By Mercedes Villarreal
We all use books to connect and initiate conversations; literature is a great way of introducing and fostering different ideas and experiences. Psychologists, sociologists and educators agree on the importance of early conversations about race. Early conversations will stop students from drawing harmful conclusions while providing them with vocabulary to make sense of what is happening across the world. Having these conversations will also empower students, giving them the ability to discuss and explore their own racial identities.
Here is a list of books that promote a safer, more equitable world. Books on this list may lead to uncomfortable conversations by challenging our privilege and biases while inciting us to be part of the change. Not all books on the list directly relate to race but work to amplify the voices and experiences of minority authors because representation matters. We need to get comfortable talking about race in order to spark reflections, conversations and change.
When reading and having these conversations it's important to remember it is okay to not have all the answers, and that changing our attitudes and beliefs is completely acceptable.
The Day You Begin
By: Jacqueline Woodson
A relatable story about feeling alone that encourages us to embrace our uniqueness and make connections with others. Great read especially for students walking into a new situation.
By: Ibram X. Kendi
This book does a wonderful job of introducing language that will give children the proper vocabulary to start discussing race. AntiRacist Baby, empowers families by expressing both the power and concept of antiracism. Recommended as a tool for initiating conversations about race with your children.
By: Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Grandma’s Purse, is a fun story, written by a black author featuring black characters. While this book does not tackle race directly representation matters. It is important our students see and read stories with diverse characters. Brantley-Newton creates a whimsical and fun story describing everyday objects.
Red: A Crayon's Story
By: Michael Hall
Red: A Crayon's Story uses crayons as characters to talk about identity and labels in a heartwarming creative way. This is a book that will inspire readers to find the courage to be true to themselves.
The Proudest Blue
By: by Ibtihaj Muhammad, with S. K. Ali illustrated by Hatem Aly
The Proudest Blue, is written by Olympic medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad. It tells the story of Faizah and her sister Asiya who wears a hijab to school for the first time. This book highlights the importance of being proud of who you are while giving students tools for dealing with hateful comments.
I Am Enough
By: Grace Byers and Illustrated Keturah A. Bobo
A book that uses positive affirmations to promote self-esteem while respecting and celebrating differences.
Something Happened in Our Town
By: Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins and Ann Hazzard and illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin
This book is recommended to be read by parents first in order to prepare for questions that may come after. A great book for students who have started asking questions, seen media portrayals or heard conversations. The book shows how two different families react to the shooting of a black man. A great tool for helping children make sense of traumatic events.
Sometimes People March
By: Tessa Allen
Sometimes People March does a wonderful job of introducing the concept of protest to young students. The author's words are followed with beautiful drawings, portraying key movements, marches and figures in history. Allen emphasizes the importance of unity, being stronger together and how we can make a difference, in a way that it is understandable to young readers.
Your Name Is a Song
By: Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow and illustrated by Luisa Uribe
Your Name is a Song will empower readers to feel proud of their name and where it comes from while teaching students to respect others. The book celebrates names around the world. A very relatable book as most of us have had our name mispronounced at some point or have mispronounced someone else's.
Separate Is Never Equal
By: Duncan Tonatiuh
This book tells the compelling story of a Mexican-Puerto Rican family’s fight for desegregation in California. Few books tell the story of latinos fighting against racial injustice and this book highlights a family's important contribution towards the Brown v. Board of Education ruling. This book will allow students to view their own race from a different perspective allowing them to further apply that judgment in the fight for racial equality.
Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X
By: Ilyasah Shabazz, illustrated by AG Ford
This biography written by Malcolm X’s daughter is perfectly crafted for young readers. This book deals with themes of self reliance, adversity, family, religion and culture. It is an inspiring book for students, that promotes perseverance and making the world a better place for everyone.
Books by Vashti Harrison
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History features 40 biographies of African American women. Each biography is beautifully crafted, educating and inspiring young and adult readers alike. The book covers women from all walks of life allowing for this book to be relatable to many. Other recommended titles: Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History and Little Dreamers: Visionary Women Around the World. Additionally, Harrison has created toddler adaptations for each of her three books; Think Big Little One, Follow your Dreams Little One and Dream Big Little One, which are highly recommended for preschool readers.
Books by Kwame Alexander
Kwame Alexander is a poet and educator. Crossover is a novel written in verse that follows twelve year old basketball player Josh Bell and his twin brother. This book is an energetic and emotional coming of age novel that will inspire, athletes and poets alike. Describing the role of race in his books, Kwame Alexander states, “I choose to write books about black people where we are normal. I was raised to believe that I deserve to be in a room just like anybody else. I try to write books like that” (Mechanic & Alexander, 2017). Other books by Alexander include, The Undefeated, The Write Thing, Swing and Rebound.
We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices
Edited by: Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson
This book is an anthology of work featuring 50 diverse children's authors and illustrators. The book features poems, essays and letters that will tug at our emotions and encourage us to fight for racial justice.
Fred Korematsu Speaks Up
By: by Laura Atkins and Stan Yogi and Illustrated by: Yutaka Houlette
This is the story of civil rights activist Fred Korematsu and his objection to the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. This book explores themes of discrimination while encouraging readers to fight against social injustice. The book has a unique format as it combines historical information, images, narratives and poetry to portray a young man's brave fight for social justice while using historical data to further help readers understand the political and social climate.
Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down
By: Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by: Brian Pinkey
This non-fiction book takes us back to 1960 and the civil rights movement. It tells David’s, Joseph's, Franklin’s and Ezell’s story and their substantial contribution towards desegregation as the leaders of the Woolworth's lunch counter sit-in.
By: Torrey Maldonado
A modern coming of age story about a biracial boy. What Lane?, follows Stephen, a six grader, as he looks to find his place in the world, while navigating complex relationships with friends and family. This book explores the racial divide in America, social justice, and racial biases in a way that is relatable to young readers.
Alexander, K. (2017). How Kwame Alexander Hooks Kids on Poetry [Interview by
967692531 751758244 M. Mechanic]. Mother Jones, (July/August). Retrieved October 06, 2020, from https://www.motherjones.com/media/2017/07/kwame-alexander-interview-solo-poetry-crossover-1/#comment-container.r.