A moving, intimate journal of a return to the South Bronx neighborhood that was the focus of Kozol’s powerful plea (Amazing Grace, 1995) on behalf of the children of poverty.
Here, Kozol chronicles the renewal of friendships with the children and adults he came to know in the early 1990s. His base is the after-school program at the Episcopal church of St. Ann, complemented by visits to two elementary schools that served as examples of the public neglect so forcefully depicted in his earlier books. Kozol’s mission now that he is 64 is to spend time with the children “in unhurried ways,” perhaps to salve his own loneliness and distress at the deteriorating health of his parents, in their 90s. Elio, a moody seven-year-old; Pineapple, a formidable eight; Ariel, a sensitive and compassionate ten; and bright and mischievous Isaiah, also eight, are among the children who befriend “Jonathan.” They tease him, laugh with him, get help with their homework, invite him to visit their homes, and sometimes (but not always and not fully) share their troubles with him. These include ubiquitous asthma; fathers, brothers, and cousins dead or in prison; and mothers fighting drug addiction. Despite their tragic burdens, Kozol insists that the differences between these children and others more privileged are overstated; he also states bluntly that money matters: poorly paid teachers, crowded classrooms, and limited expectations virtually insure that the children of Mott Haven will be unjustly tracked to unchallenging, low-wage jobs (not incidentally where corporate needs are greatest). Also interesting, on a personal level, is the struggle Kozol (a non-practicing Jew) has in understanding the role of religion in the lives of the St. Ann’s families.
No call to arms (unlike his earlier books) but in some ways a sweeter and more sensitive view of a still deeply troubled urban neighborhood.