A Critical Issue

I did not intend for the three books that I read this week to end up in a single post. Each book is worthy of its own post and deserves a thorough examination. However, while each book serves a different purpose and tells a different story, they each include at least one episode of police brutality against Black youth. Only one of these books centers on this issue, yet the prevalence of these events has made this a topic of conversation in many recent books that explore race relations.

Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles, specifically addresses instances in which law enforcement officers violently target African American youth. While there are a few police officers who seem to have positive intentions in this book, there are also several who immediately resort to unnecessary force when confronted with young, unarmed Black men and women.

This book is written from the perspective of Marvin Johnson, who is hoping to attend MIT when he graduates from high school. He spends most of his time studying and watching A Different World with his friends. He also spends time worrying about his twin brother Tyler who, in an attempt to help support his mom and brother, has recently started to work for a drug dealer. Life is not easy in their neighborhood and the adults who should be helping them (such as police officers and administrators at school) are making the world less kind and less safe.

Police interactions with racial and ethnic minorities have been getting a lot of necessary attention lately. However, the discriminatory beliefs and social structures that lead to these events must receive equal attention. In You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P! by Alex Gino, we meet characters who are wrestling with their responses to racism among members of their own family. While the majority of the members of Jilly’s family are White, her Aunt Alicia and her younger cousins are Black. When Aunt Alicia joins the extended family for holidays, racist beliefs are brought to the surface. While these used to be ignored and glossed over in her family, Jilly learns that uncomfortable conversations are necessary if change is ever to occur.

Jilly also learns about race and Deaf culture from a new friend she meets online. Jilly’s new baby sister Emma is Deaf and Jilly wants to learn as much as she can to be a supportive sister. She doesn’t always know the right things to say or do, but her effort at learning is a characteristic we might all wish to emulate.

When I started reading You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P! after I finished Tyler Johnson Was Here, I had no idea that I would come across similar events involving law enforcement officers. However, the intersection between racism and deafness leads to a horrific event in this book and contributes to Jilly’s understanding of the importance of open and honest conversations.

Sometimes a book can be the best way to start a conversation and We Rise We Resist We Raise Our Voices edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson is a great place to start. This book is not centered around police brutality, though it does make reference to these events. Instead, it is a message of hope and empowerment to Black children across the United States. It was written as a response to the fear that many children of color are experiencing in our current climate. This is a beautiful book with writing and art from extraordinary creators. While this book was written specifically for children of color, there is a message within that White children also need to read. The message that we all have a responsibility to work towards a more just world for all people.

I always struggle to identify the appropriate ages for books because I think that is so dependent upon the individual. However, Tyler Johnson Was Here is probably most appropriate for high school students. The other two books might be intended for upper elementary or middle school students, but they have elements that are inspiring for people of all ages. While I may not have realized that these three books were going to share a common message, I am glad that they reminded me of this critical issue in our society. So many Americans do not have the luxury of ever forgetting that risk.

All my days are a hazy, unhappy mess inside my fragmented home, and          outside my window, where real life waits in all of its shadows, the sun getting consumed by the hand of the night, I see white people walking happily down the street and it’s a goddamn aching punch in the gut of something people like me don’t quite yet have: freedom. (Coles 252)

Standards for Tyler Johnson Was Here

Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards:

Justice 12: I can recognize, describe and distinguish unfairness and injustice at different levels of society.

Justice 13: I can explain the short and long-term impact of biased words and behaviors and unjust practices, laws and institutions that limit the rights and freedoms of people based on their identity groups.

Common Core Standards:

RL.3- Analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).

RL.5- Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.

RL.6- Analyze a case in which grasping a point of view requires distinguishing what is directly stated in a text from what is really meant (e.g., satire, sarcasm, irony, or understatement).

W.1- Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

Standards for You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P!

Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards:

Diversity 6: I like knowing people who are like me and different from me, and I treat each person with respect.

Diversity 8: I want to know more about other people’s lives and experiences, and I know how to ask questions respectfully and listen carefully and non-judgmentally.

Diversity 10: I know that the way groups of people are treated today, and the way they have been treated in the past, is a part of what makes them who they are.

Common Core Standards:

Elementary RL.3- Compare and contrast two or more characters, settings, or events in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., how characters interact).

Elementary RL.6- Describe how a narrator’s or speaker’s point of view influences how events are described.

Elementary W.1- Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information.

Standards for We Rise We Resist We Raise Our Voices

Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards:

Diversity 6: I like knowing people who are like me and different from me, and I treat each person with respect.

Diversity 8: I want to know more about other people’s lives and experiences, and I know how to ask questions respectfully and listen carefully and non-judgmentally.

Diversity 10: I know that the way groups of people are treated today, and the way they have been treated in the past, is a part of what makes them who they are.

Common Core Standards:

Elementary RL.2- Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text.

Elementary RL.4- Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative language such as metaphors and similes.

Elementary RL.5- Explain how a series of chapters, scenes, or stanzas fits together to provide the overall structure of a particular story, drama, or poem.

Elementary RL.6- Describe how a narrator’s or speaker’s point of view influences how events are described.

Elementary RL.7- Analyze how visual and multimedia elements contribute to the meaning, tone, or beauty of a text (e.g., graphic novel, multimedia presentation of fiction, folktale, myth, poem).

Elementary RL.9- Compare and contrast stories in the same genre (e.g., mysteries and adventure stories) on their approaches to similar themes and topics.

Published by socialjusticeinchildrenslit

My name is Leah Cole and I was a teacher in Iowa for nine years. My passions for education, social justice, and children's literature led me to create this blog. Students are faced with issues of justice and fairness from the time they are very young. The Social Justice Standards developed by Teaching Tolerance help teachers to support the development of students who recognize and embrace their own identities while respecting and valuing those who are different. In this blog, I will attempt to identify and review books that support the social justice standards.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: