Book Review: All Day: A Year of Love & Survival Teaching Incarcerated Kids at Rikers Island by Liza Jessie Peterson

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Poets and educators are among the most underrated professionals of my time. I’ve seen firsthand what a poet educator can do for a group of teenagers eager to expand their conscious and their place as children of color in our public school system.

“There must be a better way to raise our youth among us who have gone astray than to warehouse them in penal institutions throughout the land” (Peterson).

Liza Jessie Peterson doesn’t mince words or play subtle when it comes to her testimony on teaching incarcerated boys in All Day: A Year of Love and Survival Teaching Incarcerated Kids at Rikers Island.

Her activism is at the heart of her novel. We meet boys like Tyquan, Danny Gunz, Leaky, and others as she brings to light how young men of color are educationally and “culturally malnourished.” Peterson argues that the curriculum is not relevant, antiquated, and stale.

I, along with the boys, learned that Malcolm X had five names. It was a history lesson for me and well-timed with date night. My husband purchased tickets for us to view a documentary on Malcolm X. I felt like the kids did in the classroom discovering new histories. It couldn’t have been timed better.

While Peterson’s novel begins like the beginning of a conversation with a stranger – clean, repetitive, and lighthearted – she quickly moves into conversational writing. Peterson’s use of curse words and “jail talk” make the novel rich in tone. It adds a depth that would not otherwise be felt if she had kept her tone clean and safe.

She sings to my heart when she states the truth:

“People who are paralyzed by poverty, racism, and lack of access to adequate educational resources and employment opportunities, and are depressed, are much easier to control and exploit in order to maintain a permanent underclass” (Peterson).

And we must do better by our children.

Sometimes we need someone to encourage our dreams. This is where the boys’ “Nubian Queen, Ms.P” comes into their lives allowing them to dream outside of the bars where society has placed them.

I recommend this book if you’re comfortable with language which makes you uncomfortable. I challenge any educator or librarian to pick up this book and learn what it is “to show up, daily and consistently, for something greater than” yourself.

I gave it three stars out of five because I wanted to hear more stories about the boys and I feel the book trailed off into another story in the end. I would purchase this book for my poet friends.

I was provided a free e-book copy from NetGalley and was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”