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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.

Curriculet Details
68 Questions
64 Annotations
3 Quizzes

Designed for students in 6th grade, this free digital curriculum contains annotations explaining memoir writing, race relationships during the first half of the 1900’s, and The Harlem Renaissance. It also contains interactive videos that support comprehension, such as videos about how writers develop themes and methods of characterization. Over the course of the book, students will answer Common Core questions and quizzes related to the subjects of the effect of place on identity formation, the impact of figurative language, and representations of black masculinity. This free online unit will increase student engagement while building reading comprehension.

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Title Page

A memoir is a written account of past experiences. A memoir is similar to an autobiography because it tells about the author's past, but it is different in that it may only focus on one or a few aspects (or memories) from the author's life. Memoirs are considered non-fiction.  


This reference to John Brown is also known in literature as an allusion. An allusion is a reference to an event, person, or figure that exists outside of the text. The reader is expected to understand the significance of the allusion. Below is a web page about John Brown that includes a video. As you watch and explore, consider why the author included this allusion.  (This annotation contains a link)
Based on the text, you could describe or characterize William Dean as _______. 
Harlem, a neighborhood in New York City, was the center of the 1920's and 30's cultural movement known as the Harlem Renaissance.  (This annotation contains a video)
Walter Milton Myers (Walter Dean Myers) is both our author and our narrator. In this chapter, you have learned about the history and lineage of Myers's family. Think about the author's choice to begin his story with this account. Why do you think he begins the book with this way?  


Which of the following statements helps to develop your understanding of Mama? (This is also known as characterization.) 
Double dutch is a kind of jump roping that involves two jump ropes. Watch the clip below to see more recent Harlem kids jumping double dutch.  (This annotation contains a video)
Based on the context of this sentence, what might the word apparatus mean? 
What is the author's reason for including these stories about his bad behavior during childhood? 
In this paragraph, you are learning about Aunt Nancy. She is characterized (described) in certain ways. Watch the following video on characterization and try to keep track of all the ways in which you learn about characters and how they change as you read.  (This annotation contains a video)
Matzohs are a type of unleavened bread eaten by Jewish people, especially during the Passover Holiday. Unleavened means that the bread is made without yeast, baking powder, or baking soda. This usually causes the bread to be flat.  (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following statements was included by the author to show how the main character (or protagonist) changed or developed? 
This chapter has given you many descriptions of Harlem in the 1920's and 30's. Look at the photograph and paintings of Harlem from the same time period provided in the links below. Then, write a response to the following question: How would you compare or contrast the descriptions of Harlem given by Walter Dean Myers and the images of Harlem from the photograph and paintings? How would you characterize Harlem in the 1920's based on the descriptions and images? 

Let’s Hear It for the First Grade!

As you begin chapter three, consider the impact of the narrator's point of view. Watch the video below to learn more about point of view and cultural perspective.  (This annotation contains a video)
How does the highlighted section develop the point of view of the narrator?  
As you continue reading, consider how this anecdote, or brief story, about the sentences is a humorous way of contributing to the theme or overall meaning of the story.  
Walter describes his Mama's happiness with how spacious their new apartment was. What do the other details about the apartment tell you about the living space? 
World War II started in 1939, but the United States did not enter the war until 1941. Like Walter's mom and sisters, many women went into the workplace to fill the places of men who had left their jobs at home to fight in the war. World War II ended in 1945. 
What might the key represent to the eight-year old Walter? 
The highlighted statement is an example of which literary device? 
Radio serials were multi-part programs that people tuned in to listen to, much like T.V. shows we watch today. Clearly, stories (whether they were in comic books, on the radio, or in the books he read in school) were important to Walter Dean Myers. How does this build upon your understanding of his character? 
Write a brief summary of Walter's first few years of school. Include examples from the text to support your summary.  

Arithmetic Summer

Writers often use symbolism, which is the use of objects, images, and even places or people that represent something beyond themselves, to create depth and layers to stories and characters. What might the red light symbolize here? Look for other symbolism as you read.  
What could you infer, or guess, from this statement? 
Reform school is a remedial school for students who get in trouble or are seen as problems. Walter does get in trouble at school, but he is also a smart student. Why does this seem like an unfair punishment?  
This episode of the fight provides the reader with a conflict that moves the plot forward. What is the conflict that this episode highlights?  
These are the titles of adventure books for young readers from the 1930's. What does it say about Walter that he loves to read comic books and adventure stories, but doesn't enjoy practicing math problems?  (This annotation contains an image)
We are hearing this story from Walter's point of view. How might this part of Walter's life be told differently from the point of view of someone else in his family? Choose a family member from this chapter (Walter's Mom, Dad, Sister, Brother-in-Law) and write a description of Walter.  

