Voices in Education

18 Children’s Books to Prompt and Further Conversations on Race

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As an educator who specializes in early childhood education, I know that one of the most fundamental and easiest ways to start building social skills and empathy in children is through books.

Being an educator is a huge part of my identity. With that comes the understanding that knowledge is power, and literature helps evolve that knowledge. While my love for books was initially instilled by my parents and grandmother, the appreciation for books on diversity truly developed over the past four years of my teaching career. My classroom consists of a diverse group of children, and my first priority as their teacher is to make them feel safe and welcome in my classroom. In order to create this learning environment, I acknowledge, celebrate and promote diversity -- especially through books.

What about the children? 
In the wake of yet another tragedy, followed by worldwide protests in support of the Black Lives Matter Movement, it is imperative that educators and parents promote images that help prompt conversations of diversity and inclusion. Children are much more observant than we give them credit for. If we want to raise a conscientious generation, one that is anti-racist and pro-justice, we have to expose them to toys, books, museums, and films that align with those ideologies. I’m an educator, but also a Black woman. I realize the importance of representation, not just in the sense of what someone looks like, but representation of different cultures, heritages, and history. The media has been filled with conversations regarding racism and justice, how we as adults have opposing views. Then I thought, “What about the children?” So, I created my Twitter thread, while having my own classroom in mind. My hope is that these books spark honest conversations about differences, and sometimes, the things people face because of those differences.

18 Inspiring Books for the Classroom

1. Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History
Vashti Harrison

An inspirational  book that highlights 40 different Black women in history. For our future young leaders, it features various heroines throughout our history and how they blazed the trail for generations to come.

2. A is for Activist
Innosanto Nagara

This A-Z book is filled with rhymes, alliteration, and imagery that build an anti-racist and inclusive vocabulary. From feminism to LGBT and union rights, perfect for families raising progressive generations to come.

3. The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family
Ibtihaj Muhammad & S. K. Ali (Authors) Hatem Aly (Illustrator)

A beautifully illustrated story about two sisters and the events that unfold on the first day of school when the older sister, Asiya, makes her debut in her hijab. A story of how words can be hurtful, but also the beauty in sibling relationships and self-confidence. The first time I introduced this book to my classroom,  one of my students who is Muslim, wore her hijab to school one day. Naturally, a majority of my other students, curious as ever, asked about it. This book was not only empowering but a relatable teaching-moment for the rest of the class.

4. Hair Love
Matthew A. Cherry (Author) Vashti Harrison (Illustrator)

This story takes an intimate look at a father-daughter relationship, and the beauty behind black hair. Later turned into a short, animated film by Matthew Cherry and  won an Academy Award. An ode to self-love, family bonds, and the kinks and curls of our hair. Given the diversity in my own classroom, I love how this story becomes an ode to young girls and their natural hair. My classroom is full of curls and coils, and this book became a tribute to that beauty.

5. IntersectionAllies: We Make Room for All
Chelsea Johnson, LaToya Council, & Carolyn Choi (Authors) Ashley Seil Smith (Illustrator)

Written by three sociologists, this children’s book reads so fluidly as it celebrates and welcomes all the shapes, sizes, colors, and abilities we come in. An amazing resource to discuss friendship, morality, and justice. Advocating for equality and feminism.

6. Maddi’s Fridge
Lois Brandt (Author) Vin Vogel (Illustrator)

Bursting with colorful, digital illustrations, this book addresses the issues of poverty and childhood hunger through the relationship of two best friends, one – who only has milk in her fridge, and the other – who’s fridge is stocked with options. A difficult conversation, taught in a very compassionate way. This book can spark important discussions about empathy and the power of friendship.

7. When We Were Alone
David A. Robertson (Author) Julie Flett (Illustrator)

Filled with prose and warm colors, this book highlights the relationship between a grandmother and her granddaughter, as they discuss the history of the First Nations’ people and the harm done by residential schools. Continue the dialogue: If you're looking to take the discussion a step further with this book, watch an episode of Molly of Denali about forced assimilation of First Nations and Indigenous people into white culture. 

8. Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X
Ilyasah Shabazz (Author) AG Ford (Illustrator)

A picture book about the Civil Rights activist, Malcolm X. Written by his daughter, this book gives us a unique perspective on what childhood was like for a young Malcolm. Discussing racism, its side effects, and what perseverance and the fight to freedom looked like.

