It is so important for young readers to see themselves and their experiences represented in the books they read. But it is just as important for children to read about experiences of people who are different from them. Reading diversely can help readers understand different cultures and challenge their own racial biases.
Still, no one said that these conversations are easy. In our community, many of us are fortunate that we don’t need to think about how our race affects how people see us. It’s easy to want to keep young children innocent from the uglier realities of the world, but often innocence makes children susceptible to misinformation. If you’re struggling to initiate discussions about racism and hate with your children, know that books and media can help. Books can make difficult conversations feel less threatening and are a good way to naturally bring up issues like race and diversity. Here are our recommendations from Black authors to help facilitate those conversations.
By Lupita Nyong’o
Illustrated by Vashti Harrison
Sulwe, whose name means star, has skin the color of midnight. She has the darkest skin in her family and the darkest skin of anyone in her school. She longs to be light and bright like her sister and mother and does everything she can think of to lighten her skin until her mother, and a magical journey into the midnight sky help her see her own brightness. Academy Award winning actress Lupita Nyong’o handles racism and colorism in a picture book begging to be a bedtime read aloud. This book can help facilitate important conversations about systemic racism and how it affects the self-worth of others.
GOING DOWN HOME WITH DADDY
By Kelly Starling Lyons
Illustrated by Daniel Minter
Alan is excited for his family reunion and the chance to see his cousins and great-grandmother, but he’s also hesitant because he knows he’ll have to find a way to contribute to the family celebration. As he spends time with his family and appreciates their property and crops that they own, he realizes that the best tribute he can offer his family is to celebrate their heritage. Gorgeous Caldecott Honor winning illustrations enrich this story about African American history.
THE DAY YOU BEGIN
By Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrated by Rafael Lopez
When a new student, an immigrant from Venezuela, joins Angelina’s class she is keen to show him that he is not the only one who feels like an outsider. Jacqueline Woodson’s poetry reflects the apprehension that kids feel on the first day of school and the joy of a new friendship and is matched by big, bright illustrations filled with flowers and swirling vinery. At the center of the book, Angelina finally sees value in the places she’s visited via books and a rich imagination. This is a great back-to-school book, and a non-didactic message about being kind to classmates who may look or act differently than you.
I AM ENOUGH
By Grace Byers
Illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo
The simple text of this self-affirming picture book begs to be read over and over. The message here is clear and straightforward – no matter who you are or what you look like, you are enough. This book focuses on young girls of every color being celebrated just for being themselves – and insists that what makes girls beautiful is how they are different. This book belongs in the hands of all young readers, but it is an especially good conversation starter for talking about racism.
NANA AKUA GOES TO SCHOOL
By Tricia Elam Walker
Illustrated by April Harrison
Zura loves her grandma, Nana Akua, more than anyone in the whole universe. But she is still not excited to bring her grandmother to school for Grandparents Day. She worries that her classmates or their grandparents might laugh at the marks on Nana Akua’s face – placed there when she was a child to designate her tribal family according to Ghanaian tradition. Nana Akua handles it in stride, explaining to Zura’s classmates the importance of the symbols she wears on her face and inviting the kids and grandparents to choose their own symbols. This wonderfully inclusive book is a bright and heartwarming story of heritage and inclusion. Zura’s diverse classmates are welcoming of Nana Akua’s culture and eager to learn more for themselves – a good model for kids learning to celebrate differences.