn’t fit who they actually are and everyone started as not caring about everyone else, but then over time, all the poetry encouraged people to open up, show who they really are, and bring everyone together. Everyone respected each other and grew afterwards. Then came the end of the school year, and the book, and an assembly was organized, and it would be the final Open Mike Friday. Tyrone got up on stage and shared how Open Mike Friday made them feel, and what it resulted in. “I just wanted to say I’m really glad I got to do this poetry thing because I feel like, even though the people in our class are all different colors and some of you speak different language and everything, I feel like we connected.” Then some final poems were shared, and the book came to a close.

The two themes I have found in Bronx Masquerade are “courage” and “growth.” The reason I have found “courage” is because at the end of every single chapter, there was a poem. In the book, the students had to go up in front of the whole class, and read their poem, in high school. That takes some courage. And a lot of the characters’ chapters showing their perspective stated they were nervous (I would give an example, but I don’t remember the people that said they were nervous, and I don’t want to have to read through the whole book). The reason I found “growth” is because at the beginning of the book, people thought school was dumb, some people were bullies, etc. and then grew and matured from the Open Mike Fridays. An example is on page 160, “The first time he got up there, I rolled my eyes like half the sisters in class, certain he was going to spout something lame or nasty about girls and sex, or gangsters. I mean, that’s all we ever heard him talk about, right? But there was nothing lame about this poem, and none of it was about sex. It was about what’s going on in the world, and about trying to make sense of it. It was a poem by somebody who really thinks about things, and that somebody turned out to be Tyrone.” Open Mike Friday really had an impact on all the students.

The events of the book really had an impact on the characters, but what about the impact it had on readers? The point of Bronx Masquerade is to, “ignite dialogue and facilitate discussion in the classroom on a wide array of topics concerning, and affecting, teens.” When writing this book, Ms. Grimes wanted schools to think about what might be going on with a teenager, and take action. You never know what could be going on in someone’s life, especially a teen’s. Ms. Grimes doesn’t mean just sit down, and have a small discussion. They aren’t even just saying to ONLY discuss it. There are many ways to facilitate discussion concerning teens, like “Open Mike Friday.” Nikki Grimes’ hope to impact schools in the way they wanted worked amazingly, and I bet if certain readers read the book, they might realize what a teen could be going through, and do something. 

Only some people can be impacted by Bronx Masquerade, knowing its message, and do something. A kind of reader I would recommend this book to is some sort of school staff so they could help Nikki Grimes’ hope of getting schools concerned about teens. An employee of a school could orchestrate something with staff higher in ability, and help any teens in their school. Another kind of reader I would recommend this book to is someone who likes poetry, drama, and school settings in books because Bronx Masquerade has all of that. Whoever enjoyed the things I listed would love Bronx Masquerade. What a person would need to know to enjoy this book is that people can change in general, but also for the better. They would need to know that people aren’t perfect. People can be good, they just need a certain push to do so. Everyone in Bronx Masquerade start off in the book with some kind of flaw about them. At the end, they’ve all grown, and realized their past ways were wrong, or they can do something about what happened to them in the past, and move on. Bronx Masquerade is a great book, the goal it was written for was accomplished very well, and you should go read it (there’s a reason it has a big award).

Courage: A TNCS Core Value!

If this rings a bell, it’s because courage was also a primary theme of TNCS student Shonbeck Glazer’s book report. Let’s find out why Ms. Sussman chose this review as the next to spotlight:

Dez’s book review stood out to me immediately. His appreciation for Bronx Masquerade is crystal clear, and it was wonderful to hear him share his reflections, both in class with his reading buddy, and through his writing. I know that this book provided many windows for Dez, and he highlighted so many important nuances of Bronx Masquerade. I’m excited for his hard work to be featured in Immersed, and in turn, be celebrated by the TNCS community. We’re so proud of you, Dez, and are grateful for your insight!


And we are grateful to you, Ms. Sussman, for helping TNCS students find their own courage and growth and ending the year on such a high note. Here’s to an even better 2022 at TNCS . . . one that includes in-class poetry slams, perhaps? (Hint, hint.)