Alex Kotlowitz first traveled to the Henry Horner Homes as a journalist on assignment during the 1980s. It was in the crime-ridden, impoverished community that he met two young black brothers, Lafeyette and Pharoah Rivers. Living together with their mother, LaJoe, and their siblings, the two boys struggled with poverty and witnessed rampant gang violence on a daily basis. The boys' powerful resolve in their situation inspired Kotlowitz to learn more about them, to chronicle their lives, and to, most importantly, become their friend. In There Are No Children Here, Kotlowitz takes readers on a coming-of-age journey as told by two young voices.

More than twenty-five years after the book was published, conditions in the Chicago housing projects remain bleak. Students may find it beneficial to research and report on the current state of public housing across the United States in order to get a better understanding of some people's living conditions. Students may also relate the stories in There Are No Children Here with prominent topics in American conversation, such as modern-day racism, child poverty, and urban violence. In classroom discussion, respect and understanding should be emphasized as these are sensitive issues that may disturb or offend some students.


Key Facts:

  • Length: 336 pages
  • Publication Date: 1991
  • Lexile Measure: 970
  • Recommended Grade Band: 10 – 11

Life at the Henry Horner Homes is far from perfect; rather, the Chicago housing project is considered one of the most dismal communities in the city. But for Lafeyette and his brother Pharoah, this is their home. There Are No Children Here covers the lives of these boys over a span of two years. Within the text, readers learn about their crowded home environment, follow their struggles with school, celebrate the rare but joyous moments of happiness, and grieve with the boys as they watch their friends and neighbors suffer around them. For some time, Lafeyette and Pharoah manage to keep themselves out of trouble, always sticking with the right crowd and making good choices. However, one run-in with the law is all that it takes for Lafeyette's life to be turned upside-down. Readers will quickly learn that at the horrific Henry Horner Homes, there are certainly no children here.

Content Warning: This book contains scenes of violence, death, and racism that some readers may find disturbing.

Your students will love:

  • Witnessing Pharoah's achievements at school and at home
  • Learning the harsh reality behind gang activity

Students may have problems with:

  • Scenes of violence and mentions of death
  • Mentions of police brutality

Objectives for Teaching There Are No Children Here

  • Explain why the residents of the Henry Horner complex view people like Jimmie Lee as leaders.
  • Compare Pharoah's and Lafeyette's differing relationships with their mother, LaJoe.
  • Discuss the significance of the title and how it relates to Pharoah and Lafeyette's development.
  • Evaluate the relationship between the police and the Henry Horner residents.
  • Describe the gang activity at the Henry Horner complex and determine its effects on the neighborhood children.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Allusion
  • Anecdote
  • Conflict
  • Dialect
  • Malapropism
  • Personification
  • Symbolism

Themes and Motifs

Childhood — Lafeyette, Pharoah, and their siblings are forced to mature faster than other children their age because of the difficult, violent environment of the Chicago projects.

Related Works:

Racism — People at the Henry Horner Homes believe that racial injustice occurs in their community at the hands of the Chicago police, the media, and the city gangs.

Related Works:

Family — LaJoe makes an effort to keep her family together despite her older children's arrests and drug addictions, the presence of gangs, extreme poverty, and racial violence.

Related Works:


  • Carl Sandburg Award
  • The Christopher Award
  • New York Public Library's Books of the Century
  • New York Times Bestseller (1991)
  • The Helen Bernstein Award for Excellence in Journalism (1992)


A television movie adaptation aired in 1993. The film stars Oprah Winfrey as LaJoe Rivers, Maya Angelou as Lelia Mae Anderson, and Keith David as John Paul Rivers.

External Resources

Available from Prestwick House:

Title Available Formats
There Are No Children Here Paperback
Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable Package

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