Children’s Books to Help You Talk to Your Kids About Race and Racism
August 6, 2020
As parents, we strive to raise good humans—kids that spot injustice and stand for equity. But where do we start? The thing is, parents can’t teach anti-racism all by themselves at home. Raising anti-rascist/sexist/ableist humans requires we build empathy in our little ones, and we learn empathy from others and their stories. Diverse children’s books are truly the best tool!
Sometimes we hear parents worry that introducing topics like racism too early might be harmful, but it turns out kids begin noticing race as early as infancy. Studies have found that 6-month-old babies are able to nonverbally categorize people by race, toddlers as young as 2 use race to reason about people’s behaviors and preschoolers express racial bias.
Research has also shown that parents’ silence on racism actually reinforces it. According to a 2019 study, 60 percent of parents rarely or never discuss race, ethnicity or social class with their children. But the study emphasizes that understanding and valuing one’s identity and the identity of others can help kids become more confident and accepting adults.
We’re here to say: It’s not too early to have these conversations with your kids, and it’s critical that we start young if we want to raise a generation of empathetic and anti-racist humans. A great way to kick-off those talks is by reading diverse children’s books. Here are some often-hard-to-find book categories that parents should make sure are represented on your family’s book shelf and incorporated into your regular storytime routine.
Written by Ibram X. Kendi, a best-selling anti-racist author and founding director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University, this board book introduces the youngest readers to the concept and power of anti-racism and offers language parents can use to start conversations around this topic. We are so thrilled he wrote this must-have board book.
Buy it: Anti-Racist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi, $9, Amazon.com
Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness
Written for white families to challenge their white privilege, there is no other children’s picture book like this, and it’s a must-read. It was named one of the School Library Journal’s Best Books of 2018, which called it “a much-needed title that provides a strong foundation for critical discussions of white people and racism, particularly for young audiences.”
Buy it: Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness by Anastasia Higginbotham, $19, DottirPress.com
We Are Little Feminists: Hair
This adorable board book was written to help parents of little ones 0 to 5 start conversations about race and ethnicity. The photos—all of real-life families—highlight all different forms of hair and emphasize the beauty of diversity.
Buy it: We Are Little Feminists: Hair by Little Feminists, $8, LittleFeminist.com
Stunning poetry and illustrations highlight Black history and Black futures in this award-winning children’s book. Understanding Black history is essential to understanding American history, and this book serves as a great tool for acknowledging and celebrating the contributions of African Americans.
Buy it: The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, $11, Amazon.com
Let the Children March
There are a handful of books written about the thousands of African American children that protested (and were assaulted…and arrested) in 1963 inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This one is our favorites.
Buy it: Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson, $15, Amazon.com
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History
This is our favorite anthology of Black female leaders. It introduces young kids to 40 women who changed the world, including pilot Bessie Coleman, chemist Alice Ball, mathematician Katherine Johnson and many more—all heroes and role models who will inspire the next generation.
Buy it: Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison, $11, Amazon.com
Mae Among the Stars
Inspired by Mae Jemison, the first Black American to travel to space, this book encourages everyone to reach for the stars. Reading about Mae’s white teacher who discourages her dreams is the perfect opportunity for families to talk about racism.
Buy it: Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed, $6, Amazon.com
Baby Goes to Market
The routine task of grocery shopping becomes a colorful adventure filled with joy and delicious treats in this board book. Enjoy counting along as Baby and Mama work their way through a bustling West African market together.
Buy it: Baby Goes to Market by Atinuke, $7, Amazon.com
Calling Dr. Zaza
Your family is going to fall in love with Zaza, a strong, spunky Black girl in this adorable series. We picked this board book to highlight because Zaza plays doctor in the story, which leads to lots of fun imaginary play at home.
Buy it: Calling Dr. Zaza by Mylo Freeman, $11, Amazon.com
This is a gorgeous tale by Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o about colorism, self-esteem and loving all of ourselves. Sulwe has darker skin than anyone in her family or school and she yearns to be more like her mother and sister. Ultimately the heartwarming story will inspire kids to embrace their own unique beauty.
Buy it: Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o, $16, Amazon.com
The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family
Hijabi gold-medal Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad brings authenticicity to her own story of wearing hijab at school. The picture book serves up a powerful reminder that something as simple as showing up in the world observing your faith and heritage can require incredible bravery.
Buy it: The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family by Ibtihaj Muhammad, $17, Amazon.com
May We Have Enough to Share
This touching book features gorgeous photos of parents and babies all taken by Indigenous female photographers, alongside expressions of gratitude from author Richard Van Camp for all that surrounds his family.
Buy it: May We Have Enough to Share by Richard Van Camp, $9, Amazon.com
Young Water Protectors: A Story About Standing Rock
Written by a kid (so cool!), this is a powerful first-hand experience of the Standing Rock protests that showcases thriving, present-day Indigenous communities.
Buy it: Young Water Protectors: A Story About Standing Rock by Aslan Tudor, $14, Amazon.com
Want our help curating the best picks for your family? Join Little Feminist book club, which uses the power of diverse children’s books to help families integrate lessons of injustice and fighting for equity into storytime. Use code THEBUMP for 15 percent off any Little Feminist subscription.
LittleFeminist.com is a children’s book and activity subscription that focuses on diversity and gender equality, teaching 0–9-year-old girls and boys (yes, boys can be feminists too!) empathy and perseverance. Books-of-the-month are selected by a team of educators, librarians and parents, who then create discussion questions and a DIY activity to accompany each book. Little Feminist boxes start at $19 a month, and shipping is free. Follow Little Feminist on Instagram and Facebook. Plus, more from The Bump: