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Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness

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Not My Idea, the latest in the critically-acclaimed Ordinary Terrible Things series, is a book about whiteness. A white child sees TV news coverage of a white police officer shooting a brown person whose hands were up. Upset, he asks his mother why; she deflects, assuring him that he is safe. Later, they visit an aunt and uncle, where the TV, always on, shows a rally in res Not My Idea, the latest in the critically-acclaimed Ordinary Terrible Things series, is a book about whiteness. A white child sees TV news coverage of a white police officer shooting a brown person whose hands were up. Upset, he asks his mother why; she deflects, assuring him that he is safe. Later, they visit an aunt and uncle, where the TV, always on, shows a rally in response to the police shooting. The child glimpses a moving press conference with the victim’s family while his aunt claims she simply “can’t watch the news.” The book’s narrator accompanies the child as he faces history and himself. The activities section urges kids to grow justice (“like a bean sprout in a milk carton”) inside of themselves, seek out and listen to the truth about racism and white supremacy, and prepare to be changed, heartbroken, and liberated by this experience. Part history lesson, part compassionate primer to assist children (and parents) past defensiveness, Not My Idea is a tangible tool for necessary conversations.


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Not My Idea, the latest in the critically-acclaimed Ordinary Terrible Things series, is a book about whiteness. A white child sees TV news coverage of a white police officer shooting a brown person whose hands were up. Upset, he asks his mother why; she deflects, assuring him that he is safe. Later, they visit an aunt and uncle, where the TV, always on, shows a rally in res Not My Idea, the latest in the critically-acclaimed Ordinary Terrible Things series, is a book about whiteness. A white child sees TV news coverage of a white police officer shooting a brown person whose hands were up. Upset, he asks his mother why; she deflects, assuring him that he is safe. Later, they visit an aunt and uncle, where the TV, always on, shows a rally in response to the police shooting. The child glimpses a moving press conference with the victim’s family while his aunt claims she simply “can’t watch the news.” The book’s narrator accompanies the child as he faces history and himself. The activities section urges kids to grow justice (“like a bean sprout in a milk carton”) inside of themselves, seek out and listen to the truth about racism and white supremacy, and prepare to be changed, heartbroken, and liberated by this experience. Part history lesson, part compassionate primer to assist children (and parents) past defensiveness, Not My Idea is a tangible tool for necessary conversations.

