Picture Book Review: Momma, Did You Hear the News? by Sanya Whittaker Gragg, MSW

A Black boy wearing a sports shirt and blue baseball cap has a worried look on his face and holds the back of his head with his hands. He is in a living room with a sofa and coffee table. The title of the book is arched over the top of the picture.
Image description: A Black boy wearing a sports shirt and blue baseball cap has a worried look on his face and holds the back of his head with his hands. He is in a living room with a sofa and coffee table. The title of the book is arched over the top of the picture.

Momma, Did You Hear the News? written by Sanya Whittaker Gragg, MSW, illustrated by Kim Holt

From Goodreads: Little Avery becomes concerned after seeing another police shooting of an unarmed man. His parents decide it is time to have “The Talk”. They teach him and his brother a catchy chant to help remember what to do if approached by an officer, while also emphasizing that all policemen are not bad. A to the L to the I-V-E…come home ALIVE….THAT is the key!

This is the review I wish I didn’t have to write. What kind of fucked up world do we live in where parents have to have conversations about how to stay alive when you get pulled over by the police? That’s rhetorical- I know exactly what kind of world we live in and I suspect if you’re even considering this book for your home or school or public library collection, you know too. I’m going to use positive language to describe this book, but I want to be clear that the subject is not something positive and we need to be working on tearing down and rebuilding the world that requires that this book be written in the first place.

Written to help BIPOC families have “The Talk” with their children about protocols for when they encounter law enforcement, the book uses rhyming text and a snappy, easy to remember acronym to give kids the skills they need to survive those encounters. It is critical that kids practice these skills so they are second nature if they are pulled over.

The terrible thing is, the book says these are things you need to do as a Black person to come home alive if stopped by the police and yet, we know that doing everything “right” still might not save you. I think the general sense of firmness and authority from the parents is reassuring for children. I am all for honesty, but at some point being overly honest may not serve them, especially if they’re very young.

I think this book, and books like it, are jumping off points for families rather than the whole conversation. Start here or incorporate this into what you’ve already talked about. Case in point, the book hints at the cops not being the heroes a lot of media and white people make them out to be. There are two pages that suggests the idea of “bad apple”cops. While I personally want to see more ACAB picture books, I recognize that that is not really the message or point here. You can skip those pages if that is not the message you want to give your kids. There aren’t a ton of these books out there so I think it’s fine to use what is helpful here and skip what is not.

While I believe that all books are for all people, you never know what you might connect with, this one is clearly for Black families to share. I have read this with my white daughter, but we had a slightly different discussion around encounters with police. As an activist I know we’re surveilled and I know there’s a higher likelihood that my kids will encounter law enforcement in a more adversarial situation, so they also need to know how to interact. My point here isn’t to take the focus off Black families who need this conversation starter or to make a book for Black people about me and my white family, but it’s to demonstrate that there can be a wider audience for this work. All libraries with families of color should have this available as a resource. Families should have it on their shelves if they need help having this conversation or if they want something their kids can pick up and read on their own to reinforce any conversations they have had. The acronym ALIVE and its catchy phrase to go with it may be really helpful in getting kids to remember what they should do when they have contact with law enforcement.

Purchase the book here (not affiliate links):

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.