Should you teach This Is My America by Kim Johnson?
Read this before you add This Is My America to your classroom library.
What’s it about?
This Is My America centers around Tracy and her family, dealing with her father who is in his last few months on death row, for a crime he didn’t commit. The novel follows as Tracy moves mountains to get help from Innocence X, an organization modeled after Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative, and then her brother goes from having a promising future in track to a thug on the run, accused of murder. Tracy works hard at finding out what happened, and uncovers a dark truth about her town and just why her father ended up on death row.
This Is My America is a lexile level of 640. It’s aimed at 7-9th grades, but I would say the book is more appropriate for 9th and 10th grade students.
How will it speak to students?
This novel will be a logical next read for students who read The Hate U Give. Students will see similar themes and voices in Tracy, Quincy, and Dean. Tracy’s voice is easy to relate to. Author Kim Johnson nailed teenage voice, and many students will resonate with Tracy’s sleuthing and determination to help her brother and father. The recurrent themes of working against seemingly insurmountable systems may also spur conversations or investigative projects on the area students live in, its history, or on ethics and corruptibility.
How does it speak to society?
Without giving too much away, Tracy speaks about people hiding their prejudice behind niceties, Black Lives Matters, and even conducts Know Your Rights workshops for her community members. The novel has arching themes surrounding Black Lives Matter, what it means to be black in an area where most in power are white, and what that means.
The situation in the novel with Jamal can easily be applied to any BIPOC who has been persecuted in the media. For example, when a picture of Jamal holding a red solo cup and holding his middle finger up is used when announcing he is a suspect in a murder crime versus any other photos they used when they featured him as a promising athlete.
How will parents react?
This novel deals with tough themes, like white supremacy and Black Lives Matter. Tracy makes internal commentary on thinly veiled racism, and characters in the novel outright call out people who micro-aggress them. I would caution teachers who may be at a more conservative school to run the title by admin first armed with lesson plans and send out opt-out forms or permission slips to parents. Prepare to potentially answer these questions from admin and parents:
- Why do you intend to teach this novel over others?
- Is there any questionable content in this novel?
- Could you teach your standards with a different novel?
- Is this novel at all related to critical race theory?
And in order, my answer to these questions:
- I personally believe that this novel is unique because it has a direct correlation to Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. You can pair both together to paint a picture of the United State’s prison and judicial system as it pertains to minorities.
- While racism and mentions of white supremacy are in and of themselves abhorrent, there is heterosexual teen love in the form of kissing and alcohol use.
- You could technically cover the standards with any material, but this novel is unique in that it could interest students in community activism and relates to many issues currently on the news.
- No, this novel is not at all related to critical race theory.
Conclusion: Should you teach this is my america?
This Is My America by Kim Johnson is a book that has hard-hitting themes relevant to society today. It should be a part of every school’s repertoire of books, if not outright taught, then as part of a classroom library.
I am the type of teacher where I believe that these hard hitting topics need to be a part of the literature students are exposed to. Students need to be able to read stories that happen around them. By exposing students to these stories, they realize there is an issue, and maybe then start brainstorming solutions. I feel like this is one of those books that will make students question the world we live in, and maybe even motivate some to research and become agents of change.