Something Happened in Our Town Written by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, Ann Hazzard Illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin This is a child’s story about racial injustice. I was trying to decide how old a child should be to either read the book themselves or to have it read to them. Honestly, I’m still not sure about the answer. What I do know is that parents know their own children best, and they know their values and beliefs.
As with many subjects, such as death, sexuality, injustice, or divorce, parents need to decide when and how to tackle sensitive or disturbing subjects. Most importantly, parents need to make it safe for their children to ask questions, answer truthfully, and answer age appropriately. We know that young children often hear about things that we wish they did not; from television, the internet, older siblings, or adults talking. We don’t want them to hear about violence, hate, pandemics, or injustice. But the truth is – they do.
Sometimes, we don’t answer because we don’t want them to lose their innocence or to worry about things that we think they can’t understand. In reality, it can be more upsetting to a child if their questions go unanswered, because we don’t know how to or are uncomfortable about answering them. The good news is that this book will help parents with the very difficult subject of racial injustice. It looks at a situation that involves a police shooting of a black man and how two families of different races explained the incident to their lower elementary-age children. These families were honest and emotional when answering their children. They also helped their children see that there are things they could do to make changes in how people treat each other. Both children put the lessons from their parents into practice at school the next day.
It reminded me of the famous quote from Mahatma Gandhi, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” The illustrations are realistic. They depict a town/city and the children at home with their families and at their school. They do not show the shooting itself. The authors also included eight pages of “Notes to Parents and Caregivers” to help adults answer their children’s questions about racial injustice.
My grandson will be five years old in June. He and his family live in City Center, Philadelphia, PA. He’s bright, curious, and is very aware of things that happen in his city. This story could (and does) take place where he lives. I’m sending this book to him now that I’ve reviewed it for you.