9. Chocolate Milk, Por Favor: Celebrating Diversity with Empathy
Maria Dismondy and  Nancy Raines Day, (Authors) Donna Farrell (Illustrator)

A great story to teach children empathy and the importance of confronting our own prejudice. The story revolves around a little boy, Johnny, who loves school, until Gabe, a boy from Brazil becomes the new student. Johnny’s initial instinct is to reject him, but that becomes challenged when his peers are kind. 

A personal account using this story: I once had a student who was new to the country and was still learning English. I could sense tension between him and some of the other boys (he clearly wanted to play with), the language barrier made it difficult to communicate, and frustration became an easy response. In that moment, this book helped them understand the importance of kindness and patience. 

10. Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement
Carole Boston Weatherford (Author) Ekua Holmes (Illustrator)

Passionate and powerful, this biography celebrates the Civil Rights Activist, Fannie Lou Hamer. Recipient of multiple honors and awards, this is a great nonfiction book to add to your collection to further understanding.

11. Sulwe
Lupita Nyong’o (Author) Vashti Harrison (Illustrator)

Written by admired and Academy award-winning actress, Lupita Nyong’o, this book discusses self-love and the battles it sometimes takes to get there. Through vivid colors, this children’s book revolves around a young girl facing colorism and the pain that comes with it. For more information on colorism and its effects, here’s a resource by the National Conference for Community and Justice: Colorism

12. Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom
Carole Boston Weatherford (Author) Kadir Nelson (Illustrator)

Through faith and guidance, this Caldecott Honor book depicts Harriet Tubman’s escape to freedom. Spirituality and poetry drive this children’s book to offer  insight into slavery and perseverance. 

13. Lailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story
Reem Faruqi (Author) Lea Lyon (Illustrator)

Being a new student is never easy; being a new student who has to fast during lunchtime at school – even harder. A great introduction to Ramadan, and the difficulties some students face when fasting at school, especially for the first time.

14. Happy in Our Skin
Fran Manushkin (Author) Lauren Tobia (Illustrator)

Quite literally, this fun picture book discusses the functions and purpose of our skin, while displaying a wide variety of tones and shades. Celebrating our skin, this easy read is great for the young reader.

15. We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga
Traci Sorell (Author) Frane Lessac (Illustrator)

Celebrating Cherokee culture, this picture book follows a family throughout the year, giving a glimpse into the various ceremonies and festivals that take place throughout the seasons. Teaching valuable history that we don’t often hear about.

16. The Whispering Town
Jennifer Elvgren (Author) Fabio Santomauro (Illustrator)

A children’s book that tells a tale of a Jewish  family’s journey during the Holocaust, and how one community comes together to help their hopeful, safe passage.

17. The Day You Begin
Jacqueline Woodson (Author) Rafael López

It’s the first day of school, and it’s okay to be nervous! This beautiful picture book shows all the worries a child might have when going to a new school and surrounded by new faces. This book takes the time to help encourage children and their self-esteem. 

18. The Boy and the Wall
Youth at Lajee Centre in Aida Refugee Camp (Authors)

A bilingual picture book about a Palestinian boy who has become a refugee. In this book, he recollects “the wall” being built and the unfortunate and sometimes scary circumstances that came with it. Written by young people living in a refugee camp, this text is a necessary read.

To see the full list of the children’s book, check out my Twitter thread.

I tweeted my book thread June 1st, thinking a few of my 300 hundred followers would appreciate it and share. A week later, I was at over 400K likes and 200K retweets, some of which were by celebrities, politicians, and education associations. Since my thread, many have reached out thanking me, saying they’ve been inspired to address these topics with their children. I’ve received a plethora of messages that many of the books I recommended are now sold out or on backorder. It has been a whirlwind. Regardless, I’m appreciative that I was able to go viral with a positive message, one that promotes inclusivity.

Brittany Smith

Brittany Smith Educator wanderingbritt.com Twitter: @wanderingbritt_

My name is Brittany Smith, and I’ve been an educator in New Jersey for the past four years. Recently, I’ve received my TESL certification, which allows me to teach English as a Second Language. In August 2020, I’m expected to earn my Master’s of Education degree in Teacher Leadership. I’m an advocate for children’s rights, and the promotion of inclusion and diversity. In my spare time I enjoy exploring the world, and empowering other women to travel the world solo. In the near future I hope to publish my own set of children’s books. Until then, you can check my website wanderingbritt.com for updates and more information. 

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