30 review for Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness

  1. 5 out of 5

    Betsy

    The other day I was at the table with my 7-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son and the subject of police shootings came up. I think there was a time when I would have been surprised by that statement. I think that time was long ago. In any case, as with many things my husband and I found that to explain anything about the shootings we had to go into a deep dive about systematic racist, the systems in place, and whiteness. My daughter has a killer brain, but in the course of going into the inequ The other day I was at the table with my 7-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son and the subject of police shootings came up. I think there was a time when I would have been surprised by that statement. I think that time was long ago. In any case, as with many things my husband and I found that to explain anything about the shootings we had to go into a deep dive about systematic racist, the systems in place, and whiteness. My daughter has a killer brain, but in the course of going into the inequity of bank loans for white vs. black customers I found myself wanting to bring up the old Eddie Murphy sketch on “Saturday Night Live” called “White Like Me.” That’s the closest I could get to a blueprint of how to explain all this to my kid. And I think that there are a lot of white parents out there these days that, like me, want to do the right thing. We want to teach our children about whiteness but we don’t know where to start. There aren’t a lot of parenting guides out there on the subject. We might be offered an EDI course (Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) through our workplaces but those are for our own education, not specifically that of our children. We can’t look to our own upbringing since the blueprints our parents handed us are woefully out of date. Those old terms of “everyone’s the same beneath the skin” and “melting pot” are beyond outdated, veering into the offensive. I was discussing this with a fellow parent the other day and then we looked at Anastasia Higginbotham’s latest book Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness. It is, quite frankly, the first book I’ve seen to that provides an honest explanation for kids about the state of race in America today. And the parent I was speaking to clearly agreed since he had to physically restrain himself from snatching the book from me and barreling for the nearest exit. The need for this book isn’t just palpable. It’s a drop in a void that’s been left gaping for far too long. Higginbotham’s books are most easily identified by their subject matter. Put simply, the woman makes difficult subjects accessible to young readers. Divorce. Death. Sex. Whiteness. She’s unafraid of these topics. But let us not go around assuming that the subject matter is the reason she’s a great writer. Higginbotham could write about fluffy bunnies frolicking in vast vats of marshmallow fluff and still be as scintillating and on point as she is here because as a writer she treats her readers with a level of respect that feels unique. Look, this book is not the only picture book out there to mention police shootings. Yet in almost every book that talks about racism, the discussion skims along the surface. Their focus is not about why these things happen but rather how we can make our children feel safe in a dangerous world. What puts Higginbotham apart is her willingness to explain to kids, in an abbreviated overview (that in a just world would be worth a writing award right there), the reasons behind it all. In doing so, however, she never loses sight of the fact that the kid reading this book deserves honesty. It’s what she’s always delivered. In a way, it almost feels like her previous books were working up to this one all along. So let’s examine how precisely someone breaks down whiteness for kids. As with her other books, this book is split between a story with characters and a narration that talks directly to the reader. It’s this narration where you’ll find that respect I mentioned earlier. The very first line reads, “When grown-ups try to hide scary things from kids . . .” and you are hooked. It says right off the bat that skin color makes a difference in how you see the world and how the world sees you. So as the white child goes through some rudimentary actions in a typical day, the book is constantly highlighting those moments when whiteness is at work. It also highlights, later on, what’s gone on in the past, both the good and the bad, and what’s going on today. The kid in the story eventually confronts the mom about the fact that the adults aren’t being honest and aren’t trusting the child to learn and understand. At the end of the book you get information about what you can do, done in the style of those Activity pages you'd normally find in the back of more innocuous books. But the Activity being celebrated here is growing justice in yourself. Alongside the image of books we read, “Innocence is overrated. Knowledge is Power. Get some. Grow wise. Make history.” Now my kid is an anxious child. Fortunately, she fights back against that anxiousness. Her natural born curiosity will actually override her anxieties when she wants to make sense of something. And what I found with this book is that Higginbotham does a very good job of making it clear to the young reader that they have a personal stake in all of this. She alternates between cheering them on (“Grow justice inside yourself like a bean sprout in a milk carton”), offering a form of comfort and clarification (“You can be WHITE without signing on to whiteness”), and informing them. And when it comes to the term "whiteness", what this book does particularly well is define the word in such a way that a small child could understand it. The author also pays homage to heroes of the past that have disrupted white supremacy. I was very taken with the mention at the end of Juliette Hampton Morgan. She was a librarian in Montgomery, Alabama who would raise holy hell if a bus driver mistreated a black passenger. This example in the book was a pitch perfect example to my kid of the kind of common decency we aspire to. And what I found as I read the book to my kid was that Higginbotham was able to match my daughter beat for beat. At the exact moment that my daughter said, “Mom, I’m worried,” the text reads, “But connecting means opening. And opening sometimes feels . . . like breaking.” So that when we got to the end where the book declared, “Your history’s not all written yet. What do you want it to say?” she considered the question seriously. No anxiety. Did I have any moments of doubt about reading this book to my kid? I wish I could tell you that I walk through life without succumbing to whiteness at any time, but let’s be honest. The minute I got this book I didn’t immediately show it to my daughter. It’s crazy to think that as an adult I had to read and digest and process the book first, but I did. To some extent I wanted to be able to talk with my kid about every single aspect of this story as it comes up. When you get to the page where it shows how whites have “exploited the love and labor of Black women” you should be able to say what that means. And if you don’t know what that means then you need to educate yourself first and then educate your child. That’s a lot of work, but long gone are the days when being a parent meant phoning in your opinions. But that wasn’t the only reason I didn’t read the book to my daughter immediately. I didn’t hand this book to my kid right away because there’s a page in this book where the text reads, “bang! bang! bang! bang! bang!”, though it doesn’t show any gunplay, and there’s a kid watching a television holding their hands to their head. I honestly wondered for a minute there if it was appropriate to read that to my kid. I realized pretty quickly that she’s seen stuff like this, or heard about it, and keeping this book from her would be the equivalent of the adults on the following page who tell their own child “You don’t need to worry about this. You’re safe. Understand?” Our kids don’t exist in vacuums. And, if they do, then it’s our job to introduce them to the real world before the real world gets first dibs on their education. To bring these images to life, Higginbotham utilizes a collage technique that’s she’s perfected over her previous three books. The images here appear in front of what looks like brown paper bags. Faces and hands are drawn while hair and clothing is collage. Photographs make a regular appearance, many of them seemingly taken from the streets of Brooklyn today. And lest you pooh-pooh her style, I have to say that as an artist, Higginbotham is very good at letting images speak louder than words when the time is right. In one two-page spread a security guard in a store stands between two children. The child on the left is white and looking at bowls. The child on the right is black and doing the same. Guess where the guard's eyes travel. Later at a stoplight the white kid’s mom surreptitiously locks the car doors when a black boy crosses in front of them at an intersection. Once the child starts reading up on whiteness, the art changes. Look at that image of the black nanny dressed in the stars and stripes as she exits the frame with a baby, swaddled in a dollar bill. I was particularly amused later when Andrew Jackson’s face on the $20 appears with evident purpose. At the beginning of this book, Higginbotham quotes a 1993 Toni Morrison interview where she says, “White people have a very, very serious problem, and they should start thinking about what they can do about it . . . Take me out of it.” Now go to your local library. Ask for the books on equity and racism for kids. What you will be given is a pile of books that are metaphors, a bunch that discuss historical inequities, and maybe a couple that want to talk about race today. That last pile is small, and notable for what it does not say. It will not talk about whiteness. Higginbotham is a white author who took Morrison seriously. It’s rare that I read a book for a kid that does something I’ve never seen done before, but I’ve never seen a white author confront white supremacy in a picture book format. And even if this book sells well, I don’t see it inspiring a flood of imitators, because what Higginbotham is doing here is exceedingly difficult. It would have been much easier for her to just write another everything-is-all-right work of comfort, like all the others I’ve seen before. At one point in this book the main character says, “You can’t hide what’s right in front of me.” Put this book in front of a child. Don’t hide it. Talk about it. You’ll come for the subject matter. You’ll stay for the compassion. For ages 6 and up.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Danika at The Lesbrary

