There Are No Children Here

There Are No Children Here Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Alex Kotlowitz's There Are No Children Here. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Alex Kotlowitz

Raised in New York City, Alex Kotlowitz attended Wesleyan University, Connecticut, where he discovered his passion for reporting on issues of urban life and social policy, in particular race and poverty in America. Throughout his career, Kotlowitz has shown a commitment to delving deep into people’s life stories to give voice to the powerless and illustrate larger societal problems. As a Wall Street Journal staff writer from 1984 to 1993, Kotlowitz began writing about the difficulties that children face in poor, urban environments. This led him to publish There Are No Children Here in 1992, which became a national bestseller and won many awards. In 1998, he published his second book, The Other Side of the River: A Story of Two Towns, a Death and America’s Dilemma, which explores racial inequality in the United States through a mysterious death in a small town. In addition to the written word, Kotlowitz also uses film and radio to share his reporting—pursuits that have earned him multiple awards. He currently lives with his family just outside of Chicago, Illinois.
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Historical Context of There Are No Children Here

The end of the 1980s marked the end of the Cold War, in which the Eastern Bloc (in particular, the Soviet Union) and the Western Bloc (in particular, the United States) opposed each other in an ideological war centered on the two blocs’ antagonistic attitudes toward communism. Ronald Reagan, president from 1981 to 1989, is considered by some to have played an important role in bringing an end to the Cold War. In the United States, however, Reagan gave birth to a new kind of war: the War on Drugs. To fight the problem of drug abuse, he focused on criminalization instead of prevention or rehabilitation, signing a bill that established a mandatory minimum sentence for even non-violent drug offenses. However, this policy largely failed to reduce the availability of drugs and, because of differences in sentencing for crack and powder cocaine, proved disproportionately harmful to minorities, especially the African-American population. This led to a phenomenon of mass incarceration of minorities. In parallel, in the 1970s and 1980s, the country experienced urban decay. As white and, later, black middle-class families left city centers to live in safer, more peaceful suburbs, many inner-city urban areas became isolated and impoverished. These phenomena generated feelings of alienation and injustice among inner-city dwellers.

Other Books Related to There Are No Children Here

Alex Kotlowitz’s second book, The Other Side of the River (1998), focuses more specifically on race than There Are No Children Here. It uses two neighboring yet racially opposed Michigan towns as an illustration of a problem that affects the country as a whole: the conflict of narratives and the difficulty of fostering communication and empathy between whites and blacks in the US. Published one year later, The Freedom Writers Diary (1999), written by Erin Gruwell and her group of students, provides a more optimistic view of race relations. Giving a voice to adolescents whose life experiences are rarely publicized, the book recounts the true story of a group of high school students who live in a violent, gang-filled neighborhood in Los Angeles but find and hope and strength through education. Focusing more specifically on the black community, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s autobiography, Between the World and Me (2015), examines structural foundations for racial discrimination in the US. He uses his own experience of growing up in a violent neighborhood in Baltimore to reflect on the vulnerability of African Americans, who are constantly threatened by abusive police and the dangers in the street.
Key Facts about There Are No Children Here
  • Full Title: There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America
  • When Written: 1985-1990
  • Where Written: Chicago, Illinois
  • When Published: 1991
  • Literary Period: Post-Modernism
  • Genre: Non-Fiction, Essay, Biographical writing
  • Setting: The Henry Horner Homes, a public housing complex on the outskirts of Chicago, Illinois
  • Climax: Horner residents learn that Craig Davis has been shot by a police officer at the same time as Pharoah finishes second in his school’s spelling bee
  • Antagonist: While gangs are strongly responsible for the climate of violence at Henry Horner, the police is also at times seen as an oppressive, potentially brutal force. More generally, negative factors impacting people’s lives at Horner are poverty, drug trafficking and abuse, and lack of help from institutions.
  • Point of View: Third-person omniscient

Extra Credit for There Are No Children Here

Zoology. At Wesleyan University, Alex Kotlowitz initially wanted to study zoology before realizing that his true calling was journalism.

The Interrupters. Alex Kotlowitz’s movie The Interrupters, released in 2011, expands on themes broached in There Are No Children Here by focusing on the issue of gang violence from a more optimistic angle of social policy and activism. It follows a group of social leaders who use their own experience with gang life to stop (or “interrupt”) violence in inner-city neighborhoods.