As we’ve witnessed over the last few months, racism continues to be an unfortunate and shameful part of our culture. Whether the topic is police shootings of black citizens, immigration reform, or Twitter posts about hair, our children are faced with understanding the complex topic of racism in American.
Whenever I have a tough topic to discuss with my children, I turn to books. Here are eight books for varying ages that will help introduce the topic of racism, educate your child, and facilitate a discussion for your family.
1. The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
I love Curtis’ writing. He is witty and cool in his telling of the Watson’s visit from Flint, Michigan to Birmingham, Alabama. Curtis effectively uses humor to capture the sibling relationship between his protagonist, Kenny, and his brother and sister. Yet Curtis offers a view into the life of an African American family in the 1960’s and the vast difference in living in the north and the south. The book made me laugh and cry. I won’t spoil the plot, but Curtis isn’t subtle in letting Kenny and the Watson family suffer through the Civil Rights Movement. This book is perfect for middle grade readers and will help your children understand the history of racism through the eyes of a child.
2. Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman and Caroline Binch
Amazing Grace offers a more subtle view of racism and sexism. This picture book tells the story of a little girl named Grace that wants to play Peter Pan in the school play. She is told by classmates that she can’t be Peter because she is black and a girl. Grace’s mother and grandmother help her understand that she needn’t limit herself based on what other people say. This is a great book to start the discussion of how racism is systemic yet sometimes subtle in our everyday environments.
3. Champions on the Bench by Carole Boston Weatherford and Leonard Jenkins
This is the perfect book to teach your sports-loving child about racism. This book tells of the 1955 Cannon Street YMCA little league team who was not allowed to play at their state’s tournament because each of the 61 white teams refused to play them. This meant the Cannon Street team could not have a chance to make it to the Little League World Series. This tale of prejudice and disappointment will hit a nerve with your child that will create empathy and understanding for today’s struggle against racism.
4. Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
Esperanza Rising is a upper middle grade novel set in the 1930’s. Esperanza is the daughter of a wealthy Mexican farmer with a privileged life until her father’s death forces her and her mother to flee to America. In order to survive, they become migrate workers enduring long, hard hours of daily physical labor. This heartbreaking story not only offers a view into Esperanza’s struggle with racism but also sexism and classism. This is a wonderful book for older children to better understand how the immigration debate is intertwined with racism and social injustice.
5. This Is the Rope: A Story From the Great Migration by Jacqueline Woodson and James Ransome
This ingenious picture book uses a simple rope to weave the story of a little girl growing up in South Carolina then moving to New York in order to escape her racist surroundings and create more opportunity for her family. Not only is the story a history lesson of the Great Migration, but the illustrations capture the journey beautifully. For older children, I recommend Woodson’s award-winning book, Brown Girl Dreaming.
6. All the Colors We Are: The Story of How We Get Our Skin Color by Katie Kissinger
All the Colors We Are is a bilingual book written in Spanish and English. This non-fiction picture book offers a historical and scientific explanation for various skin colors. This is an excellent choice for children who are asking why people look differently from them. It provides a positive and factual answer.
7. The Colors of Us by Karen Katz
For preschoolers, The Colors of Us, is a great way to help young children learn and feel comfortable talking about the different colors of skin. Katz uses fun pictures and creative descriptions to celebrate the diverse shades of brown skin.
8. Let’s Talk About Race by Julius Lester and Karen Barbour
Lester’s book begins with the words, “I am a story. So are you. So is everyone.” These powerful words are followed by a casual conversation between the author and the reader about each of our uniqueness and how race is a part of each person’s story. Lester sets the stage for a dialogue about race that can continue after the last page is read.
How do you talk about race with your children?
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Featured image via Psychology Benefits