She Hit Me First! written by Robert Mossi Alexander, illustrated by Lauryn Taylor Alexander, cover art by Robert Liu Trujillo
When Jamillah started Parker Elementary School it was hard for her to make new friends. Unlike her old school, no one there seemed to want to play with her. So, hitting was the way Jamillah solved most of her problems at school. It didn’t make sense to her why it was so important for her to behave and be good when she saw other people around her being rude and unconcerned with how they treated others. With no good examples to model Jamillah continued to find every excuse to hit, but most of the time her excuse was “She hit me first!”
Jamillah’s teacher Miss Raspberry knew there was more to Jamillah than what she was showing. When it looked like Jamillah was about to face the ultimate punishment, suspension from school, Miss Raspberry stepped in to save her. Though grateful in the moment Jamillah had no idea what Miss Raspberry had in store for her. When her other efforts failed to help Jamillah, Miss Raspberry decided to try something different, she introduced Jamillah to a new way of thinking about the world around her.
At its core, She Hit Me First! is a book about exploring kindness, education, and conflict resolution without the use of violence. Jamillah learns through a series of events that she is worthy of kindness and that she has the power to create change in the world around her.
This was a throughly enjoyable little chapter book. I read it through once on my own and then out loud to my older kid who kept asking for just one more chapter before bed. The book has a clear messages about people’s ability to change, to be a model for others to change, and to overcome difficult situations, but the story they are woven into is charming and engaging.
I deeply appreciated the message to parents, caregivers, and educators the importance of having an adult in your corner. Jamillah’s teacher Miss Raspberry (what a great teacher name) makes a commitment to help Jamillah stop hitting when she gets frustrated and to make friends. Kids need someone who will advocate for them and believe in them. Having that one person is so critical to all people, especially children.
Jamillah is dealing with some stuff in her home life that is modeling the coping mechanism of hitting in frustration. She learns to have compassion for her mother’s struggles through a visit and talk from her aunt as well as through reading the story of Maya Angelou. Jamillah doesn’t learn to excuse the behavior, but she does learn that it is not something inherent in her that causes her mother to want to hit. I think this aspect of the story can help kids in similar situations both see their realities reflected and hopefully give them some insight into what lies behind it.
I found this book through the artist who did the cover illustration, Robert Liu Trujillo. We’re big fans of his work in our house. I was doubly excited to see that this was written by an author from the Bay Area which is more or less local to us. The illustrations inside accompany the end of each chapter. They’re really cute and add just a little more to the story. I would say the book is around a third/fourth grade level and the pictures are a nice touch to support readers who want to read chapter books, but need a little break to the actual text. The chapter length is also really good (it made it easy to read “just one more” every night too).
All in all, a great addition to classroom, home and public library emerging chapter book collections.
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