Handbook for Boys

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Jimmy and Kevin could really use a guide to life.

Their activities almost land them in juvenile detention until Duke employs them in his Harlem barbershop. Duke has rules for everything. But is he offering good advice or just more aggravation?

In the groundbreaking tradition of the award–winning Monster and Bad Boy: A Memoir, Walter Dean Myers fashions a complex, layered novel about the rules for success. Handbook for Boys is the book that he wishes he could have read while growing up. It is also the book young people need to read today.

Curriculet Details
72 Questions
95 Annotations
2 Quizzes

In this 7th grade curriculum for a book masterfully composed by Walter Dean Myers, media-rich annotations help bring to life the novel's setting in Harlem and the particular slang used by the characters. Annotations also encourage readers to compare their own experiences to that of the protagonist, who is a student himself. The Common Core aligned questions, answers, and quizzes that are embedded throughout the text revolve around themes of social injustice, the pursuit of philosophy, and the possibility of rising beyond society's expectations. Additionally, both questions and annotations encourage the reader to think about relationships with family members, mentors, and peers. This curriculum should foster student engagement with the text and the difficult questions it raises about today's society.

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Homework #5

Why don't you think books are included here? Should they be? Put your thoughts below. 


This first chapter is a sudden beginning, since it feels like starting in the middle of a story. This is called starting "in medias res". In medias res is a Latin phrase that means in the middle of things. Starting a novel in medias res leaves the reader curious about what happened before. 

Duke’s Place

This lets us know where the story takes place. The intersection of 145th Street and Seventh Avenue is in Harlem, part of New York City. With this information, what is the author establishing?Click the link to see 145th Street and Seventh Avenue on Google Maps. https://www.google.com/maps/@40.815848,-73.9386255,778a,35y,39.29t/data=!3m1!1e3 
A fade is a kind of haircut that starts thick on the top but fades thinner on the way to to the sideburns. Here's an example: (This annotation contains an image)
Duke could be suggesting that he _______. 
Many people go to the racetrack to gamble on horse races.  
"Fixing to" is another way of saying "planning to". 
Alcatraz, a rocky island in San Francisco Bay, was the site of top-security federal prison from 1934 to 1963. Cap is joking around. Alcatraz was a prison for the most ruthless criminals. Here's a picture:  (This annotation contains an image)
Based on what you know so far, how would you describe Duke? Use evidence from the text in support of your answer.  
"Stone" is a slang word for crack. Crack is a form of the drug cocaine that can be smoked. A junkie is an addict. So, Kevin's mama is afraid that Kevin's weed habit will turn Kevin into a crack addict. 
Throughout the book, think about how the character Jimmy changes and develops. Look at this video about character development: (This annotation contains a video)
What is the narrator saying here? 
To describe something as "a trip" is to call it wild or strange. 
In the street, where toughness is king, the word "tough" can simply mean "impressive." 
The characters in this novel use a lot of slang, including the narrator Jimmy. Slang is a type of informal speech, and it's more commonly spoken than written. Slang does not follow the grammar rules of standard English, and words can have entirely different meanings. 
Waitresses do a lot of standing, walking, and carrying, all of which put pressures on the ankles.  
Based on the passage, what do you expect "losing it in the mental department" means? 
Does this seem like a realistic plan to you? Why or why not? Evaluate each piece of the plan. Think about what you know about Jimmy and the setting of the story. 
A getover is a success achieved through dishonesty. Find this and browse other slang terms in The Concise New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, linked below:  (This annotation contains a link)
What is Jimmy concerned about here? 
This theme of success and things "working out" is an important one for this novel, and for life as a whole. Why might Jimmy feel that things "don't work out that easy"? 


