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look-both-ways.jpegWidely praised children’s author Jason Reynolds’ collection of linked short stories, Look Both Ways, a Coretta Scott King Honor Book, is featured in this column. As is made clear in the author biography, Reynolds was inspired by his own childhood experience. While designated a “middle school” work, it is structurally complex, and the prose style (including non-standard punctuation) is poetic. Nonetheless, consulted middle school faculty have assured me that it is a very accessible student and teacher favorite.
His story, “The Broom Dog,” which portrays the effects on a child of an incident in which his mother was injured while working as a crossing guard at his school, most powerfully suggested the book’s value for our readers. Reynolds shows how informed social support was able to help the child recover from the persistent overwhelming fear caused by his mother’s accident. Many of the other artfully expressed aspects of the destructive effects of trauma and their amelioration will be evident to ISTSS members. These include the portrayal of emotional support animals/objects (including an example of how one was phased out by the beneficiary), how it sometimes takes a while to notice when change has occurred, and—as should not be forgotten—the importance of humor in the supportive relationship.
From "The Broom Dog":

The afternoon his mother returned to the corner to guide students across the street, Mr. Munch found Canton in the bathroom after school, sitting on the nasty tile floor in the corner. His head pressed against his knees.
“Canton, what are you doing in here?” Mr. Munch asked, realizing he wasn’t actually…using the bathroom. And when Canton lifted his head up, Mr. Munch could see that he’d been crying. He could also see that Canton’s chest was pumping, heaving like it was hard for him to breathe. Like it would break open. Mr. Munch got down on the floor with him. Squatted beside him and talked him through some breathing exercises.
“Come on , Canton. Count to ten with me. One, two, three…” And then, “ Now let’s go back to one. Ten, nine, eight…” And eventually Canton could breathe. Could talk. Could stand. Mr. Munch walked him outside. When they made it to the corner, where Ms. Post was working, Canton wrapped his arms around his mother and squeezed. Held her so tight that she winced, her shoulder still a sack of broken bones. (p 178)
Canton would not let go of his mother, so Mr. Munch takes over the corner. The next day Mr. Munch tells Canton about the circumstances that led him to get his wife an emotional support dog.
“Mr. Munch, why are you telling me all this?” Canton asked, done running down the better-than list in his mind. He was thinking maybe Mr. Munch was trying to be his emotional support dog, except not a dog. His emotional support human, and that all this was just a way to keep his mind off his mother and the fear of a school bus swiping her again.
“Why am I telling you this?” He repeated Canton’s question. Then he opened a locker that stood in the corner of the closet/office. “Because I made you one.”
“You…you made me a dog?”
“Well…I mean… real emotional support dogs aren’t allowed in school, unfortunately. Plus, I couldn’t just buy you a dog. Your mom might not be okay with that. But I thought maybe this could help.” Mr. Munch reached into the locker and pulled out the head of a broom – the sweeping part- which he detached from the broomstick. The straw as curled and mangled as if Mr. Munch had been cleaning the sidewalk for, like, twenty years with it.  He had drawn a big black circle on one side like eyes. And an oval with a tic-tac-toe board in the middle of it, which Canton assumed was supposed to be the mouth. At the top, two small pieces of dust cloth, cut into ears and glued in place.
“It’s… a… broom.”
“But I cleaned it. Promise. And yeah, it’s a broom until you do this.“ He petted the wiry twine as if it were fur. As if he were scratching behind the ear of a Yorkie in desperate need of grooming. The straw popped back up when he was done, just like a dog’s would.
“Why is the mouth like that? Is the… broom…dog angry?”
“No.” Mr. Munch turned the broom head toward him, shrugged. “He’s smiling.”
“Oh.” Canton squished up his befuddled face, decided to take Mr. Munch’s word about the smile, but was still unsure about everything else. “So, You really think this gonna help me?”
“Can’t hurt to try?” A slick smirk crept onto Mr. Munch’s face. “I mean the worst that could happen is you decide to clean up the street. So either way…everybody wins.”
The next day, after school, Canton with the broom dog tucked under his arm, slowly walked up to the corner to watch his mother – to guard the crossing guard. He leaned against the stop sign at the corner. And whenever Ms. Post had to step into the street, blow her whistle, raise her hand to stop traffic, whenever Canton’s chest would become an inflated balloon, he would run his fingers through the broom dog’s hair.
Eventually he named it Dusty.
It’s strange the things that work. (pp 181 – 183)
Reynolds has Canton ready to walk home with his mother a year later.  After some passages describing his school days he writes:
… The broom dog had just become a thing he had, a thing he knew was there if he needed it, but it had been a long time, he just now realized, since he’d actually needed it.
“It’s all faded now anyway,” Canton said, grabbing his backpack. They stood on the corner, looked both ways before crossing.
“Still want it?” his mother asked. Canton shrugged, tossed it up in the air. Caught it. Tossed it again. Caught it. Again, and loose straw separated from the bunch. Again. And more loose straw,  falling down on them. And more. Ms. Post laughed…  (187 -188)
While many of the other stories reflect a range of effects of adverse childhood events, one story not featured here which I cannot help but mention, “The Low Cuts Strike Again,” shows an unexpected outcome after some middle schoolers are thrown together in a support group for the children of cancer patients. 


Reynolds, J. (2019). Look Both Ways. New York: Atheneum.