Conferencing about Books. And Life by Cherisse Jackson

Kendrick* read books about football or basketball. As he cycled through his 8th grade year of independent reading and conferencing with me, he chose to read biographies, histories, realistic fiction, and how-to books, but they were all still about football or basketball. That’s why I listened carefully during our final reading conference of the school year when Kendrick said he’d just finished The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore. I hadn’t read the book, but I’d read enough reviews to have a copy in the back of a bin on the top shelf of my classroom library and to know the book wasn’t about football or basketball.


“You should read it, “ Kendrick said. “It’s really good. You’d like it.” Intrigued, I asked him to tell me why he thought it was good enough to recommend.


This is the gist of Kendrick’s reasons:


It was a good story about two real men with the same name, Wes Moore, and their families.

One man’s story is sad, but the other Wes’s story is great, even inspiring.

Both men start life with similar, tough childhoods, but one Wes earns a life sentence in prison and the other Wes earns college degrees, military awards, and his own business.


Then Kendrick added, “I know a lot of people like the Wes who went to prison, but I don’t know a lot of men like the Wes who graduated from college. This book is about how all the little choices we make take us in a direction.”


I read The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates in a Saturday afternoon. It’s been a New York Times’ bestseller since it was released in 2010, and it has appeared on college reading lists for incoming freshman. Kendrick was right: it’s a good story about real people with tragically different lives.


Next school year, I plan to use this book as an independent reading option when we explore the American Dream, and to use it as a mentor text for writing comparison and contrast and personal narrative. The two Wes Moores offer my students a modern morality tale.


For so many of my 8th graders like Kendrick, they need to know that there are Wes Moores who spend their lives in prison, but there are other Wes Moores who go on to be a Rhodes Scholar, a decorated veteran, a White House Fellow, or a business leader. My students, as young adolescents, are deeply interested in the power of opportunity and choice.


During that same conference, Kendrick said that over the summer he planned to read two of the titles mentioned in the book: My American Journey by Colin Powell and The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. Neither book is about basketball or football.

*Not his real name

Cherisse Jackson didn’t take to reading like a duck takes to water. Her early reading was more like a duck drowning in an oil slick. Her parents kept her afloat, luring her into literacy and then compelling her on to a lifelong fascination with all things verbal. A reading specialist and 8th grade English teacher, Cherisse makes daily matches between books and students.  It’s now her turn to rescue floundering readers. Follow her on Twitter as @ELABrainBump.