To "tear someone up" can mean to defeat them easily. 
To diss someone is to insult them. Jimmy is saying that Mrs. Finley ________. 
Remember last night, when Jimmy said he went to Gilbert's because "he had nothing to do." 
Cap might be suggesting that outside of the barbershop, things are different. 
Pookie has pretty negative opinions about women, which probably doesn't help his relationship with Luvenia. 
Earlier, Pookie also said "I take things as they come." What does Pookie mean with these statements? 
This statement from Pookie __________. 
Briefly summarize what happened between Pookie and Luvenia. Pookie says that his marriage problems are "all over some fried chicken." Is he right?  
With these words, Jimmy shows that he _________. 
What would be the opposite of thinking like a victim? 
To make something "from scratch" is to make it from the beginning, usually with basic ingredients. 
Jimmy got a different message from Pookie's story than Duke did. Jimmy seems to like Pookie's idea of just dealing with what happens, whereas Duke thinks people should act in advance to keep problems from happening. People interpret the same story in different ways. You may think something different about this book than your peers do. 

The Blind Monkey Strut

To "give someone lip" is to talk back to them disrespectfully. 
A humble is a minor violation of the law. 
To split can mean to leave. 
The law says that you can only be arrested if you knew that what you bought was stolen. This is often a difficult issue to prove in court. 
What is Frank suggesting? 
A fable is a story that usually has a moral message, and which often deals with animals. What is the message of Duke's fable, and how does it relate to Frank's story? 
To hit someone "upside the head" is to punch them forcefully. 
There are lots of theories out there about why exactly people do bad or good things. What's another way of saying what Duke says here? 
What is Jimmy probably wondering? 

Does Life Work?

What is one reason we know why Billy might prefer an American name? 
This is a park in Harlem named after the first basketball player to play Major League Baseball. Jackie Robinson was also an advocate for civil rights and equality at a time when America was still deeply prejudiced against African Americans. Here's a picture of the park:  (This annotation contains an image)
Think about what Jimmy is suggesting about school and what gets taught there. 
A philosopher is someone who loves and pursues wisdom. The word philo in ancient Greek means "I love" and sophia is the ancient Greek word for wisdom. Philosophy is the love of wisdom. 
The philosopher who said this was Rene Descartes. Descartes was trying to prove that he exists and is not just an illusion or a trick. Here's a picture:  (This annotation contains an image)
What does Jimmy seem to think about the conversation at Duke's barbershop? 
What is one of the things Duke is trying to explain? 
In other words, do something. 
This is a slang term for a woman who hangs around a guy for the sake of his money. 
Fly can mean attractive. 
Duke is searching for definitions, in this case the definition of right and wrong. These are words that at first glance seem easy to define, but are actually quite complicated. Do you think this question of what is right and wrong is important? What makes it a difficult question?  
You don't win a basketball game just by showing up to play. It's the same with life.  
Jimmy is suggesting that ________. 
If interested, ask your teacher what he or she thinks about Duke's plan for kindergarden philosophy. 

Does Life Work? Part II

This gold covering the teeth is called a grill. 
Duke is probably checking to see if it's counterfeit, or fake.  (This annotation contains an image)
Here's a picture of that library:  (This annotation contains an image)
This beggar that Mack encountered could be described as ________. 
What do you think about this issue? What are people entitled to, and how should they get it? 
In other words, they're getting rich. 
Hanging out at Duke's barbershop seems to be changing Jimmy.By asking questions and looking for their answers, what is Jimmy being? 
Quiz 1 

Duke Talks About Success

Why do you think Duke seems pleased here? 
The word "straight" here means out of trouble.  
Coffee was once a booming industry in Puerto Rico. Here is a coffee plant:  (This annotation contains an image)
The island of Puerto Rico has had a close relationship with the United States, but it's not a state. Spanish is the dominant language. Here's a picture: (This annotation contains an image)
Mister M could be described as _______. 
This is Spanish for "Flavor of the Americas" 
Blowing the set means running into failure. 
Think about this: are you reading Duke's book? 
Why doesn't this make a difference? 
In other words, everyone would succeed. 
The other one, rule two, was figuring out what work had to be done. 
Why did Jimmy give a quarter? Describe in your own words the issues he is thinking about here. 

Cap Runs His Mouth About Reading

Why does Jimmy think he is supposed to do this? Just think about that one.  
Jimmy _______ the advice of adults. 
Jimmy is saying that things might have been easier before the civil rights movement. This would have been a time when black people were expected to use different water fountains than white people, to attend different schools, and among many other things to accept an unequal position in society (This annotation contains an image)
Martin Luther King was a leader of the cvil rights movement. He gave the famous "I have a dream" speech which imagined a society where people of all races were treated with equal dignity and respect. He was assassinated in 1968. Duke has a lot of respect for Martin Luther King. 
Cap's tone here is ________. 
As you can see in the bottom, this was a law in Virginia in 1849, when Virginia was a slave state. Think about why the slaveowners wouldn't want slaves to be able to read or write. Also think: why does Cap want this sign up in the barbershop? 
This book is commonly assigned in high school English classes. Here's a picture:  (This annotation contains an image)
Cap's tone seems a little sarcastic! What does Cap think about those that don't read? 
Duke is implying that this scenario is very  _______. 
In your own words, what is Cap suggesting about society and the ability to read? Why is Jimmy getting frustrated with the conversation? 
In other words, she was able to see how he was feeling. 


Do you think Duke and the guys at the barbershops are good teachers? Why or why not? 
When someone is murdered, investigators sometimes draw chalk around the body to remember where the body was once it gets taken away. 
What does this word "heavy" mean in this context? 
The Harlem Renaissance, or the Rens, was the first African-American Basketball Team. They were founded in 1923 and the team was always considered one of the best. The Harlem Rens would go on to win the first professional basketball championship in 1939.  (This annotation contains an image)
A junkie is a drug addict. 
A parole officer is a law enforcement agent that supervises individuals who have been released from jail or who were guilty of a crime but not jailed for it. 
Usually, people walk with a bounce when they feel happy or uplifted. Based on the text, why might Irene have a bounce in her walk after her haircut? 
Basketball fans will know that these teams still exist.  (This annotation contains an image)
Many dangerous drugs are taken directly into the bloodstream. Not pretty. 
That's a quicker way of saying "drughead", another term for an addict. 
AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. This illness leaves the body more vulnerable to outside infection. This illness does not have a cure, but many scientists are working on it. It is spread a number of ways, and one common way is through blood. This is how AIDS is spread through drug needles. 
Since Irene grew up in Harlem, seeing junkies for most of her life, Cap is surprised she would ever become one. Jimmy counters by saying that in Harlem, people just hearing about it makes them want to try it. Both Jimmy and Cap would agree with what statement? 
Remember that Jimmy also seemed to think the wealthy gangster that had come into the barbershop was pretty cool. We see here that Jimmy's idea of "success" might be shifting around a little. 
This means that Kevin is terrible at basketball, according to Jimmy. 
What is one of Jimmy's points here? 

Taking Care of the Ball

The New York Knicks are a basketball team in the NBA.  (This annotation contains an image)
If someone is "fixing to" do something, they are getting ready to do it. 
Using the text to support your answer, why isn't Jimmy happy to go to the Knicks game? We know that he likes basketball. 
This is where the Knicks play. Here's an image: (This annotation contains an image)
A chaplain is a preacher or priest assigned to a certain group, like a branch of the armed services. 
So, Duke would approve of what you're doing right now! What does Duke think about reading skills?  
Here is Alonzo Mourning:  (This annotation contains an image)
Here is Latrell Sprewell:  (This annotation contains an image)
This is a difficult philosophical question that has been asked since at least as far back as the ancient Greeks. Plato is one ancient Greek philosopher who was very interested in this question about knowledge. Here's a statue head of Plato. (This annotation contains an image)
How would you explain what Jimmy is trying to say here? Does it make sense to you? Why or why not? 
This passage provides evidence for what statement? 
Jimmy is reflecting on what Duke said at the basketball game about how people sometimes think they know something but actually don't. 