    A much-needed resource to teach white children about white supremacy, racism, and police shootings. A quotation from a Toni Morrison interview is included in the book: "White people have a very, very serious problem, and they should start thinking about what they can do about it . . . Take me out of it." Higginbotham teaches that it is white people who need to fight against this system: “You can be WHITE without signing on to whiteness.” She encourages us to grow justice inside us. As for concer A much-needed resource to teach white children about white supremacy, racism, and police shootings. A quotation from a Toni Morrison interview is included in the book: "White people have a very, very serious problem, and they should start thinking about what they can do about it . . . Take me out of it." Higginbotham teaches that it is white people who need to fight against this system: “You can be WHITE without signing on to whiteness.” She encourages us to grow justice inside us. As for concerns that kids are too young to learn about this? She counters this argument with the simple statements "Innocence is overrated. Knowledge is Power. Get some. Grow wise. Make history."

  3. 4 out of 5

    Mary Lee

    This book is the first I've ever seen to take on whiteness and white privilege head on. The story line/information is somewhat scattered and fragmented, but it's a great place to start important conversations.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Val Brown

    My 8-year-old daughter, who has had multiple introductory conversations about race, loved this book. She recorded her own review and recommends it to others.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Shari

    Wow! I spent two decades teaching white children. I thought that I was doing a good job because I exposed them to diverse books and included the history of African Americans, Asians, and Latinos into my lessons. I never once talked to them about their whiteness. I needed this book then.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Taylor Kundel-Gower

    Required reading. "Racism was not your idea. You don't need to defend it."

