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Free Study Guide for There Are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz

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Pharoah has been begging his brother to take him back to the railroad tracks to get away from the horrors the summer has brought. The events he has witnessed have unnerved him and his stutter has worsened. He keeps to himself as a result and only hangs out with Porkchop. Furthermore, he trembles at any loud noise. Lafeyette finally gives in and promises to take his brother to the tracks, but as they are leaving, they are attacked by “shorties,” bands of teens that run wild and pick on younger kids. The next day, they hear that someone hunting snakes on the tracks had become trapped under a train and lost his legs. They decide not to take any chances on losing their own. Pharoah accuses Lafeyette of lying when he says he’ll take him, but Lafeyette just pummels his younger brother and insists he didn’t lie. LaJoe know it’s just another sign of Lafeyette’s changing. Besides Bird Leg’s death, he had also been trying to save several youngsters when gunfire broke out and one of them, William’s younger brother, froze as he sat on a swing and just kept repeating, “I wanna die. I wanna die.” Lafeyette stayed with the boy at his own peril, because he felt he just couldn’t leave him. He also witnessed a firebombing, but he refused to talk about it.

LaJoe knows that Lafeyette will continue to look for reason and order within all the turbulence. He even believes that he sees Bird Leg’s spirit at a friend’s apartment. LaJoe knows that this is a sign that he needs to talk, but he patently refuses. His face begins to mask his troubles, showing no affect or emotion. He becomes an unforgiving child. However, in his eyes is a chasm of loneliness and fear. That’s why he refuses to return to the tracks. To do so, in his mind, will only invite trouble.


This chapter shows how the summer of 1987 had a profound and deep impact on Lafeyette. To be twelve years old and see the horrors that he does can only lead to a change in character. He goes from a happy little kid to a mini-adult, wise beyond his years. It makes the reader understand how this could create so much despair in his mother who watches and fears for her son.

FALL 1987 - SPRING 1988



LaJoe and her best friend Rochelle often meet, when the gangs call a truce, at the edge of a narrow parking lot for a factory across the street. Rochelle is the only other person LaJoe can confide in besides Lafeyette, and she is like a second mother to them. She runs a monthly card game which nets her as much as $700 a month, and she lives a couple of block away with her parents. Many children run and play while their parents talk together during these times, but Pharoah stands apart on the back stoop. LaJoe tells Rochelle that he’s daydreaming a lot, and he’s becoming more forgetful. Even through his stutter, however, she knows that he’s most concerned about the teachers’ strike. He loves school, and as long as the teachers are out, he cannot be there in his favorite place. He stands tall there while outside the school building, he is ridiculed for his stammer and his small size. He frequently reads until his eyes hurt, and when he is bored, he practices his penmanship. The long, horrible summer has given him much time to practice. Fortunately, this year will be an important one for him.

The boys attend Henry Suder Elementary School, which like all the projects’ schools, is severely inadequate. It is over-crowded, but does better than some schools because of its dynamic principal, Brenda Daigre. She does well, because she encourages such things as Project Africa which includes trips to the continent in the summer. She is not universally loved, and she faces elements beyond her control such as financial constraints. Furthermore, there are few black men who teach at Suder, and most of the children need positive male role models.

Pharoah’s teacher this year is Ms. Barone, who like many of her colleagues has spent more than enough money on her classroom and has become weary of the large classes. She is also worn down by the violence in the neighborhood, but none of this depletes her boundless energy. She is a strong disciplinarian, believing this is what these kids want and need. Pharoah stutters as he introduces himself, but Ms. Barone is patient with him right from the beginning. She can’t know at the time that his family’s problems will only make the stutter worse.

Pharaoh’s class this year is exceptionally talented including Clarise Gates and Pharoah himself. Ms. Barone quickly comes to treasure him. He moves and talks more freely there, because he feels protected, and he volunteers to do anything his teacher wants him to do. He most endears himself to the entire class by his imagination and writing. He also becomes proficient at spelling. He writes a story called “My Pet Monster” that all the other children love, and Ms. Barone tacks it to one of the bulletin boards for passing students and teachers to see. Nonetheless, he is teased for his size and his buck teeth, and the taunting upsets him as he realizes he won’t always be able to deflect it with humorous stories. Then, he meets Rickey who will help him keep his tormentors at bay.


This chapter examines two gentle people in the Rivers’ lives - Rochelle and Pharoah himself. Rochelle is an important confidant who helps LaJoe to face some of her worst problems. In addition, Pharoah is the child who brings a smile to everyone’s face. The description of Pharoah is important for the reader, because it shows us his great potential from among all of LaJoe’s children.

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