Bad Boy

Although American slavery had been abolished in 1865, segregation still kept black and white people from equal treatment and opportunity. This discrimination was more present in the South with its Jim Crow laws. Walter is explaining here that because he lived in a northern state, he did not experience as much clear and blatant discrimination.  
What is Walter's reaction to the arrival of his "new" biological family? 
A lynching was an attack on a black person by a mob of white people, and it was designed to instill terror and fear as well as to allow white people to maintain control.  
Visit the following website and read Richard Wright's description of the effect that news of lynchings had on him as a young person growing up in the South. (You can find this under the heading Pervasive Threat.) Then consider Walter's reaction to learning about lynchings in the South. How and why did news of lynchings affect these two black men so differently? 
What motivates Walter's anger and disruptive behavior? 
This anecdote, or brief story, is an example of situational or dramatic irony. This type of irony is when the opposite of what you might expect to happen actually happens. Irony is often meant to be humorous or sarcastic. How does this example of irony influence your reading? 
Based on his description, which of the following would NOT describe Mrs. Conway?  
Pause for a moment and think about Walter's school stories that you have read so far. How does this moment seem like a turning point for him? Watch this video on theme. Could you name a developing theme in the memoir?  (This annotation contains a video)

Mr. Irwin Lasher

This description of the people in Harlem supports which of the following ideas? 
Before it was called the Harlem Renaissance, the surge of black art, music, literature and culture in Harlem was termed "The New Negro" movement. It is notable that Walter Myers Dean mentions this because the idea behind the movement was that black people were working to redefine their place in America after years of slavery and oppression. Visit the website below to learn more about the different components of the movement.  (This annotation contains a link)
How do Walter's love for reading and his growing idea of what boys are supposed to be like conflict with each other? 
Read "The Creation" by James Weldon Johnson in the link below. What is unique about this version of the creation story from the Bible?  (This annotation contains a link)
Walter's father wouldn't come to see him in the dance recital because, as Walter says,  "He didn't think young boys should be dancing around a stage in skimpy outfits." Which of the following statements could be a characterization about Walter's father?  
Think back to Walter's other incidents in school. How is the reaction of the teacher different in this case? What could you predict will happen next based on what you know about Mr. Lasher so far?  
How has Mr. Lasher changed Walter the most? 
Follow the link below to see what buying this sweet treat would have been like in 1940's Harlem.  (This annotation contains a link)
Which of the following literary devices is Yow! an example of?  
Think about Walter's choice to lie here. Have you ever felt that telling a lie might be better than telling the truth? What keeps Walter from telling the truth? 
Using examples from the text, explain how Walter's "fractures to both feet" were "God's revenge." 
Chapters 1-6 Quiz 

I am Not the Center of the Universe

This is the well-known "Golden Rule." Given Walter's treatment of others up to this point, how does this philosophy seem at odds with his behavior? 
Why do you think his love for school and books separates Walter from both kids his own age and his parents? 
When was your first birthday party? Consider what it says about Walter's experience in youth that he is excited to be having his first birthday party now.  
Walter describes this funeral scene with a lot of imagery. Imagery is language that appeals to the reader's senses. Notice the imagery of the "strained" and "distorted faces" as well as the way people seem to move, "their hurt pushing them." As you read, look for other scenes that are filled with powerful imagery like this.  
Walter's father reacts to his brother Leroy's death in a way that is surprising to Walter and his mother. Why are his reactions so surprising?  
Which of the following words could be used to replace derision in the highlighted sentence?  
Notice Walter Dean Myers's use of italics here to stress the word deserved. What is the effect of this choice? Remember that Walter's experience as a black boy growing up in Harlem has been very different from his predecessors. Which instances in the story so far help you to understand how he could have thought that anyone deserved to be enslaved?  
"Darkies" is a derogatory term used to refer to black people. There are connections between this term and the portrayal of black people in minstrel shows or vaudeville as being "gay" (happy) and delightful, despite being enslaved. These images promoted the idea that black slaves enjoyed slave life. How can images like this be harmful?  (This annotation contains an image)
At this point, girls are ___________. 

A Writer Observes

Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron were two important Romantic poets. Romantic, in this sense, does not mean romantic love, but instead refers to a style of writing that emphasized nature and emotion.  (This annotation contains an image)
In the scene that begins "One morning I started my formal observations...", what does Walter seem to be looking for?  
What effect do these observations have on the reader? In other words, what change do you see coming about for Walter that mirrors this change in structure?  
Flamenco is a type of music and dance that originated in Spain. Watch the video below to see an example. The hand held percussion instrument that the dancer is using is called a castanet.  (This annotation contains a video)
Carnegie Hall is a famous venue in New York that was built in 1891 by Andrew Carnegie. The performance venue has been home to some of the greatest musicians and entertainers of all time. Why does Walter Dean Myers include a reference to it here? (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following themes is being explored in the highlighted paragraph?  
The word relegated, as it is used here, means ________.  
This represents a shift in experience and attitude for Walter. This is the first time in the book where he has been clearly discriminated against because of the color of his skin. How do you think this will affect him? Do you see a change in reaction already? 

