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  • Lindsay Weiner

Books that Support Young Children as they Learn About Race

Updated: Jun 18

Books that represent a diversity of characters are essential for parents looking for a place to begin conversations about race with young children. They provide a safe and calm environment to share our observations, thoughts and feelings and to develop our children’s awareness of themselves and others. Books are also an important means of developing empathy in children and a way to help children see themselves and the world around them. There are plenty of children's books which feature main characters who are white; but the publishing world is still catching up to demand for greater diversity in children’s literature. For young children, ages 3-7, the following books feature racially diverse characters and themes, offering a springboard for developmentally appropriate conversations. To help children get the most out of the reading experience, I have included some ideas for activities and conversation starters that I hope are helpful.


*For additional booklists and support, I recommend checking out this article from Embrace Race about choosing great picture books for kids featuring diverse characters and Common Sense Media’s booklist that promotes diversity and inclusion. I also encourage you to follow a wonderful blog and excellent resource for diverse literature called Hereweeread for new additions to your library stack.




For parents looking to diversify their child's bookshelf:

Lola at the Library

Recommended ages: 2-3

As parents it is important to provide diversity as a matter of course and introduce children to stories which feature African-American characters. Lola at the Library and other Lola books provide fun stories for young children.

Conversation Starter:

In what ways is Lola similar to you and your family? What things does she like to do that are similar to you? In what ways is she different?



All the Colors We Are

Kate Kissinger

Recommended Ages: 3-5


At an early age, kids are observant and curious about skin color and are often naturally attracted to science and facts. This is a great opportunity to help kids understand the facts behind skin color and the concept of genetics and melanin. Written in both Spanish and English, this book is a great resource for your child’s bookshelf or classroom.


Conversation Starter: Talk about your ancestors and where they came from: a place with a lot of sun and heat, a little sun/heat, or somewhere in between?


The Colors of Us Karen Katz

Recommended Ages 4-8

Every skin tone is beautiful and The Colors of Us captures this through expressive and poetic language to help children see beauty beyond black and white. Words for skin color include cinnamon, French toast, peanut butter, chocolate brown, peachy, and honey.

Conversation Starter

What color is your skin? I love having children mix paints to find the skin tone they truly are. It provides such a rich opportunity for language and conversation.


Honeysmoke

Monique Fields

Ages 3-6

I love this book about a child who is bi-racial and searching for ‘her color’. Similar to The Colors of Us, Honeysmoke helps us think beyond Black and White, and helps children develop their own language of color and identity.

Conversation Starter:

Another great book to think about Art related activities and the beauty of mixing colors while enabling children to look beyond the labels to help them find the language that best describes who they are.



Saturday

Oge Mora

Recommended Ages 4-8


Saturday is a beautiful story for older readers that features African-American characters.

Conversation Starter:

Everyone feels disappointed. How can you look at the situation differently? How can you help your child ‘see’ another side of the story?


For parents looking to address themes of racism, exclusion and the importance of advocacy:

No Red Monsters Allowed

Liza Alexander

Recommended Ages: 3-5

This book, published close to 30 years ago, still has an important place on bookshelves for young children. Told through characters children love, the story provides an important conversation starter about skin color (or rather fur color) and exclusion.


Conversation Starter: This book lends itself to conversations with young children about excluding others and a chance to pause and think about what decisions they would make if they were in the character’s shoes. It is also a great chance to notice the illustrations to see how the other character might be feeling.


Speak Up Miranda Paul


This book will be released in July and already I can't wait to get it. For a young audience, it looks like a great book to help children think about the importance of speaking up and knowing that their voice is important no matter how big or small.


Conversation Starter:

Acknowledge the times your child speaks up, in both big or small ways. Positive reinforcement nurtures confidence. And allow for time to talk about how it can be hard to speak up but the importance of doing so.


The Other Side,

Jacqueline Woodson.

Recommended Ages 5-8

Jacqueline Woodson is a prolific African-American children’s author. The Other Side is a poignant story about two girls, one black and one white, a fence that separates them, bravery and friendship.

Conversation Starter:

Have you ever been nervous to meet a new person? Why? How did you get over your fear? Depending on the age of your child, you can use this story to begin to talk about segregation in our country and the fear people harbored to let children of different races play together.



A Kids Book About Racism

Jelani Memory

Recommended Ages 4-8

The concept of racism can be a big one for children to understand and a difficult one for parents to broach as we search for developmentally appropriate language. Parents struggle because they have been trying to teach kids that all children should be treated equally and now have to shift the conversation and tell children about the ugly side of racism, rocking the foundation they have tried to create. I love that this book helps us have these conversations. The book creatively uses text and font to further the message of the book.

Conversation Starter:

This book is the conversation starter. Use it to help name and describe the word racism and nurture conversations about what it looks like and sounds like. Use it to talk to your children about your values.


Martin Luther King Jr, Little People Big Dream

Recommended Ages 4-8

For school-aged children, this book helps children learn about the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King’s courage and leadership is an important legacy for all children to know and understand and offers a gateway for conversations about the fight for racial equality.

Conversation Starters:

This book is a great introduction to Martin Luther King Jr’s life and can lead to many early conversations about why we still celebrate his life today.



Enough

20 Protestors Who Changed America

Recommended Ages 5-8

This book was inspired by the young people who protested after the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The book’s rich illustrations are so appealing for children as they learn the concept of a protest and it’s history in our country, beginning with the Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution.

Conversation Starter:

Young children understand the concept of protest and will be drawn to the book’s rich illustrations. Talk to your child about a protest and why someone would be motivated to join or lead one.

 

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