  7. 4 out of 5

    Panda Incognito

    This book encourages white parents and children to talk about racial dynamics and recognize how they experience privilege in their daily lives, but it is incredibly vague and provides almost no historical context for where racial power dynamics came from. I can't even imagine reading this as a child without a well-informed adult explaining everything. The book is just SO VAGUE. I gritted my teeth through so many of its true assertions, because it gave zero historical context for them, didn't def This book encourages white parents and children to talk about racial dynamics and recognize how they experience privilege in their daily lives, but it is incredibly vague and provides almost no historical context for where racial power dynamics came from. I can't even imagine reading this as a child without a well-informed adult explaining everything. The book is just SO VAGUE. I gritted my teeth through so many of its true assertions, because it gave zero historical context for them, didn't define its terms, and assumed that children who are only just learning about racial issues will have the capacity to interpret social buzzwords and historical issues with minimal context or explanation. You can't throw around terms like "white supremacy" without defining them and expect a child to understand what you're talking about. You can't offhandedly refer to white people profiting from black women's "love and labor" without explaining what this means. This book doesn't even mention slavery or colonialism. I know what the author is talking about, but I'm an adult and a history major. How is some little kid supposed to read this book and walk away more enlightened, instead of utterly confused? Worse, because the book doesn't explain where racism came from or why certain social structures exist, it indicates that racism is an intrinsic fault of white people that must be overcome, rather than a historical, long-running social problem that the powerful feel privileged to ignore. It indicates "you are bad and your people are bad, but if you are willing to stand up for justice, then you are good" without providing any meaningful explanation of how any of these issues ever came to exist or be perpetuated in the first place.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Aolund

    Not My Idea is many things at once. It's an important contribution to a gap in children's literature (i.e. critical books about whiteness and racism aimed at white readers); a strikingly illustrated picture book that is nonetheless unsure of the age of its audience; a less-than-perfectly composed jumble of narrative, philosophical and historical reflection, and call to action. If Not My Idea had stuck more solidly to its narrative component and saved the more philosophical/theoretical elements t Not My Idea is many things at once. It's an important contribution to a gap in children's literature (i.e. critical books about whiteness and racism aimed at white readers); a strikingly illustrated picture book that is nonetheless unsure of the age of its audience; a less-than-perfectly composed jumble of narrative, philosophical and historical reflection, and call to action. If Not My Idea had stuck more solidly to its narrative component and saved the more philosophical/theoretical elements till the end, it would've felt more comprehensible. Indeed, some editing for clarity throughout would have gone a long way in clearing up awkward sentences and somewhat opaque sentiments. This book's heart is in the right place, and after reading many of the other reviews here I believe that children will find this a useful resource for investigating whiteness and white supremacy despite its drawbacks.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Gretchen

    This is an essential book about coming to terms with whiteness, acknowledging privilege, and recognizing that all of us, including white parents, are implicated by systems of oppression that benefit white people and reward us for failing to deal with racism, both internal and external. Past that, this book gives invaluable emotional opportunities directly to children to try to think beyond this inherited paradigm. A complex topic handled deftly is this author's trademark (I love TELL ME ABOUT SE This is an essential book about coming to terms with whiteness, acknowledging privilege, and recognizing that all of us, including white parents, are implicated by systems of oppression that benefit white people and reward us for failing to deal with racism, both internal and external. Past that, this book gives invaluable emotional opportunities directly to children to try to think beyond this inherited paradigm. A complex topic handled deftly is this author's trademark (I love TELL ME ABOUT SEX, GRANDMA so so much), and this book is no exception to her able skills. A great tool for parents, educators, family members, kids that white people need to do work to actively push back against racism—and that work IS possible, even if hard, and crucial.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Emma