Sonnets from the Portuguese

The word mores here means social customs or values. Which of the following might be a reason that Walter does not fit in with the social mores of other boys his age on the block? 
Go to the website below and read about Langston Hughes. What do he and Walter Dean Myers have in common? How might Walter's youth have been different had he been exposed to these significant writers from the Harlem Renaissance? 
As you think about Walter's development, what seem to be the competing ideas of what the future might hold for him? Keep these thoughts in mind as you consider developing themes in the memoir.  
How does the author use this piece of information, that Elizabeth Barret Browning's poetry was so moving because it was from her, to develop his point of view?  
A sonnet is a 14 line poem that has a particular meter (number and combination of syllables per line) and rhyme scheme (pattern of end rhymes in a line).  
Noh form is a type of theater that was developed in the 14th century in Japan. Noh form consists of music, drama, and dance and usually conveys historical events. Walter's role as the property man would have been known as the "koken" in traditional Noh theater.  (This annotation contains an image)
The highlighted section is an example of which of the following techniques? 

Heady Days at Stuyvesant High

Walter mentions this change in perceptions of wealth because it was a change that was connected with expanding globalization. Walter explains his understanding of "being well off or not" as being comfortable. How do we define wealth and status today?  
What does Mama's saying "as soon as I can spell Able" mean?  
Watch the video and then decide: Is the description of the conflict between Mom and Pap a simile or a metaphor?  (This annotation contains a video)
The tone of this passage is ______. 
The Brooklyn Dodgers were the first major league team to sign a black player, Jackie Robinson. In 1955, they won the World Series. Based on Walter Dean Myers's language, do you think they were able to win this year, 1951?  (This annotation contains an image)
"The season, my whole life really, was down to one crucial game," and "Dickens would not say anything in two words if he could substitute two hundred," are both examples of _________. 
Just like Walter's Mama had been criticized for marrying a black man, her mother had been shunned for marrying a Native American man. What do you see these two groups, black and Native Americans, having in common?  
Using evidence from the text, summarize how Walter Dean Myers's understanding of race and its effect on his life have changed since the beginning of the book.  

The Garment Center

Yale is a prestigious private college in Connecticut known as an Ivy League college. How does Walter situate himself in relation to his peers concerning college and the future?  
Why doesn't Walter want to accept his cousin's offer to work at the garment center?  
Walter is hinting hear at some cultural practices of the Brazilian girl that, from his perspective, seemed magic or other-worldly. Her apparent beliefs are often referred to as condomble or voodoo and are a mixture of African religious traditions and Catholicism.  
Which of the following is an example of an internal conflict?  
Watch the video below starting at minute 4:00 and for about a minute. Considering Walter's statements about public speaking and his speech impediment, are you surprised with what he ended up doing in his life?  (This annotation contains a video)
Which of the following statements contributes to the mood of this page?  
Life magazine was a popular general interest magazine. The fact that Walter won a subscription to it does not seem as important to him as the fact that his work was being acknowledged.  (This annotation contains an image)
Choose a sentence (or two) from the highlighted area that you think explores one of the major themes of the book. Write a response in which you explain how the sentence supports or expands upon the developing theme.  
Think about Walter's reaction to the typewriter. Was it what you might have expected? How does this episode fit in with or stand in contrast to other family arguments or problems? 

God and Dylan Thomas

Which of the following elements contributes to the portrayal of the guidance counselor's tone as authoritative?  
Here is a trailer for the 1986 movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off. How does Ferris Bueller remind you of Walter Dean Myers?  (This annotation contains a video)
Is the underlying reason for Walter's decreased interest in basketball internal or external?  
Mottled means blotchy, streaky or spotted. How does this description characterize Frank?  
When Walter breaks up the fight and meets Frank, he reflects on fighting and says, “When I was fighting, I stopped feeling the sense of helplessness that seemed to be overtaking me.” What does he mean? What is this helplessness he refers to?  
Follow the link below to learn more about President McKinley's assassin, Leon Czolgosz. Why does Walter relate to this person?  (This annotation contains a link)
Leon Czolgosz stated that part of his reason for assassinating President McKinley was because he "didn't believe that one man should have so much service, and another man have one." Explain how this relates to Walter's growing understanding of "the business of race." 
What does the highlighted paragraph reveal about Walter's point of view?  
Chapters 7- 12 Quiz  

