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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Did you know that Utah has been home to more than 100 movies? Or that Butch Cassidy was born here in Utah? There is lots of Utah history that is often forgotten or unknown. Here are just a few of our books in Special Collections that are about some little known or hidden history of Utah.
During the 1920s Utah experienced a brief, but important, period of Klanscraft, as well as several later revivals. The KKK was seen as both a national patriotic fraternity and a local vigilance committee. When discussing the nature of the KKK in Utah, the author stated, “The Ku Klux Klan exists in Utah today because such manifestations of prejudice fall within the normal range of acceptable behavior and values for too many Utahns. So long as people persist in making arbitrary judgments based solely on color, creed or ethnicity, the Klan or similar organizations will continue to find a niche in society.”
Early pioneer midwives and women doctors made a lasting impact on the West by providing compassionate care from the cradle to the grave. But accounts of these supreme examples of service are rarely told. During the late 19th century, a larger proportion of female physicians were in Utah than anywhere else in the world, except possibly Russia, and Utah’s first hospital and Department of Health were organized and run by female midwives and physicians. Learn about 28 amazing women and the trials they faced and service they provided.
Following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor the U.S. government in the spring of 1942 forced about 110,000 Japanese American from their homes along West Coast. About 7,000 of these people, the majority of whom were American citizens, were moved to an internment camp in Topaz, Utah. Using the interviews of 50 former Topaz residents, newspaper reports, and the archives of the War Relocation Authority, the author shows how relocation shaped the lives of these Japanese Americans and Utah.
Get the inside scoop on low budget movies to some of the most memorable films ever made in this history of moviemaking in Utah. Utah has played host to Kevin Bacon in FOOTLOOSE, Robert Redford in BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, and INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE. Learn about these and other films that showcase Utah’s beautiful scenery in this book of Utah filmmaking. What is your favorite story from Utah history? Share in the comments, and be sure to check out these and other great books in our Special Collections. Source for photo: (https://uvu.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/ProvoLib/id/33)
Often times when I tell people that I participated in an archaeological excavation of Fremont pit houses right here in Provo, they respond with, “What? I didn’t know that Provo had archaeology!” Not only does Provo have archaeology, but much of Utah is full of interesting reminders of the people that were here before us. Our Special Collections room focuses on Provo and Utah history, so it is a great place to find some books on Utah archaeology.
This book is close to my heart since I know some of the people involved in its making. This is the most “archaeological” of the books on this list, meaning that it is a collection of published academic papers on hunter-gatherer sites around Utah Valley. Excavations are at the heart of archaeological research, and these reports include artifacts found, maps of stratigraphy (those layers in the dirt that tell archaeologists a lot), and cool photos and illustrations of artifacts and site maps. There are tables, graphs, and charts, info on burials, and illustrations of stone points and pot sherds found (yes, it’s sherds not shards, but that’s a conversation for another time). It’s neat to browse through site reports like this, but you should always read the summary and conclusions section to get a good overview of what was found at the site during excavation. Just writing about this makes me long for my university days, excavating and writing up reports just like this. Excuse me while I get lost in nostalgia.
Maybe you’ve heard of Nine Mile Canyon? If you haven’t, it’s time for a road trip! The name is a little misleading, as the canyon is actually much longer than nine miles, but its fame is legendary. This area is famous for tons of Fremont rock art in the form of structures and petroglyphs. This is very accessible with not a lot of jargon, and it gives a great little history of the Fremont, what we know of that culture, and then a little about the canyon and surrounding lands. My favorite part of this book? The last half is a guide of the different rock art features throughout the canyon. There are maps, color photos, illustrations, and interpretations of the rock art you’ll see. Ready to drive down to the canyon yet?
Yes, another Fremont book. But Fremont archaeology is Utah archaeology (and the archaeology I’m most familiar with, so there’s that too). This book is a great coffee table book—it’s big, full of gorgeous color photos, and gives just enough info to be informative without going in too deep. And you get to see the really interesting and rare finds, and not just pottery pieces and arrowheads (apologies to those people that spend their lives studying those things. Your work is important).
This is just a sampling of the great info you can get on Utah archaeology and history in our stacks. Ask a librarian about finding these books in Special Collections or on the regular shelves!
If you’re wondering whether your child is old enough to talk about diversity, equality, and racism -- they probably are. Little kids are keen observers and will start to notice and point out differences in people they see around them at a younger age than you might think. As a parent, you can encourage your children to recognize and celebrate differences in others and let them know that they can ask you questions.
Encouraging children to celebrate diversity can start at home, by choosing books written by Black authors featuring Black characters in lots of different settings. It is important for children to be exposed to a wide range of people, experiences, and cultures, and, while every family will handle this topic in their own way, the earlier families start having conversations about race the better. Here are books to help you do just that.
This powerful picture book is an anthem to the courage, strength and triumph of Black Americans throughout history. This evocative book is a celebration of how far we have come and a reminder of how far we still have left to go. This powerful text is matched with gorgeous illustrations against stark white pages. This book was the recipient of the 2020 Caldecott and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Awards as well as a Newbery honoree.
A celebration of the color brown – in all of its many expressions. Never has the color brown seemed more multi-faceted than to hear it described as feathery, amber, radiant, cozy, and thundering. This book is a celebration of inclusivity with illustrations showing girls with a variety of families, and with all shades of brown skin. This celebratory book is filled with expressive, poetic text well-suited for a quiet lap-time read aloud and is a must read for how it makes ordinary things seem magical.
One of the most celebrated books of 2017, this book was a Newbery, Caldecott, and Coretta Scott King honoree for both the text and illustrations. This book portrays a significant moment for a young black boy – visiting the barbershop to have his hair cut. As he sits in his barbershop throne, he is transformed and imbued with self-esteem, self-pride, and all the confidence a fresh cut gives you. For Black boys, this book is an affirmation of their importance. But all readers will benefit from the visual splendor of this triumphant book.
An affirmation that all people, especially children, should hear but too few do. “You matter” is a quiet reminder and a rallying cry in this new picture book that makes use of bright, colorful, wonderfully inclusive cut-paper illustrations -- characteristic of Christian Robinson’s work. Told from the perspective of lots of different people and creatures, the very simple text shows how humanity is connected now, throughout history, and into the future. This is a book that is both simple and sophisticated and will provide an easy opportunity to talk about race, diversity, and the importance of saying “Black Lives Matter” with your children.
This uplifting book explores what it means to be Black for a child. A young Black girl, realizes that though there is no black in the rainbow, being Black is its own rainbow filled with people with different background and lived experiences. Like other books on this list, this story is directed to young readers and is a beautiful celebration of Black culture – sharing the poetry, music, and art of Black Americans and acting as an introduction to Black history as well. The incomparable Ekua Holmes uses stained-glass inspired art featuring Black figures with all shades of Black skin to support Angela Joy’s debut book for children.