You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P! by Alex Gino may be aimed at middle level students but the complex ideas of family, ability, racism, and police violence are anything but juvenile. Using interwoven story lines, Gino challenges the reader to interrogate their own privilege and explore how they may be contributing to the marginalization of others—even if this was never their intention. This is done in a developmentally appropriate way that becomes the subtext of a heartwarming story.
The main character in the book, Jilly, is a white, middle class girl growing up in Oaktown. She lives with her mother and father, as well as a new baby sister. Her life has been safe and comfortable but as the book progresses, she becomes increasingly aware of how society marginalizes people (including her family and friends) because they are black, deaf, or LGBTQ+. Jilly learns that in order to change things, you have to first understand how you are contributing to the problem.
There are lots of moments that relieve the tension that Gino has created. From peanut butter sandwiches and online fandoms to best friends and silly secret codes, this book strikes the right balance to engage middle level readers (particularly grade 6 and 7) while challenging their thinking. There are many opportunities for mini-lessons, especially on form and text features but also for figurative language and how to use an appendix. It is the perfect book to use for a reading ladder that might also include titles such as Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes and The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas.
There are two sections at the end of the book that are definitely worth exploring with students: The Author’s Note and the Acknowledgements. You might be tempted to overlook them—don’t. Gino uses this as an opportunity to ask forgiveness for sharing the stories of marginalized people through a white protagonist with hearing and explains the reasons behind this choice. They (Gino’s preferred pronoun) also take the opportunity to explain their personal connections to the topics and provide context. I might be tempted to look at these final sections first, as they will help readers build understanding and create anchors prior to engaging in the text. It will provide you with some really interesting mini-lessons as well.
If you are looking for your next quick read-aloud, or simply need a suggestion for students that love realistic fiction, I highly recommend You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P! by Alex Gino.
Elizabeth Andrews is a guest blogger for Margin Notes. She teaches grade 6, 7, and 8 Language Arts, Art, and Music at Chipman Forest Avenue School in Chipman, New Brunswick. She is self-declared nerd and lover of science fiction and fantasy.
“A mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone.” ~ Tyrion Lannister (A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin)