What Do Children Learn about "Police Brutality and Corruption" from Library Books?

November 21, 2021

On the Renaissance Accelerated Reader Bookfinder™ website, I noticed several books that listed “Police Brutality & Corruption” as a Social Issue in the Topics and Sub-Topics boxes describing the books. After doing an advanced search, I found there were 20 such books listed for 9th-12th-grade interest levels, 9 for middle-graders, and 2 for grades K-3.

I Am Alfonso Jones (2017) by Tony Medina is one of the books for upper grade interest levels—grades 9th-12th. Alfonso is a black teen who is shot and killed by an off-duty officer who thought that the coat hanger Alfonso was holding was a gun. Alfonso was in a department store buying a suit.

One of the endorsements on the back cover reads:
“A refreshing and necessary exploration into police brutality.”—IBI ZOBOI, author of American Street


The following two books are for Kindergarten- to third-grade interest levels.

Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness (2018) by Anastasia Higginbotham 

“Who is that with their hands up?”
“Why is that policeman screaming at him?”
Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!
They want to bury the truth.

“Marchers came to demand justice for the unarmed African American. They demand an end to killings across the nation. [P]art of a shameful pattern that has claimed the lives particularly of young men of color. Marchers referenced past victims and a video taken by a bystander.”

You can listen to and view the pages of this book as it is read on YouTube. The video is 6:22. 
"The Power of Picture Books: Influencing Young Children, Adults, or Both?" (Not My Idea is addressed in this article.)

Something Happened in Our Town: A Child's Story About Racial Injustice (2018) by Marianne Celano
The book begins with a white policeman having killed a black person. A black family and a white family discuss the event. This book is for children from 4 to 8. This is published by Magination Press which is part of the American Psychological Association. They publish books for children about LGBTQ+ issues, climate change, mindfulness, and social justice, etc. The top of the Magination website includes this message: "APA apologizes to communities of color for longstanding contributions to systemic racism."

Barb Anderson wrote an excellent review of this book on the Child Protection League Action website—"WARNING TO PARENTS OF ELEMENTARY-AGE CHILDREN: A dangerous book is being used in elementary schools to make children afraid of the police.” She begins:

On October 30, 2020 the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association wrote a warning letter to Governor Tim Walz regarding the children’s story book Something Happened in Our Town. They requested that the state “cease the recommendation and use of this book as a form of instruction for elementary aged children…” This story is divisive and dangerous and has no place in our public schools. It only serves to demonize the police department and suggests that children should be afraid of police officers.

You can also find the letter from the MINNESOTA POLICE AND PEACE OFFICERS ASSOCIATION to Governor Tim Walz: (here)

The other 19 books for 9th-12th-grade interest levels are:

Police Brutality  (2005) by Gail B. Stewart
Presents a discussion of the issues surrounding police brutality in the United States, including the treatment of minorities, public perception of the police, and the role of civilian review boards. (Amazon)

My Heart Will Cross This Ocean: My Story, My Son, Amadou (2004) by Diallo Kadiatou

Four plainclothes NYPD officers from what was known as the Street Crimes Unit at the time said they thought Diallo was a rape suspect, and that when they approached, they thought he was a firing a gun at them.

The four officers fired 41 shots, hitting Diallo 19 times as he stood in the doorway of his own home on Wheeler Avenue in the Soundview neighborhood of the Bronx. 

The 23-year-old's body was riddled with bullets. He even had a bullet hole in the bottom of his foot. Diallo didn't have a weapon, only a wallet. (Spectrum News NY 1 by Dean Meminger)              

See also: “Diallo Truth, Diallo Falsehood,” by Heather MacDonald, City Journal

One of the Good Ones (2021) by Maika Moulite
Gr 9 Up—Keziah Leah Smith is a YouTube vlogger and activist. She's just turned 18, and she's excited about attending her first Black Lives Matter protest—but an interaction with police at the rally ends with Kezi losing her life. (School Library Journal)

Away Running (2016) by Luc Bouchard
This book takes place in Paris and teaches that racism is not exclusive to our country. Go to
Amazon and read the pages from the “Look Inside” feature.

Internment (2019) by Samira Ahmed
In this book, Muslims are placed in an Internment Camp within the United States. The camp authorities are undoubtedly "brutal and corrupt."

Samira Ahmed began writing the book in January 2016, and it isn’t hard to imagine her fiction becoming our reality in the near future, with internment-style camps already existing in light of Trump’s war on undocumented immigrants. Set two and a half years after the presidential election, the narrative timeline now mirrors that of reality, and we can only hope that the horrific events within the novel won’t transpire in the same way.  (Book Riot)

Behind You (2004) by Jacqueline Woodson
After fifteen-year-old Jeremiah [a black teen] is mistakenly shot by police, the people who love him struggle to cope with their loss as they recall his life and death, unaware that Miah is watching over them. (Accelerated Reader BookfinderTM)

The Hate U Give (2017) by Angie Thomas
An unarmed black teenager is shot and killed by a police officer. The book was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. This book was made into a movie.

Between the World and Me (2015) by Ta-Nehisi Coates
This book was written for adults. The American Library Association gave this one an Alex Award for its appeal to kids 12 and up.

Coates writes to his 15-year-old son about the inborn hazards of being black in America and his own intellectual, political and emotional confrontation with the need to live fully, even in the face of racialist culture. (American Library Association)

The Black Kids (2020) by Christina Hammonds Reed
Everything changes one afternoon in April, when four LAPD officers are acquitted after beating a black man named Rodney King half to death. Suddenly, Ashley’s not just one of the girls. She’s one of the black kids. (Amazon)

Neighborhood Girls (2017) by Jessie Ann Foley
Wendy’s father, a Chicago cop, is arrested.

They said that he tortured confessions out of nearly a hundred suspects—electrocuting them, beating them, shoving loaded shotguns in their mouths, whipping them with power cords. They said he harassed and intimidated suspects and witnesses and neighborhood activists, some of them women, some of them old, some of them only fourteen or fifteen. They said he had no heart, that he was a sadist, and that he had single-handedly destroyed the credibility of an entire department of twelve thousand officers. (page 53 ebook)

At the trial:
The video that upset me the most still returns to me in my dreams sometimes. My dad was in this interrogation room with this guy. A boy, really. He honestly looked about my age. And in the video, my dad takes a plastic garbage bag and holds it over the kid’s head, tightening it until the kid is kicking and flailing and gasping like a fish flipping around at the bottom of a boat. Finally he goes limp. My dad takes the plastic bag off. Kicks the kid in the stomach. Leans down and spits in his face. (page 57 ebook)

4th of July (2005) by James Patterson
In a late-night showdown after a near-fatal car chase, San Francisco police lieutenant Lindsay Boxer has to make an instantaneous decision: in self-defense, she fires her weapon-and sets off a chain of events that leaves a police force disgraced, an entire city divided, and a family destroyed. Now everything she’s worked her entire life for hinges on the decision of twelve jurors. (Little, Brown and Co.)

Tyler Johnson was Here (2018) by Jay Coles

School Library Journal: Gr 9 Up—Narrated by 17-year-old Marvin Johnson, this novel gives readers a glimpse into the life and the tragic death of his identical twin Tyler. . . . Gang violence erupts in a party both twins attend and Tyler ends up dead from an unprovoked altercation with a police officer. . . . Social media, as in real life, plays a vital part in the advocacy for victims' rights at the hands of police, as well as for the efforts needed to organize public protests and vigils in memory of Tyler. Tensions arise in the community between proponents of the Black Lives Matter movement and those who push for "All Lives Matter" in response. This well-written, fast-paced story . . . succeeds in not avoiding tough subjects, such as systemic racism. —Sabrina Carnesi, Crittenden Middle School, Newport News, VA (Amazon)

Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America (2019) by Zoboi et al., Ibi
This book is listed on
Epic Reads as, “10 Books that Shed Light on Police Brutality.”

Light it Up (2019) by Kekla Magoon
Told in a series of vignettes from multiple viewpoints, Kekla Magoon's Light It Up is a powerful, layered story about injustice and strength―as well as an incredible follow-up to the highly acclaimed novel How It Went Down.

A girl walks home from school. She's tall for her age. She's wearing her winter coat. Her headphones are in. She's hurrying.

She never makes it home.

In the aftermath, while law enforcement tries to justify the response, one fact remains: a police officer has shot and killed a thirteen-year-old girl. The community is thrown into upheaval, leading to unrest, a growing movement to protest the senseless taking of Black lives, and the arrival of white supremacist counter demonstrators. (Amazon)

Patron Saints of Nothing (2019) by Randy Ribay
Ribay explores these complex feelings through the lens of the bloody war on drugs that's been raging in the Philippines for the last three years.

Launched by President Rodrigo Duterte almost immediately after he was sworn into office in June 2016, the campaign has been heavily criticized for what human rights groups call extrajudicial killings. Some estimates by rights groups and opposing politicians say more than 20,000 have been killed, while the official statistics released by the Philippine police are much more conservative.

As the bodies of mainly poor people and low-level drug pushers pile up in the morgues and in the Philippine jails, the effectiveness of the crusade has been hotly debated (though Duterte remains popular.) It's a conversation that extends past shores of the Southeast Asian archipelago and extends to Filipinos, their families and descendants living abroad — including in the United States. (NPR)

Anger is a Gift (2018) by Mark Oshiro
In 2018, Priya Sridhar interviewed Mark Oshiro for Book Riot:

High school student Moss lost his father several years ago to police brutality . . .
There are two basic things that make up the inspiration for Anger Is A Gift. I had long wanted to write something addressing resource officers and the presence of police violence within the context of a high school. It was tied to my own experiences and observations, and I’d never seen a book about it before.
(Book Riot)

All American Boys (2015) by Jason Reynolds
Rashad is a black teen who was accused of shoplifting and was brutally beaten by a white police officer.