    This book absolutely floored me. It is incredible. I'm not even sure if I can write a proper review for it. No, I'm 100% sure that I can't write a review that does this book justice. What a necessary and vital book for children (and their parents!!) to read today. Higginbotham does not shy away from the realities of racism in our society today and she treats children as intelligent and aware beings, capable of making their choices. That being said it is addressed towards slightly older children, This book absolutely floored me. It is incredible. I'm not even sure if I can write a proper review for it. No, I'm 100% sure that I can't write a review that does this book justice. What a necessary and vital book for children (and their parents!!) to read today. Higginbotham does not shy away from the realities of racism in our society today and she treats children as intelligent and aware beings, capable of making their choices. That being said it is addressed towards slightly older children, but this would totally be a great choice for parents who want or need to have this discussion with their children and don't know where to start. Very thought-provoking and well constructed. Also, the illustrations were beautiful and engaging.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Yapha

    I would give this book a million stars if I could. It is such an important message, that racism is not just a problem for the people on the receiving end of injustice, but racism is a White person's problem as well. This is the clearest, simplest, presentation of this I have ever read and every white parent should share it with their children. Speaking truth to power at a level young children can understand. Highly recommended for grades 3 & up, younger if you are ready to have these important c I would give this book a million stars if I could. It is such an important message, that racism is not just a problem for the people on the receiving end of injustice, but racism is a White person's problem as well. This is the clearest, simplest, presentation of this I have ever read and every white parent should share it with their children. Speaking truth to power at a level young children can understand. Highly recommended for grades 3 & up, younger if you are ready to have these important conversations with your children.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    I was a big fan of Anastasia Higginbotham's previous "Ordinary Terrible Things" kids' books about divorce, sex, and death, and this one, if possible, is even better. She is a white author and parent, confronting white supremacy in a picture-book format. The child in the book is told "we don't see color," but learns more about how "skin color makes a difference in how you see the world and how the world sees you." Other white parents would do well to consider this a must-read, especially if they I was a big fan of Anastasia Higginbotham's previous "Ordinary Terrible Things" kids' books about divorce, sex, and death, and this one, if possible, is even better. She is a white author and parent, confronting white supremacy in a picture-book format. The child in the book is told "we don't see color," but learns more about how "skin color makes a difference in how you see the world and how the world sees you." Other white parents would do well to consider this a must-read, especially if they are looking for ways to discuss race with their kids.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Pam

    This author's approach to presenting "ordinary terrible things" to children reminds me of Viggo Mortensen's character in "Captain Fantastic". She has a great deal of respect for the intelligence of children and their ability to understand difficult subjects. She is also very creative in the ways she illustrates her books. This was a positive eye opening experience for this grandmother to read two of her books. Thank you, Anastasia.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Autumn

    -White supremacy is pretend. But the consequences are real. -You can be white without signing on to whiteness. -Innocence is overrated. Knowledge is power. Anastasia Higginbotham and Dottir Press have done it again! Telling the truth to kids who can handle it and need to hear it. I couldn't be happier with this book. Also, I love her art style. How many revolutionary children's books have you made out of brown paper bags, haters?

  15. 4 out of 5

    Marisa

    A no punches pulled, honest look at white privilege and white responsibility. I might buy a copy of this so I have it on hand when H starts asking these questions.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Shannon P

    The theme is one I was all in for and parts of the book had me nodding my head in agreement and saying "Yes, white people! Tell your kids about these things and start thinking about what it's like for people who look different than you do!" The book in it's entirety, though, just felt lacking. It kept feeling like it would get close to making a great point about what racism is or describing some situation so a child would understand it, but then the implied news story or incident would fall flat The theme is one I was all in for and parts of the book had me nodding my head in agreement and saying "Yes, white people! Tell your kids about these things and start thinking about what it's like for people who look different than you do!" The book in it's entirety, though, just felt lacking. It kept feeling like it would get close to making a great point about what racism is or describing some situation so a child would understand it, but then the implied news story or incident would fall flat because of lack of explanation. The book is about how parents can keep kids in the dark about racism and terrible things happening because of it in the world today so they need to speak up and demand to be let in on the conversation, yet this book is hiding many things. Honestly, I wouldn't read this again. I had to fill in so many gaps while reading with my kids that I would've been better off if I just came up with the content myself based on the pics in the book or, idk...um...TALK TO MY KIDS AS THINGS HAPPEN, as well as having ongoing conversations to combat systemic and individual racism. Shouldn't we all be doing this? Shouldn't we help our children to understand what is happening and why when they see or hear bad things? Shouldn't shutting racism down start with white people making sure we aren't creating racists and also trying our hardest to shut down those white supremacist KKK fuckers who already waste too much air and space on this planet?

