Books to help children understand prejudice, racism, and equality
As the world reflects on recent events and the reasons behind the Black Lives Matter movement, it seems an appropriate time to be talking with our children about equality, diversity, and justice (isn’t it always?!). The following ten books feature as Amazon’s best-selling books in the ‘Prejudice and Racism books’ category (September 2020). Our reviews follow Amazon’s age levelling guidance and are sorted by ascending age. We hope you find this useful in finding high-quality texts to help you discuss and explain the complexities of difference with your children. And the overarching simple message that although we’re different, we’re the same (thanks, Sesame Street!)
Antiracist Baby – by Ibram X. Kendi (Author) & Ashley Lukashevsky (Illustrator)
“Antiracist baby is bred, not born. Antiracist baby is raised to make society transform.”
It is never too early to start raising antiracist humans! Written by Ibram X. Kendi (the bestselling author of How to be an Antiracist), this children’s board book serves as a fantastic introduction to antiracism and the concept of creating a just society. Antiracist Baby introduces important language necessary to begin critical conversations. The book is aimed at young readers and brings challenging vocabulary in a playful rhyming way. The complexity of the vocabulary does mean reading it aloud with your child will be a somewhat different experience to that provided by most books for young readers. Be prepared to discuss as you go along – or allow the book to serve to familiarise your child with words that they will only fully understand as they get older. This is one that can be returned to throughout childhood, as understanding of the issue grows along with your child. It is also a valuable resource for parents – doubling as a how to guide for parents wanting to educate themselves alongside their children. Amazon recommends for age 0-3, but this one defies a strict age recommendation.
We’re Different, We’re the Same (Sesame Street) – by Bobbi Kates (Author) & Joe Mathieu (Illustrator)
“Our mouths are different. Our mouths are the same. Their lips form the things we say, and smile when it’s a happy day.”
Elmo and gang do a fantastic job in this highly engaging and heart warming reminder that, while various parts of us look different, they all do the same things. This book is part of the Sesame Street read along series. With videos of the read aloud freely available on YouTube. The illustrations are highly engaging. You will keep your little one engaged for a long time with this one. All the while reinforcing the incredibly important message that both difference and sameness are wonderful. This is recommended for children aged 3-7 years old, although, as with all good kids books, adults will enjoy themselves just as much!
All Are Welcome – Alexandra Penfold & Susan Kaufman
“You have a place here. You have a space here. You are welcome here.”
Following a group of children through their school day. This book is based in the classroom and would be a great one for teachers to establish a welcoming environment. It could also be used at home to educate and reassure children about the forthcoming school year. The fundamental message of this book is that everyone is welcome, loved and appreciated. The vocabulary is simple, rhythmic, and repetitive but the illustrations are rich in details which could open up long conversations about diversity. Amongst others, skin colour, cultural and religious differences, disability, and same-sex parenting are all gently introduced. This is through the illustrations, giving a fantastic opportunity to open conversations with your child. The book has a wonderful celebratory tone and makes it clear that children from all backgrounds. It brings something incredible to the group. Recommended for age 4-8.
The Day You Begin – Jacqueline Woodson (Author) & Rafael López (Illustrator)
“There will be times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you.”
Created by National Book Award winner Jaqueline Woodson and award-winning illustrator Rafael López, The Day You Begin is a fantastic book for children contemplating their own differences. The book has obvious connection to race and skin colour. But could also be used to support any child struggling with or trying to understand more about the difference. The book is fundamentally about finding the courage to connect with others, despite feeling like an outsider. The lyrical text and wonderful illustrations make this an absolute pleasure to read. This is a fantastic text to read with your child just before they start a new year at school. As a class read aloud for teachers at the beginning of the year. Recommended for ages 5-8.
Ron’s Big Mission – by Rose Blue (Author), Corinne Naden (Author), & Don Tate (Illustrator)
“I know how you feel baby,” she said, “but you have to follow the rules.”
“I can’t, Momma,” Ron told her. “It’s wrong. The rules are not fair.”