Marks on Paper

This italicized section shows the thoughts Walter was having while talking with the guidance counselor. This is almost like an interior monologue. What do you think Walter might have looked like on the outside while he was thinking these things on the inside?  
Which of the following is the definition for admonition as it is used in this sentence?  
"Canonization" means the act by which a person is made a saint after their death. What is Walter pointing out here that connects to his own life? 
Explain why Walter describes Buddenbrooks as an "intimidating book." 
Walter ends up going with his old typewriter instead of his romanticized idea of the feather pen and ink. Clearly, his understanding of the craft and process of writing is changing too.  (This annotation contains an image)
Based on your understanding of Walter, why does he befriend someone like Frank?  
The image below is of students in the 1950's waiting for trains in the subway's Grand Central Station. The "A" train was a line that made its way into Harlem and was the line many people took to travel to other places in Manhattan. Imagine travelling to school on the Manhattan subway.  (This annotation contains an image)
How does Mama's mention of the fact that Walter had Scarlet Fever impact the course or plot of the story? 

The Stranger

Paying attention to headings, titles, sections and other textual features is important while reading. What might the title of this chapter reveal to you about what is in store?  
How is Walter's reaction to this "intervention" different from past reactions to conversations with teachers and guidance counselors?  
Notice that there is no clear explanation for Frank's behavior. Although we learn that Frank does drink, it is unclear what has caused him to "pass out" and commit violent crimes. What does describing his behavior in this way do to your understanding of Frank?  
How does Frank's story build upon a developing theme in the memoir? 
In Albert Camus's book, the main character struggles to live in two worlds: his own internal world and the external world. Here Walter is comparing the main character to Frank. How is Mersault also like Walter himself?  (This annotation contains an image)
Walter Dean Myers's description of the setting of here is ________________.  

Dr. Holiday

Central Park (pictured below) has become like Walter's classroom. Comparing your idea of a typical classroom to this "classroom," what do they offer that is different? Why might this have appealed to Walter more than the traditional classroom?  (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following lines shows Walter's comparison of himself to others?  
Watch the following video of Billie Holiday singing Strange Fruit. How does she compare to Walter's characterization of her at the concert he saw?  (This annotation contains a video)
What can be inferred from the highlighted section?  
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed in 1953 for charges of espionage that the US government brought against them for their apparent passing of information about the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union.  (This annotation contains an image)

Being Black

Explain how this page and Walter's revelation of his struggle to figure out his place in the world contribute to a theme in the memoir? Be sure to name the theme and to include textual evidence to support your answer.  
Walter Dean Myers is making a comment here on an often discussed topic: black masculinity. Watch the video below to here other voices on the topic of what it means and has meant to be a black male in America.  (This annotation contains a video)
The highlighted section of the text is an example of which of the following literary devices?  


The Vietnam War was a war fought between North and South Vietnam from 1956 to 1975. The United States supported South Vietnam against what was feared as a communist takeover.  
Which of the following sections does not help to illustrate Walter's struggle to discover his identity and place in the world?  
This map shows which states' educational systems were segregated prior to the 1954 decision that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal." Walter was living in New York. What does New York's status on the map reveal about the culture there?  (This annotation contains an image)
Explain Walter Dean Myers's choice for revealing that the school year had ended without his even realizing it in this surprising way. What impact does this have on the reader?  

Sweet Sixteen

Here, Walter Dean Myers chooses to jump ahead to the future and reveal something that you already know: that young Walter does make his way through to become a writer, but that his love and devotion to writing would always create some kind of chasm between himself and those whom he loved. How does this knowledge change your understanding of Walter's relationship with his parents?  
What can you infer about Frank's opinion of Walter? 
Genevieve de Galard was the nurse referred to as the Angel of Dien Bien Phu. She cared for soldiers at Dien Bien Phu as the only female nurse and received recognition for her bravery and hard work caring for and comforting soldiers. Why do you think a story like this might have attracted the young Walter?  (This annotation contains an image)
From Walter's point of view, Frank is ____________.  
Notice Walter's characterization of black workers as an "army." Why is this particularly important at this point in the memoir when Walter has just joined the army, to the delight of his father and the concern of his mother? What image of masculinity is Walter fulfilling?  

The Typist

Which of the following words would be the best fit to replace the word sacrilegious in the highlighted sentence?  
Think about the structure of the memoir. We have learned about Walter's life throughout his school years and as a teenager. Now, we have just read about his entire military experience in a few pages. Here he characterizes the military as both a rescuer and a captor. Why do you think Myers includes this section about the military?  
What does Walter mean when he says that Baldwin had given him "permission" to write about his own experiences?  
This is the book that Walter won the contest with. He would go on to publish other works of writing for children, teens and adults.  (This annotation contains an image)
How does Walter Dean Myers reveal the very different perspectives of his parents regarding his work as a writer?  
Chapters 13-19 Quiz