  17. 5 out of 5

    Irene McHugh

    A teacher at the middle school where I work asked me to purchase this book for our library. I have not read the other books in this series. The mixed media art style certainly kept my attention and I think the middle school students will also enjoy pouring over these pages filled with various textures layered on a brown parchment background. The message that someone can be white without signing on to whiteness resonated with me, especially when I think about middle schoolers. While some may critic A teacher at the middle school where I work asked me to purchase this book for our library. I have not read the other books in this series. The mixed media art style certainly kept my attention and I think the middle school students will also enjoy pouring over these pages filled with various textures layered on a brown parchment background. The message that someone can be white without signing on to whiteness resonated with me, especially when I think about middle schoolers. While some may criticize the lack of detail in this book pertaining to specific events, when I think about how this book may be used with older elementary students and middle schoolers, I think the general circumstances presented allows a parent or teacher to open up a discussion on whiteness, which is the point of the book. The book concludes with a strong call to action for the reader that I hope also inspires the adults reading it. It certainly was a good reminder for me. "A strong internal sense of justice will not fail you - even when a lack of justice in the world does."

  18. 5 out of 5

    Evan

    Outstanding. Uncomfortable. Important.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    Wow. That was gut punching. What an sobering but empowering read.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    “Grow justice inside yourself like a bean sprout in a milk carton. What if it dies? Plant it again. Never stop planting justice.”

  21. 5 out of 5

    Morgan

    A must-read.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Christiana

    A great picture book for readers who care about social justice, whiteness, and knowledge over “innocence.”

  23. 4 out of 5

    Inge

    The message is A+, but the execution is clunky and awkward, making it hard to match up text with illustrations.

  24. 4 out of 5

    June

    I don't know that I would necessarily describe this as a good book, but it is definitely a needed one in these times. It tries to deal honestly, in a child accessible manner, with racism, white privilege and white supremacy. With so many unarmed African American boys and men being shot and killed and black athletes being blacklisted and condemned for trying to bring it to the nation's attention, this is a topic that needs to be discussed and talked about more and this does in a respectful manner I don't know that I would necessarily describe this as a good book, but it is definitely a needed one in these times. It tries to deal honestly, in a child accessible manner, with racism, white privilege and white supremacy. With so many unarmed African American boys and men being shot and killed and black athletes being blacklisted and condemned for trying to bring it to the nation's attention, this is a topic that needs to be discussed and talked about more and this does in a respectful manner for its audience.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jillian Heise

    An important topic to talk to our younger kids about, and this book frames it in an age appropriate way. A useful book to have to start conversations with kids about white privilege.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jae

    Finally, a children's book that names white supremacy and does a good job.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Robbi Caldwell

    I found this one to be a bit more difficult for my kiddos. I appreciate the book’s existence and giving an opportunity for that conversation but, to me, this book wasn’t as clear in explanation as some of the other books in this series. To be fair, these are tough topics and I am grateful they are being tackled in books for kids.

  28. 5 out of 5

    emma

    I do love this. The art is surprising and active and communicates much. The writing, yes. It's necessary, but I did want more. More actionable steps, rather than just, as a white person you can denounce racism. This is great. Necessary, in addition to more resources. Definitely a great, honest conversation starter.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    Part of my work to see, read and discuss things I have not in the past. A book that starts conversations for my children and I.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness is a an important book on a difficult topic. The way it is constructed invites the adults in a child’s life to sit down and read, and have a conversation with the child while reading.

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