Dear Martin (2017) by Nic Stone

Justyce McAllister is a good kid, an honor student, and always there to help a friend—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. 

"A visceral portrait of a young man reckoning with the ugly, persistent violence of social injustice." -Publishers Weekly

Dear Martin, her first novel, is loosely based on a series of true events involving the shooting deaths of unarmed African American teenagers. Shaken by the various responses to these incidents—and to the pro-justice movement that sprang up as a result—Stone began the project in an attempt to examine current affairs through the lens of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s teachings.  (Amazon)

The Trial of the Police Officers in the Shooting Death of Amadou Diallo: A Headline Court Case (2004) by Bryna J. Fireside

On February 4, 1999, four white New York City police officers in the Bronx opened fire, killing a young African immigrant named Amadou Diallo. Afterward it was discovered that he was not armed, but was reaching for his wallet to show the police his identification, but they fired forty-one shots in response. The city of New York erupted in controversy over police methods. Bryna J. Fireside covers the situation leading up to the tragedy and the trial of the four officers, explaining complex legal concepts as well as larger issues related to the controversial case.  (Amazon)

The 9 books for 4th-8th grade interest levels are:
Black Lives Matter (Protest Movements) (2018) by Duchess Harris
This book examines the events that fueled the Black Lives Matter movement, including the historical events that led up to racial tensions in the United States. It also addresses the goals the movement has set for the future. (Accelerated Reader BookfinderTM)

Courage (2018) by Barbara Binns

“ . . . An auspicious debut and a compelling read that will prompt important discussions about police brutality, racism, and economic inequity.”  (School Library Journal)

Ghost Boys (2018) by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Jerome, a twelve-year-old black boy, was playing with a toy gun when he was shot and killed by a police officer.

The Stars Beneath Our Feet  (2017) by David Barclay Moore
It's Christmas Eve in Harlem, but 12-year-old Lolly and his mom are not celebrating. They are still reeling from his older brother's death in a gang-related shooting a few months earlier. The plot contains profanity, violence, and racial slurs. (Accelerated Reader BookfinderTM)

Racial Profiling: Everyday Inequality  (2017) by Alison Marie Behnke

The high-profile deaths of unarmed people of color at the hands of police officers have brought renewed national attention to racial profiling and have inspired grassroots activism from groups such as Black Lives Matter. Combining rigorous research with powerful personal stories, this insightful title explores the history, the many manifestations, and the consequences of this form of social injustice. (Amazon)

#BlackLivesMatter: Protesting Racism (2019) by Rachael L. Thomas
In this title, readers learn about the #BlackLivesMatter movement, from the history of slavery and racism, to the slayings of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, to further efforts to end racism such as Campaign Zero, and #takeaknee, and Black Futures Lab. (Amazon)

[Note: Watch Joel Gilbert’s, The Trayvon Hoax.]

Police Under Fire: Issue and Debate (1999) by Ted Gottfried
An examination of allegations that the police are not doing their jobs properly, with information about the history of police culture, offers an unbiased look at a timely issue. (Amazon)

A Good Kind of Trouble (2019)  by Lisa Moore Ramée
A female police officer shoots a black man because she feared for her own life. He was walking away. It was captured on video, but the officer is not convicted. Later two officers shoot an innocent black woman.

Woke: A Young Poet's Guide to Justice (2020) by Mahogany L. Browne
A collection of poems to inspire kids to stay woke and become a new generation of activists.

That concludes the 31 books found on Renaissance Accelerated Reader Bookfinder.™ How many other children’s books echo this theme, but don’t include “Police Brutality and Corruption” in the description?

One such book I have written about before is Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Maker’s Strike of 1909 (2013). Clara Lemlich, "the brave girl," joined the Communist Party in 1926. Her son, Irving Charles Velson, is one of the Americans listed in the Venona Papers. This book is for children ages 4 to 8:

The police arrest her seventeen times.

They break six of her ribs, but they can’t break her spirit. It’s shatterproof.

Couldn't this same technique be used for other professions? What about sex abuse by teachers and school staff? Would the books that win the awards, get displayed predominantly, and become the required reading choices feature only abusive teachers? What message would that send? 

I’ve said it before. These people who are ranting about parents standing up and saying, “Enough is Enough!” are ticked off because the parents are trying to shape the worldviews of their own children. Shaping a worldview doesn’t bother them. They just want to be the ones to do it. Merrick Garland and those under his command want to do all they can to assist in their endeavors. Is anyone asking why these haters-of-children want the kids to hate the police or be sexualized at early ages?

What’s the goal here? If the police are defunded and so demoralized that the honest and experienced ones find a new career, who will be left? Are they the ones who will comply with orders to come after parents, gun owners, the unmasked, the unvaccinated, and those who still love America? And you think that group will not be brutal or corrupt?

That’s a pipe dream.


[Note: To fully understand what a child will take away from many of these books, please read some of them in their entirety. The Hate U Give, All American Boys, Ghost Boys, and A Good Kind of Trouble would be a good start.]


Deborah DeGroff      
Between the Covers: What’s Inside a Children’s Book?  

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