Tariq seems _________. 
This is not a nice word. 
Duke seems to have a pretty healthy sense of humor. 
Duke is saying that Tariq would have the mentality of a ______. Duke talked about this idea earlier in the book. 
Duke's point here is that when considering this issue, you have to think about _________. 

Lonnie G

A shank is a small tool used as a knife. 
Which of these statement would Duke and Cap both agree with? 
We can infer from the context that Jimmy's words after "I'm going to" were probably what? 
Jimmy often has difficult, thoughtful questions. 
What does Duke mean by this? What is he implying? 
Based on the text, what is one way of describing Jimmy's thoughts about Duke? 

Peter the Grape

GED stands for General Educational Development. If someone takes the GED tests and passes them, they are seen as having a high school level education. 
Here's a picture of Dunbar Housing: (This annotation contains an image)
What is one adjective that could be used to describe Peter? 
Dick Gregory is an American comedian, social activist, social critic, writer, and entrepreneur. (This annotation contains an image)
Do you agree with Jimmy's interpretation here? Why or why not? Cite evidence from the text. 
What is this an example of? 
Quiz 2 

Sister Smith on a God Tip

Based on what you've heard from Sister Smith, what does she think is the most important learning tool? 
The Bible is the holy book of the Christian religion.  
Imagine a conversation between Sister Smith and Duke about choices. What might be said? 

Bobby Brown

Why might Jimmy find it easier to talk when Kevin's not around? 
Cap is surprised because teachers should never talk this way about their students! 
Scuffle City refers to the streets of the ghetto, where fights and gang wars are a regular part of life. 
This is an example of Kevin _________. 
A strop is a leather band for sharpening straight razors.  (This annotation contains an image)
In other words, easier said than done. 
What is Jimmy implying here? 
One of the themes of this story is advice and learning from advice. How would you talk to Bobby about his problems?  


The "whole nine" or "all nine" is a version of the saying "the whole nine yards", which means "a whole lot". The origin of this phrase is still a mystery. 
To have the blues means to be sad. That's why saying "I feel a little blue" means "I feel a little sad." The blues are a genre of music, and blues songs often express feelings of melancholy and sadness. (This annotation contains an image)
What advice do you expect Duke might have for Bert? 
After hearing Duke's advice, Jimmy often does what? 
In slang, the word jive can mean worthless. 
What's one thing that could be said about Kevin, based on what you've read about him? 
Why might Duke feel bad about what happened to Kevin? 

Froggy Goes A-Courting

A dandy is a man who pays particular attention to being fashionable and elegant.  (This annotation contains an image)
Green Haven is a correctional facility. Here's a picture from above: (This annotation contains an image)
Getting a "five-finger discount" means stealing. 
What is Duke's point with this story about the monkey? 
Kevin doesn't seem to grasp that the issue is more complicated than stupid and smart.  
"Putting up a front" or "fronting" can mean faking something or seeming to be something that you're not. 
This is one of the big themes of the book, whether or not talking about issues, philosophizing, can lead to change.  Do you think talking back and forth with Duke has changed Jimmy? How can you tell? 

Kevin Screws Up

Here's a picture of this police station: (This annotation contains an image)
Given Kevin's history, this is probably possession of a drug.  
As this book progresses, Jimmy thinks of Duke _______________. 
Kevin's thoughts here provide evidence for a point that Jimmy and Duke spoke about earlier in the book. What is the point? 
Double Dutch is a kind of jump rope with two long ropes swinging in opposite directions. If you're curious about it, watch this video: (This annotation contains a video)
Probation is when you don't go to jail, but you have a law officer watching over your behavior.  
What is Jimmy trying to do? 
In other words, be a coward. 
Which character had a similar opinion earlier in the book? 
Ernesto is mentioning his astrological sign. 
This book portrays a young man, Jimmy, who becomes more thoughtful about the way he lives his life. He learns from the examples of those he hears from or hears about in Duke's barbershop. Are you able to learn from these examples in the same way? Can a book have the same influence as someone like Duke?