It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community.
I am excited to launch our reading theme for October – December: Voices From The Fringe – Human Rights and Social Justice.
Essentially, we are looking for books that have the following narrative themes:
- marginalization and disenfranchisement
- oppression and social justice
- human rights and their violations
- empowerment, revolution, and taking ownership of one’s voice
- voices of the silenced
If you have recommended titles for us, we will be more than happy to hunt the books down. I am glad to be starting off our reading theme with these two powerful picturebooks that deal specifically with police violence towards Black people and racial injustice.
Something Happened In Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice [Amazon | Book Depository]
Written by Marianne Celano and Marietta Collins and Ann Hazzard Illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin
Published by Magination Press (2018)
ISBN: 1433828545 (ISBN13: 9781433828546). Bought my own copy. Book photos taken by me.
This narrative is framed around the unlawful police shooting of an unarmed Black man. It is told in two parts: the first one from the perspective of a young White girl named Emma and her family, and the second from the lens of a young Black boy named Josh and his family.
In the first page, it was shown how adults would like to conveniently pretend that young people are unaware of what is going on in their community: “The grown-ups didn’t think the kids knew about it. But the kids in Ms. Garcia’s class heard some older kids talking about it, and they had questions.”
In this story, the children found answers to their questions by asking their family members who tried to provide as honest an answer as they can. In the young girl’s family, I was amused by the older sister who was more blunt and direct compared to her parents who were trying to soften the reality surrounding police officers’ predisposition to regard Black people as violent.
In Josh’s family, there was a realistic appraisal of the situation for Black people – and the resigned expectation that the White police officer would go unpunished for his unlawful shooting of a Black man. There was also righteous anger displayed by Josh’s father, which he also channeled into empowerment: ” ‘I’m mad that we’re still treated poorly sometimes, but I can use my anger to make things better,’ said his father.”
In the end, the story revealed another young boy who just moved to Josh and Emma’s school, most likely from the Middle East, named Omad, who was only starting to learn English. Josh and Emma are now confronted with a choice about how they would behave towards this boy, after their recent conversation with their family members.
While the narrative leaned towards the prescriptive and the didactic, I still find it a useful way of introducing such a sensitive topic to young children. Rather than exercise outright avoidance, there are ways of navigating around the issue that can be honest and also hopeful, which I believe is what this book intends. There is also a very extensive and highly detailed Note to Parents and Caregivers (four full-page spreads) prepared by the book creators on how racism and police violence can be discussed with young people.
Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness [Amazon | Book Depository]
Written And Illustrated By Anastasia Higginbotham
Published by Dottir Press(2018)
ISBN: 1948340003 (ISBN13: 9781948340007). Bought my own copy. Book photos taken by me.
This book pretty much begins in a similar way to Something Happened In Our Town: a well-meaning intention by parents to conceal brutal truths from their children in an effort to protect them. Yet, it is evident that the young girl in this story is pretty much aware of what is going on. Having her mother claim: “You don’t need to worry about this. You’re safe.” provides a cognitive dissonance to the young girl who sees something wrong and may not have the language to articulate her observations.
The mother’s dismissal as reflected in her statement that in their family “We don’t see color” is also quite familiar, and the entire narrative disproves this argument: “Skin color makes a difference in how the world sees you and in how you see the world. It makes a difference in how much trouble seems to find you or let you be.”
I found this book to be a frank portrayal about White privilege, the many things that we believe we are entitled to because of race or nationality or citizenship, and the institutional forms of oppression that make it appear as if all people are provided opportunities, when in truth they are not. See image below:
In the Author’s Note, Higginbotham mentioned that she “made this book for my own white sons with help from their teachers and mine. It’s dedicated to the Brooklyn Free School, where my family was first called upon to engage with whiteness in order to dismantle white supremacy.” This book does just that: dismantle notions people have always assumed to be true and a given, by examining them closely, and revealing how most ideas are actually rooted in racist beliefs and ideals. A must-read and must-own.