Kids and Race Book Club: Something Happened in Our Town and Version Control

By Katharine Strange

One of the questions we commonly get at Kids & Race is how to discuss events like police violence with children. The first time my son asked me about a police shooting, we were driving to preschool listening to a news briefing on NPR. I was caught totally off guard, and stumbled my way through an explanation. It’s a complex topic to break down to the level of a small child: how such a shooting can be a mistake, but also a result of prejudice. We don’t want our children to be afraid of the police, (as unavoidable as that may be for many Black and Brown children) but neither do we want to present a blanket idea of the police as being perfect or above the law.

Which is why Something Happened in Our Town is a very useful book. Targeted at children ages 4-8, it follows a White family and a Black family as they discuss the aftermath of a police shooting of an unarmed Black man in their community. The book is fairly wordy, and I expected my 4 year old to have a hard time paying attention, but he was very curious about it. The authors do a great job discussing the issues around racism and policing, as well as empowering children to do the work of social justice on their playgrounds. The book ends with the little White girl and the little Black boy speaking up to include a new boy named Omad in their soccer game.

Of particular interest to parents will be the eight pages at the end that offer advice from the American Psychological Association on how parents can discuss race and racism with their kids, including sample responses to when children say things like “I don’t want to play with Jada because she’s Black,” or “Sometimes I wish that I was White.” It also includes a list of additional resources for parents and teachers.

Bottom line: This book is a must-read for kids and parents, it offers great examples of how to talk to kids about race.

If some books are candy and some are broccoli, then Version Control is one of those gummy vitamins that you want to eat a whole handful of. Taking place in the near future where humans are on the brink of discovering time travel, this book is in a different vein from what we normally recommend on the Kids & Race blog. It’s not a nonfiction account about race, racism, or parenting, and yet all of these themes are touched upon within the pages of this book, which verges between literary and speculative fiction.

The loudest voices in the literary world tend to be those of White men, who, even when they write about people of color, tend to bring their White Male worldview to the page. At its root, books are empathy machines, which is why it’s important to read authors who bring worldviews different than our own. Characters of color and creators of color are important to our intellectual and emotional lives.

While Version Control is not explicitly about race, race and sex are deftly explored within the novel’s pages. The author, Dexter Palmer, creates a world through his lens as a Black academic (he holds a Ph.D. from Princeton and brought the first conference on video gaming to the school.) This worldview is at play whether Palmer is looking at the politics inside academic laboratories, interracial dating, or the machinations of app developers.

This book is long, and it took some time for me to warm up to it (I read it at the insistence of my husband) but it’s stayed with me. The story unfolds layer upon layer, revealing a picture much larger than the sum of its beautiful little pieces. I’ve been recommending it to anyone within earshot for a few months now.

Bottom Line: Busy parents don’t always have time to read books of 400+ pages, but if you’re looking for a fantastical escape that will also make you think, this book is worth the time investment.