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Story of Kids Growing up in Chicago Projects Resonates Today

Book discussion at the Des Plaines library about Chicago author Alex Kotlowitz’s “There Are No Children Here” on Oct. 11.

The following information was submitted by Laura Adler of Readers’ Services at the Des Plaines Public Library.

Books can be a great escape from the stress and turmoil of the world, but some books do more than that. Some books are so powerful that they inform the way we see the world and the people in it ever after.

One such book is There Are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz. Published in 1991, There Are No Children Here is a nonfiction account of two brothers growing up poor in Chicago’s Henry Horner Homes, a dangerous public housing complex in which mothers feared their children might not live to see eighteen.

We’ll discuss at the library at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 11. You can register for the book discussion online or at the third floor desk of the library, where we have copies of the book.

Oak Park writer Kotlowitz spent two years with the boys, nine-year-old Pharoah and twelve-year-old Lafeyette, chronicling everything from a spelling bee in which Pharoah invests much time and hope to the shooting of a teenage friend of Lafeyette’s at the hands of a federal agent.

The shooting of Lafeyette’s friend, Craig, deeply affects Lafeyette, as does the one-paragraph account of the shooting that appeared in the Sun-Times, erroneously identifying Craig as “a reputed street gang member.”

A few weeks after the funeral, Kotlowitz writes, Lafeyette “asserted with a controlled anger that unnerved those around him: ‘He wasn’t no gangbanger. They lied. If I was Craig’s mama or daddy I would of walked up to that police and shot him in the head the same way he did Craig. I hope that policeman dies.’”

I often think of Craig’s death and the misidentification of him as a gang member when I read of “reputed” gang members and the way the media attempts to define young men with those words. And I see Pharoah and Lafeyette in the faces of children in my neighborhood, as well as in the faces of young men who appear sad and angry beyond their years.

Today Pharoah and Lafeyette are in their 30s and the last of the original Henry Horner Homes was demolished in 2008. But poverty and violence are ever present, and children continue to live in conditions that diminish their potential and therefore the potential of the communities in which they live.

To learn more about Pharoah and Lafeyette, as well as the struggles of children who grow up in poverty, register to attend the discussion and pick up a copy of the book at the third floor Readers’ Services desk.

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