In this there is a fictionalised retelling of a real incident from the childhood of astronaut Ron McNair. Ron loves going to the library to read books. He tries to find books with people who look like him in them, but in the 1950’s that wasn’t easy. One day, Ron decides that he will take books out from the library for himself. This is despite the rules that segregate him from the library card carrying white people. This is the story of a boy’s simple and peaceful demand for rights. Ron’s big mission to get a library card was the first of many. The last page details Ron McNair’s life after this story took place and is as inspirational as the story itself. Recommended for ages 6-8 in terms of language complexity. Recommended for all ages in terms of importance.
Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation – by Duncan Tonatiuh
“When you fight for justice, others will follow”
This is a informative and inspirational picture book. It tells the story of Sylvia Mendez and her family’s fight to end school segregation. This took place in California in the 1940s. As an American citizen of Mexican heritage, Sylvia was not allowed into the “whites only” school. Her family took action against this unjust system and began the legal battle for integrated schools in Orange County. Their determination and success eventually brought an end to segregated education in California. The narrative is straightforward, and children will be shocked at the injustices it portrays. This is a great book for understanding the history of racism and segregation. Especially through the eyes of a child witnessing it at the time. The artwork in this book is truly unique, using collaged paper, wood, and cloth to create mesmerizing folk-style art, peppered with period details. Recommended for age 6-9.
New Kid – by Jerry Craft (Author, Illustrator)
“Never comfort someone with a lie.’ and ‘You don’t have to like everyone, but you don’t have to be a jerk about it, either.”
Jerry Craft won several awards for this graphic novel. It has been lauded as one of the most important books of 2019 for young teenage readers. The story focusses on the experience of a young man of colour who finds himself thrown into a traditionally white space. As a result, he finds himself torn between two worlds, feeling like he doesn’t quite fit into either. Fearless, funny, and heartbreaking in equal parts, this one is a must-read. The illustrations are expressive and fully support the story of a boy determined to stay true to himself through art, friends and family. Recommended for kids age 8-12 (but parents might want to borrow this one too!)
One Crazy Summer – by Rita Williams-Garcia
“I’ve been fighting for freedom all my life.” But she wasn’t talking about protest signs, standing up to the Man, and knowing your rights. She was talking about her life.”
Set in 1968, this award-winning historical fiction tells the story of three sisters who travel to California to spend the summer with their mother who had abandoned them some years earlier to pursue a radical lifestyle. They go with expectations of Disneyland and instead find themselves at a day camp run by the Black Panthers, a political organization set up to challenge police brutality against the African American community. This story is highly engaging, heart-warming and funny, but it also offers a way into more difficult conversations such as racism and politics, which many teenaged readers will have on their mind. This is after the recent spate of protests in the USA and elsewhere. Recommended for ages 8-12.
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History – by Vashti Harrison
“They’re brave, they’re bold and they changed the world.”
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History was a New York Times instant bestseller, and rightly so. This book is as inspirational as it is educational. It gives the true-life stories of forty inspiring and trailblazing black women. It includes both iconic and lesser known black female figures, including politicians, abolitionists, mathematicians and poets. In the pages of this book, readers will find strong role models and true heroes. They spent their lives making the world a better place. With one full page of text for each bold woman, alongside a full-page illustration for each, this one is appropriate for around age 8 upwards.
Brown girl dreaming – by Jacqueline Woodson
“When there are many worlds you can choose the one you walk into each day.”
Jacqueline Woodson, award winning author, and the 2018-2019 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature shares her childhood experiences. This is through this stunning memoir-in-verse poetry collection. The poems provide rich layered details of the realities of growing up as an African American in the turbulent 1960s and 70s. Woodson’s work is powerful, emotionally charged, and eloquent. Packed with poignant observations and evocative imagery. These poems give us a glimpse into the soul of a child searching for her place in the world. This is a memorable book, with a lot to offer young dreamers, budding writers, and anyone interested in the lived experience of others. Recommended from age ten, up to adulthood. Everyone should read this!
We hope that this list gives you some ideas. AKA how to facilitate conversations about race and equality with your little ones. If you have any other recommendations, please do let us know in the comments below!
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