In the wake of the horrible and tragic deaths of black Americans like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, conversations about racism, justice and the Black Lives Matter movement are more important than ever. It’s tough to begin to explain what’s happening in the world—and in the news cycle—in a way that doesn’t scare your children. These books will help you start those important discussions about racism with your kids, no matter their age.
By Shelley Rotner and Sheila M. Kelly
Holiday House, $7.99
Using photographs of diverse children and families at school, the beach, the park and in the city, babies and toddlers can explore physical traits, like skin color, and learn that people come in different shades—even within the same family. This book aims to teach them to look past the obvious and take notice of the people themselves.
By Ibram X. Kendi
Young readers will learn about the concept and power of antiracism through nine easy steps. Using playful words, this board book provides necessary language and scenarios for starting important conversations about equity and justice at an early age.
By Innosanto Nagara
Triangle Square, $11.95
This ABC board book uses alliteration, rhymes and illustrations to make sure topics like civil and LGBTQ rights, environmental justice and activism resonate with the youngest generation. They’ll learn about calls to action and why people value justice, equality and community as they follow a cat through its pages.
By Pat Thomas
Written by a psychotherapist, this story encourages children to be comfortable with and accept friends who have different skin colors and racial characteristics. It also features a how-to guide for parents, a glossary, other suggested readings and resources.
By Lupita Nyong’o
Simon & Schuster, $17.99
Lupita Nyong’o picture book debut tackles self-esteem, colorism and inner strength while following a young girl struggling to find self-acceptance and friendship. Sulwe’s skin is the color of midnight, and she can’t help but notice she has the darkest skin in her family and at her school when her peers nickname her “Blackie,” “Darky” and “Night.”
By Louise Spilsbury
Part of the Children in Our World series, this title explains what racism is: how people are treated differently based on the color of their skin, family background or the country they were born in. This explanation sparks a discussion on prejudice, and asks children to imagine disliking someone before they’ve even met them—and if that’s fair. The series has books that cover poverty and hunger, refugees and migrants and global conflict, too.
By Jerry Craft
Quill Tree Books, $12.99
Winner of the Newbery Medal, Coretta Scott King Author Award and Kirkus Prize for Young Readers’ Literature, this graphic novel follows seventh grader Jordan Banks, who ends up at a prestigious art school known for its academics instead of his dream art school. He’s also one of the few kids of color in his entire grade. Jordan struggles between his new school and its culture and staying true to his dreams and neighborhood friends.
By Laura Atkins
In the 1940s, the US government forced all people with Japanese ancestry to leave their homes and enter internment camps. When Fred Korematsu refused to go, knowing it was discrimination, he was forced into jail for resisting. Fred’s fight encourages social progress and teaches readers that it’s important to speak up when you see injustice.
By Jewell Parker Rhodes
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, $7.49
When 12-year-old Jerome is shot by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real threat, Jerome becomes a ghost. He watches his family and community as they struggle to grieve and find justice for his murder. Then, Jerome meets another ghost named Emmett Till, who helps him understand the history of racism. He also meets Sarah, the daughter of the police officer, as she struggles with the actions of her father.
By Jason Reynolds
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, $18.99
Author Jason Reynolds reimagines Ibram X. Kendi’s National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning to dig into the history of racism in the US and explain how it persists in society, but also how it can be discredited. Readers will learn how to identify and change racist thoughts in everyday lives, plus how to create an antiracist future.
By Angie Thomas
Balzer + Bray, $18.99
Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give (grades 8 and up) is one of those novels that will stand the test of time. Protagonist Starr Carter feels like she’s straddling two different lives: one in the poor neighborhood she calls home, and the other at her fancy prep school. After watching a police officer fatally shoot her friend Khailil, she becomes the only witness in a story that takes the media by storm. Her life, and her community, are in danger. It’s up to her to decide how—and if—she’ll use her voice. Don’t forget to pick up its sequel, On the Come Up.
For more books with characters of color, visit Common Sense Media.
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