Book Review: Something Happened in Our Town, by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, Ann Hazzard, and Jennifer Zivoin

Review by Claudia Pereira

Emma asks her mom, “Why did the police shoot that man?” Josh asks his mom, “Can police go to jail?” Is police violence an appropriate topic for a children’s book? Should it be presented as reality or fiction? Something Happened takes up these difficult questions by telling a fictional story framed by real world characters and larger context of the fight for racial justice. 

The story starts with two families, one Black, one White. After the shooting, their children have many questions about the incident in their town. As parents grapple with describing how police shootings can happen, each family explains the situation based on their ideologies and backgrounds. Both families give the children real-life examples of racial injustice. When Emma and Josh go to school the next day, they notice a new classmate. He is a foreign student learning English, so it is difficult to understand him.  The boy is rejected by his classmates at recess time when no one chooses him to be on their team. It is then that Emma and Josh remember the conversation each one had at home and they both stand up for the new kid. Something Happened in Our Town is a great opener for honest conversations about the racial injustice and discriminations that minority groups are facing today. It communicates to students why racial injustice and discrimination need to end. It offers a tangible example of how we can support cultural difference and stop discrimination. When the two children stand up for the new student, they enact their parents’ explanation about sticking up for people who are treated unfairly. This is how unfair behavioral patterns can be stopped. 

The book is accessible, with vocabulary and narrative adequate to young children’s lexicon. The illustrations are evocative and welcoming to start a discussion about racism and social justice. The book is not free from controversy: for example, when a White mother uses the word “mistake” when referring to the shooting Black man, the reader is asked to reflect how our choice of words matters. Published by the American Psychological Association’s Magination Press, the book ends with a note for adults that offers additional resources. These will be valuable to adults looking for tips about how to engage in these conversations with children. This book is also available in Spanish: Algo pasa en mi ciudad: Un relato sobre la injusticia y el racismo (Spanish Edition)

Celano, M., Collins, M., Hazzard, A. and Zivoin, J. (illustrator). (2018). Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice. Magination Press.

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