Botham Jean. Sandra Bland. Philando Castille. Alton Sterling. Tamir Rice. Eric Harris. Michael Garner. Michael Brown, Jr., Adam Toledo. George Floyd. Brionna Taylor.
These names represent just a few of the black lives taken by police in America since 2014.
There are many police officers all over the country who are truly dedicated to protecting and serving the people of their communities.
However, when you look at the bigger picture, it’s clear that the United States has a problem with police violence and racism.
Police killed 1,164 people in 2018. Black people are three times more likely than white people to be killed by police. 21% of black people killed by police from 2013 to 2018 were unarmed. Thirteen of the 100 largest U.S. city police departments kill black men at a higher rate than the U.S. murder rate. In 2015, ninety-nine percent of the officers involved in these shootings were not convicted of a crime. (Source)
For some families, these statistics are not shocking. The fear of police violence is a part of their reality.
For other families, the idea that you’d have to fear the people hired to protect you is unfamiliar. That’s who this list is for.
There are books on this list for every age level that will help both children and adults better understand the issue of police violence and the fight for justice that has grown from this issue. They illustrate why “Black Lives Matter” is something we should all rally around, no matter our race.
Children’s Books About Police Violence
Something Happened in Our Town by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard
This book shows the reactions of two families, one white and one black, after a black man in shot by a police officer in their town. Josh and Emma know that something bad has happened in their town, and they have lots of questions about it: Why did the police officer shoot the man? Why are people upset about it? Can a police officer be arrested?
This book does an excellent job of addressing a difficult topic in an age-appropriate way. It doesn’t shy away from discussing the racism that is prevalent in our culture, and it illustrates why all of us should care about social justice and making the world a more equitable place. It also includes an extensive parent guide to help you navigate talking to your kids about racism.
I recommend this book for kids ages 5 and up, and I also encourage you to check out this podcast interview with the authors.
Not My Idea by Anastasia Higginbotham
This book is an absolutely amazing resource. Written for white children, it tackles the tough realities of racism and explains why white people should care. The title, Not My Idea, comes from the defensiveness can arise when we white folks are confronted with our own privilege — no, racism and police violence were not our idea, but we still have a role to play in ending them:
“Racism was not your idea. You do not need to defend it. You can bring your curiosity to learn about it and see that it’s true.”
This book folds police violence into the greater problem of systemic racism in the United States, and despite the hard topic, I think it’s really great for reading with kids ages 6 and up. It’s a book every white family needs to read.
Middle Grade Chapter Books
Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes
I loved, loved, LOVED this book, even though it broke my heart into a million little pieces.
Jerome is a young boy who is shot by a police offer while playing with a toy gun. As a ghost, he sees the affects of his death on his family, friends, and community. He encounters the ghost of Emmett Till, and connects in the living world with the daughter of the police officer that shot him.
This powerful novel is an important read for kids ages 8 and up.
A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa More Remee
Shayla is a good girl. Her focus is on getting good grades, staying out of trouble, and trying to figure out how to navigate junior high. Her sister Hana gets involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, but Shay doesn’t think activism is for her.
However, her mind starts to change when she attends a moving protest rally. Shay decides to wear a black armband to school to show her solidarity to the movement…and that’s when all hell breaks loose. Shay is given an ultimatum that forces her to make a tough decision.
This novel is recommended for readers ages 8 and up.
Blended by Sharon M. Draper
Eleven-year-old Isabella feels caught between two worlds, especially since her parents divorced. One week she’s with her father and his girlfriend in their rich neighborhood. The next she’s in a small apartment with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend.
But that’s not the only thing that makes Isabella feel stuck in the middle. Isabella’s mother is white and her father is black, and she’s always having to answer ridiculous questions about what she “really” is. An encounter with her step-brother and law enforcement serves as a reminder that to some people, skin color is all they need to make a judgment about whether or not someone is a threat.
I have loved every Sharon Draper book I’ve read, and this one is no exception. I highly recommend sharing this one with kids ages 10 and up.
Young Adult Books
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Starr feels caught between two worlds: the black world of her neighborhood Garden Heights, and the white world of the private school she attends. School Starr and Home Starr are two vastly different people.
Starr’s two worlds collide when her friend Khalil is shot by a police officer, right in front of her. Suddenly, Starr is faced with life-changing decisions about how to move forward. Does she risk it all to speak out for her friend that the media is calling a thug and a drug-dealer? Or does she stay quiet and let a false narrative take over?
This book is one of the best I’ve read, and I really think everyone should read it. It’s appropriate for kids ages 12 and up.
Dear Martin by Nic Stone
Justyce McAllister was only trying to help a friend, but somehow that led to being handcuffed with a cop yelling in his face. His only crime? Being a black boy wearing a hoodie.
Justyce begins journaling to work through his frustrations about the racism he encounters. In his journal, he writes letters to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He wants to put Dr. King’s methods into practice, but he also wonders if there’s any point to pursuing nonviolence in a world that seems to want him dead.
How can we expect young black men to function in a world where everyday activities could get them killed? How do we practice nonviolent protest in an increasingly violent society? This book addresses those tough questions and many more.
I recommend this book for kids ages 12 and up, and I recommend parents read alongside their kids as well. So many good discussions can come out of sharing this story.
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
Rashad’s life is changed when a simple trip to purchase a bag of chips leads to him being beaten by a police officer who thinks he’s shoplifting. What happens afterward polarizes his school and eventually the nation.
Officer Paul Galluzzo has been like a father to Quinn, and he can’t believe his own eyes when he sees Paul violently beat one of his classmates. The attack was also caught on video, and soon people are calling Paul racist. Everyone seems to be taking a side, and Quinn struggles with his love for Paul and what he saw that day.
Written by two authors showing the perspectives of the two main characters, this book is excellent for kids ages 12 and up.
I Am Alfonso Jones by Tony Medina
Life is good for Alfonso Jones. He’s got the lead role in his school’s production of Hamlet, he’s got a crush on his best friend, Danetta, and his father is about to be released from jail.
All of these good things come to an end when an off-duty officer mistakes a hanger in Alfonso’s hand for a gun. Alfonso is shot and killed, and finds himself on a ghost train filled with other victims of police violence.
Meanwhile, Alfonso’s family and friends are struggling with their loss, and with the lack of justice surrounding Alfonso’s death. How can they move forward in their grief, and work to make a positive change in the world?
This gorgeous graphic novel is an excellent choice for readers ages 10 and up.
The Day Tajon Got Shot by the Teen Writers of Beacon House
Tajon is a good kid in a bad situation. Tajon sells weed in the hopes of saving up money to get his family away from their abusive father. When an officer interrupts a deal gone bad, Tajon is shot while trying to run away.
This unique story, written by the teen writers of Beacon House, explores the perspectives of Tajon’s friends, the family of the officer, and others in the community. It powerfully illustrates how we are all interconnected, and how the tragedies of our world affect all of us.
Kids 11 and up will enjoy digging into this moving story.