Last month was the release of I Am Alfonso Jones written by Tony Medina and illustrated by Stacey Robinson and John Jennings. In this book, Alfonso Jones can’t wait to play the role of Hamlet in his school’s hip-hop rendition of the classic Shakespearean play. He also wants to let his best friend, Danetta, know how he really feels about her. But as he is buying his first suit, an off-duty police officer mistakes a clothes hanger for a gun, and he shoots Alfonso.
When Alfonso wakes up in the afterlife, he’s on a ghost train guided by well-known victims of police shootings, who teach him what he needs to know about this subterranean spiritual world. Meanwhile, Alfonso’s family and friends struggle with their grief and seek justice for Alfonso in the streets. As they confront their new realities, both Alfonso and those he loves realize the work that lies ahead in the fight for justice.
Accompanying our title is the I Am Alfonso Jones teacher’s guide, which offers resources and tips on how to guide discussions of race, racism, and social justice in the classroom. Our teacher’s guide also features summary and background information, prereading and discussion questions, ideas for reader’s response and writing activities, strategies for ESL/ELL, and interdisciplinary activities and connections. Below we’ve gathered a few prereading questions, discussion questions, activities, and resources from the I Am Alfonso Jones teacher’s guide.
Prereading Focus Questions:
Before introducing this book to students, you may wish to develop background knowledge and promote anticipation by posing questions such as the following:
- How do you define justice? Discuss some examples of the injustices in your community. What do you think racial justice means?
- What is the job of the police? Describe the relationship the police have with the people in your community.
- What do you know about Harlem? The Bronx? Have you been to either of those places? If not, how did you learn about them?
Have students read to find out:
- how I Am Alfonso Jones connects to real-world current events and community issues, nationally or locally
- how the dynamics of race and racism intersect with policing to create problems in the criminal justice system
- the importance of advocacy and activism in solving community problems
After students have read the book, use these or similar questions to generate discussion, enhance comprehension, and develop appreciation for the content. Encourage students to refer to passages and/or illustrations in the book to support their responses.
- Who is Alfonso’s school named after, and what kind of school is it? How is he able to attend school there?
- What are some examples of how the media sought to smear Alfonso’s character?
- What historical connections do Alfonso and his peers make to the crisis of mass incarceration? What class are they in when they have this conversation?
- Describe the conversations Alfonso and his classmates have with their teachers about race and racism. Do you have similar discussions with your peers? In your classes?
- How does Tony Medina draw from recent events and history to build Alfonso’s story? Do you think this story is a realistic portrayal of current events? Why or why not?
- Why do you think the graphic novel format was used to tell this story? What do readers gain by experiencing the story visually as well as through words?
Use some of the following activities to help students integrate their reading experiences with other curriculum areas. These can also be used for extension activities, for advanced readers, and for building a home-school connection.
- Assign students to read The New York Times articles, “Where Fiction and Reality Collide: Books and Black Lives Matter” and “New Crop of Young Adult Novels Explores Race and Police Brutality” and learn about other YA titles that address the theme of racial justice. Have students choose and read one of these titles and then develop an essay comparing it to I Am Alfonso Jones. Their essays should compare and contrast the central ideas of each book and discuss the author’s views on race and police brutality.
- Provide students with a list of the historical and cultural figures referenced in I Am Alfonso Jones: Louis Armstrong, Chuck D, Frederick Douglass, Henry Dumas, Duke Ellington, Ralph Ellison, Adam Clayton Powell, Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X. Have students locate where each figure was referenced in the story and then choose one about whom they would like to learn more. Assign each student to write five research questions about their figure. Allow online and/or library time for students to research the answers to their questions. End by having students introduce their historical/cultural figure to the class.
- Collective action and political protest play an important part in the story of Alfonso Jones. Illustrations throughout the book feature people taking to the street peacefully to have their voices heard. Draw students’ attention to the protest posters and signs in Chapters 16, 54, and 61. Discuss the messages and their impact. Spend time showing students examples of protest signs and art from various social movements. Provide students with time and materials to create their own sign/poster representing a cause they care about. Display the signs in your classroom or hallway.
- Encourage students to watch the book trailer for I Am Alfonso Jones and other examples of student-made book trailers. If the necessary equipment is available at school or in students’ homes, encourage students to record and edit their own book trailers
Here are additional resources for how to teach Black Lives Matter in the classroom:
- The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has a downloadable lesson plan for high school students called, “Black Lives Matter: From Hashtag to Movement.”
- Black Lives Matter Syllabus contains a variety of resources for teachers, including relevant lesson plans, texts, and films.
Here is a list of websites for further information and lesson plans:
- Black Lives Matter Lesson Series (Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility)
- Teaching #BlackLivesMatter (Teaching for Change)
- Teaching About Race, Racism and Police Violence (Teaching Tolerance)
We want to hear how you’ve been using I Am Alfonso Jones in your classroom! Comment below or email our literacy specialist Katie Potter at firstname.lastname@example.org to share any lessons or activities that you’ve done with your students!
Find the complete teacher’s guide for I Am Alfonso Jones here.
Purchase a copy of I Am Alfonso Jones here.
Read the Foreword by Bryan Stevenson, Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of Just Mercy.