Title: Count Me In
Author: Varsha Bajaj
Book Category: Chapter Book
Age Group: Ages 10 and up
Themes: Friendship, Community, Discrimination, Hate-Crime, Inclusion, Anti-Asian Racism, Belonging, Inclusion, Bullying, Islamophobia, Unity, Empathy, Intergenerational Friendships
This is a very important and uplifting story that is told through alternative perspectives of Karina and her neighbour Chris who are two middle school students. Both never thought that they could ever become friends but situations and circumstances bring them together. They both learn that the initial views that they had about each other were incomplete. When they learn more about each other they become really great friends. Then during a walk with Karina's grandfather, they experience a hate crime. Karina's grandfather is targeted because he 'looks Muslim' and South Asian. All of them are distraught at what has happened but grow closer together in solidarity. They learn that they are not alone in calling out this injustice as they see their community rally together, model allyship and belonging for people of all identities. A powerful and captivating book that needs to be read by all who care about building a more inclusive and just world while also exploring the individual and systemic actions that need to be played as we 'build up' after a hate crime.
This lovely book is a must have for all classrooms, libraries and homes! It shows the impact a hate crime can have on the people who have experienced the harm as well as the wider community. It is a very responsive and relevant book for the situations happening in our communities local, broader and globally. This book helps readers make sense of the event that has happened by showing the intricacies of the harm caused. I love that it shows the beauty and strength of the community that comes together to mobilize for change and stands up against this crime. We are often looking for books that can help our children become critically conscious and culturally competent members of their communities and this book provides us with the language to bring these topics in an age appropriate way to our children/students. This book will help children make sense of their own experiences and those of others. Throughout the pages we are provided with a blueprint for what change can look like in a community working collectively to fight any form of racism, discrimination and hate crimes.
This book specifically deals with and targets Anti-Asian Racism. It really compels the readers to think critically about the question, "What does an American (Canadian) look like" and how does that impact one's very real experiences? This book helps us push our own ideas and expands the definitions around creating spaces where all are included and belong. It also shows the intergenerational relationships in a beautiful and sweet way. It touches on the the ideas that the older immigrant generations that came before us often felt they had to stay quiet and simply deal with the injustices they were experienced. This is not to say that they did not fight back in their own ways. However, many from the current generation are focused on creating change and fighting back against injustices in different ways. There is room to even explore the Model Minority Myth and how it impacts people/communities.
I love that this book also teaches children and students about allyship. Allyship in this book is presented as being action based and one of the ways we need to come together as a community. There are many moments and actions that show and model what allyship can look like and this is an important blueprint for children/students. Overall, this is an important and responsive book that shows us how to move towards building bridges of understanding with each other and modelling more compassionate ways forward that center dignity and humanity for all. This book has so much in it that can be discussed and deconstructed with children/students.
"You have to be able to imagine a better world to make it a reality" (Bajaj 82)
"What did you mean when you used the hastag 'Count Me In'? "
"It means that I cannot be quiet anymore. Count on me to speak up." (Bajaj 137)
"We can't stop fighting for good" (Bajaj 150)
"He didn't run. He stood by us" (Bajaj 62)