Book Talk: When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds

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Watch my book talk , where I read you a few lines of a great urban story, or read the transcript below:

Open When I Was the Greatest and Ali is talking right to you. He’s nicknamed for the famous boxer. And he is going to tell you this story about bailing out your friends when they do stupid things, about growing up in Brooklyn, about his no-nonsense mom, his goofy sister Jazz, and his dad, who’s a good guys but does get into trouble. And I’m going to read you the part where he tells you about his neighbors, and they’re two brothers. Their names are Noodles and Needles.

“Most of our neighborhood accepted Needles for who he was. No judgment. I mean, it’s New  York. A man walking down the street dressed like Cinderella? That’s nothing. A woman with a  tattoo of a pistol on her face? Who cares. So what’s the big deal about a syndrome? Whatever.  It’s in our blood to get over it, especially when you’re one of our own, and by that I mean, when  you live on our block. Noodles was the only person always tripping about Needles. Despite the head swipes, Noodles  was super-protective over his brother, and paranoid that people were laughing at him. He would  always be shouting at somebody, or giving dirty looks to anyone he thought might even be  thinking about cracking a joke about Needles. It was like he lived by some weird rule, that only  he could treat Needles bad, no one else.” (p. 17-18)

So Ali keeps his head down with all the interesting characters on his block, but Noodles can’t stop making drama. When will Noodles finally cross the wrong person? And how far will Ali go to help his friends?

Book details: Reynolds, J. (2014). When I was the Greatest. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 9781442459489; Paperback; $9.99.

Annotation: A teenage boy who stays out of trouble makes friends with two brothers next-door and finds himself coming to their defense when trouble starts.



  • ALA Best Books For Young Adults
  • ALA Coretta Scott King John Steptoe New Talent Award
  • CBC Children’s Choice Book Award Finalist
  • CCBC Choices (Cooperative Children’s Book Council)
  • Capitol Choices List (DC)
  • Cybils Award Finalist
  • Eliot Rosewater High School Master List
  • Georgia Peach Book Award Master List
  • In the Margins Top Ten List
  • Kansas State Reading Circle List High School Title
  • Louisiana Teen Readers’ Choice Title Master List
  • NYPL Best Books for Teens
  • Texas Tayshas Reading List




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