Teachers in schools where the population is mainly African American often select reading materials by African American authors rather automatically. It is assumed that such will be most attractive to the students. There is some question as to the validity of this stance. The point remains debatable. For the purpose of this paper however, that premise is accepted.
One of the first thoughts about the criteria for selecting reading material for this unit is that students will react more quickly to materials written by African Americans and portraying contemporary African American characters. It is assumed that black writers will provide literature that is more familiar to the type of urban, African American students for whom this unit is planned. After all, say Henry Louis Gates and Nellie Y. McKay, general editors in The Norton Anthology of African American Literature, "Many contemporary African American writers have preserved and drawn on a sense of distinctive African American cosmologies and mythologies." (page 2014) This specific body of literature pays "heed to controversial issues of language and social identity."
I also considered literature to which students and their families would have ready access. Early on, it was decided that the books involved in this unit would be on the shelves at the local library, in downtown bookstores, and, perhaps on the shelves of the personal libraries of family and friends. Therefore in the classroom, I concentrate on a single book that everybody reads. Many people from diverse walks of life can offer their own review of the book.
The setting of the works was also a main consideration. Therefore, a novel set in what appears to be a city in the Northeastern United States, or at least an urban area, will be most appropriate. City life is a most familiar setting for the described youngsters. It is effectively in line with their real world, the neighborhoods of New Haven, and the world of their selections for television viewing. Urban America is their mainstream.
I was most interested in identifying an American policeman or private eye with the capability to become hero material. I thought that, for young people, a vigilante for justice in an urban environment or police procedural idealizing the police force would lend some moral or character instruction. I explored Ed McBain's books on the fictitious 87th precinct. I reviewed snatches of John Ball's books which were the basis for "In the Heat of the Night", an extremely popular television series.
I also searched for a book that has enough blood, gore, and sex to capture the interest of the students. But, it was important to find an author, who did not offer profanity for its shock value only or inappropriate, valueless, and extensive sex scenes or pornography. I wanted a book that would allow my students to become a solver of the crime.