Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness

Book review by
Regan McMahon, Common Sense Media
Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness Book Poster Image
Kid learns the dangers of white privilege in powerful story.

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 1 review

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

In a simple way that's easy for kids to understand, the author explains what white supremacy is and how it "has been lying to kids for centuries. White supremacy is pretend. But the consequences are real." Visual and textual references to 1962 protest in Selma, Alabama, and police brutality with police dogs and guns. Shows examples of racist practices in lending, housing, and voting. Shows how kids can do research at the library to learn about the United States' history of racism and oppression of African Americans. Shows how a White girl gets treated differently in a shop than a Black boy does. "Skin color makes a difference in how you see the world and in how you're seen in the world."

Positive Messages

"Racism is a white person's problem and we're all caught up in it -- mostly by refusing to look at it. You can face this." "Understanding the truth takes courage -- especially a painful truth about your own people, your own family." "When parents try to hide scary things from kids ... it's usually because they're scared too." "Racism was not your idea. You don't need to defend it." "Racial justice is possible. But only if we're honest with each other and ourselves." "A strong, internal sense of justice will not fail you -- even when lack of justice in the word does." "Knowledge is Power. Get some. Grow wise. Make history."

Positive Role Models & Representations

Shows examples of people who fought for racial justice, including abolitionists, singer Nina Simone, a librarian in Montgomery, Alabama, John Lewis and other 1960s civil rights protesters, and NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who took a knee in 2017. The kid in the story shows bravery by demanding answers/the truth from her mom.

Violence & Scariness

Reference on a TV screen to a police shooting, showing the grieving family of the person who was shot.

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Anastasia Higgenbotham's Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness is part of Dottir Press' Ordinary Terrible Things series. It's a powerful picture book that explains in a clear, simple, easy-to-understand way what White supremacy is and how it's been used to oppress Black people in the United States for more than 400 years. It also shows the folly of a White parent trying to keep this reality from her kid and insist that "We don't see color." The main character takes the initiative to go to the library and get informed about U.S. history. Abundant positive messages throughout encourage kids (and grown-ups) to be anti-racist and to stand up for what's right. "Racial justice is possible. But only if we're honest with each other and ourselves." There are references to the police shooting of an African American and an archival photo of a police officer during a civil rights-era protest with a snarling, menacing police dog. This is great book to spark informed discussions of race, racism, and police violence against people of color. Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness was named one of School Library Journal's Best Books of 2018. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byparentparentparent February 3, 2021

Inappropriate for elementary age

The violence rating should be much higher. It opens with a gun and "BANG BANG BANG", of a police officer shooting a Black man with his hands up. Later... Continue reading

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What's the story?

NOT MY IDEA: A BOOK ABOUT WHITENESS begins with images of a police shooting of a Black person on a TV and a little white girl asking her mom about what happed. Mom doesn't want to talk about it, reinforcing what she thinks is a positive family value: "We don't see color." But the girl knows that color matters in how a person is treated. She goes to the library to do research to get more informed about the issue of race in the United States and learns about slavery and the abolitionist and civil rights movements, right up through NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling to protest racial injustice. She also learns about the notion of white supremacy and the reality of white privilege and realizes that white supremacy isn't her idea, so she doesn't have to defend it. "I know what that police officer did was wrong!" she yells at her mom. She learns that "Racial justice is possible. But only if we're honest with each other and ourselves." 

Is it any good?

This powerful book offers a clear, simple, kid-friendly explanation of white supremacy, white privilege, and the need for families to talk honestly about race to work for racial justice. The mixed-media art effectively uses archival news and magazine pictures in collages pasted on pieces of a brown paper bag to tell the story of the struggle for civil rights and the ongoing issue of police brutality and police shootings of African Americans. There's a vitality and rawness to the illustrations that gives the book immediacy. And having the focus on the little girl's feelings and her quest for knowledge and understanding (then schooling her mom) makes it empowering.

Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness is packed with information and context but avoids being preachy, except to encourage kids to do the right thing and stand up for what's right. It also encourages going to the library to find answers to your burning questions! The book would be an excellent jumping-off point for a family discussion of racism, protests, and police violence.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about "seeing color" in Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness. How come the little girl knows that people are treated differently because of their skin color, but her mom seems not to? Why is it important to talk about how attitudes about race can be harmful?

  • How do you feel when you see protests on the TV/in the news? Do you understand what's going on? How could you find out more?

  • Have you ever participated in a protest or demonstration? What was it about? Is the right to protest part of living in a democracy? Does calling out injustice help bring about positive change? 

Book details

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