July 13, 2018

Oakland librarians have produced a guide to children’s books about the police


The Main Branch of the Oakland Public Library. Via WikiMedia Commons.

In Oakland, a library has put together a guide to evaluating children’s books about the police, Andrew Stelzer reports for KQED. Oakland Public Library children’s collection management librarian Amy Martin spearheaded the project, which questions the portrayal of police officers as “community helpers.” As we know, for too many black and brown children, local police forces have at times been anything but.

The guide helps librarians identify perspectives that might alienate children who have seen police officers arrest friends and family members. It encourages librarians to ask whether books about the police have diverse characters, acknowledge that people of color are treated unfairly by the police, explain the rights that children have when interacting with the police, and talk about “how communities and people develop resilience in ways other than relying on police,” among other ideas.

While writing the guide, the co-authors carried on discussions with children, adult community members, activists, and an officer from the Oakland Police Department.

Martin puts the toolkit to work in a guest post for the blog Reading While White, criticizing I’m Afraid Your Teddy is in Trouble Today, a book in which police officers try to arrest a group of stuffed animals because their neighbor presumably issued a noise complaint. The good-natured officers let Teddy off the hook, but the book doesn’t acknowledge that many encounters with the police don’t end amicably.

Martin and her co-authors admit that there aren’t many children’s books about the police that acknowledge misconduct and racism. Hopefully this will change, and we’ll see more kids’ books that go beyond the inclusion of a few non-white characters and make an effort respond to the needs of children from marginalized communities. Martin writes:

Few books exist now that could serve as “mirrors” for children whose experiences with police have left them feeling intimidated, angry, or fearful. However, the authors of this toolkit are hopeful that the questions we present will help library staff identify the books that serve as “mirrors” as publishers, too, gain awareness of the need for these materials and increase their production.



Ana Espinoza is an intern at Melville House.