10 Children’s Books to Start the Conversation About Race, Equality, and Life in America

With the state of the United States at the current moment, many life-changing events have started to have an impact on the young and impressionable minds of our children. A global pandemic, the election of a new president, the “Black Lives Matter” movement, and discussions around defunding the police are just a few examples of some of the events taking place that are altering life for Americans at the moment. We want to be able to keep our children informed on issues occurring around them everyday in a way that they can understand and learn from. What better way to do that than to provide them with children books that they can read in order to learn about the state of the world. We pulled together a list of  10 children’s books that parents can read with their children in order to start a conversation about race, equality, and the state of the world that they live in

1. “Sulwe” by Lupita Nyong’o – A story about a little girl named Sulwe who was “born the color of midnight.” When she begins to be treated differently because she is darker than everyone in her family, she embarks on a journey through the night sky where she learns how day and night came to be. Throughout the journey she learns about being able to feel beautiful inside and out. Children will learn about colorism and learn to love oneself, no matter what their skin color is or how different it may be from other’s. 

2. The Day You Begin” by Jacqueline Woodson – Walking into a classroom on the first day of school can be a little scary. You may not know anyone and there is a good chance that you are going to be different from the other students in the room. This story teaches children to be confident with who they are as they begin to meet new friends. As they meet people who are different from them, kids who look, eat, dress, act, and worship differently than them, they learn that they live in a world full of many different people who are all beautiful in their own ways. When the children put on a brave face and share their differences with one another, hopefully they will share theirs back.

3. “Let’s Talk About Race” by Julius Lester – This book discusses what makes each person special and how their race is part of the story that makes them special. The stories of us come from our family, our name, what we like and what we don’t like, where we live, and our race and beliefs. Because race isn’t the only thing that makes up our stories – there are many other elements that make us who we are – this book encourages children to look beyond the assumptions of race and skin color (while still remembering that our race is an important part of each person) to discover what other things make people unique and special. This book encourages children to write and think about their own story and the elements that together make them special

4. “Skin Again” by Bell Hooks – “The skin I’m in is not just a covering. It cannot tell my story.” Well our race is important, and we should all love the color of our skin, it’s not the only thing that defines us. This book encourages kids to look beyond the surface, beyond skin color, and explore what is in everyone’s hearts. It teaches kids to find the things that they love deep down in their hearts and learn to cherish them. When we do that, we discover what makes us unique and different and learn to love them. Once we learn to love what makes us different, we can then share them with others so they can learn to love them as well.

5. “Lovely” by Jess Hong – This book celebrates everything that makes us different. Even though we all have differences one thing remains the same, we are all lovely. Filled with bright and colorful illustrations of various kinds of people, this book shows children the diversity and beauty of all races, ethnicities, capabilities, and preferences. No matter how you look, whether you have braces, dark skin, freckles, or need the help of a wheelchair to get around, you are still lovely.

6. “A Girl Like Me” by Angela Johnson – A poem that encourages young children to reject any sort of societal limitations and follow their dreams. Teaches them that no matter what restrictions society has put on someone because of where they come from or how they look, they should never give up. Everyone should embrace and love their individuality and use it to break from those social norms and go for whatever they seek.

7. “Hands Up!” by Breanna J. McDaniel – This book takes the phrase, “Hands up!,” which can have a very negative connotation for people of color and reinvents it in a way that shows how it can positively be a part of a little black girl’s everyday life. Her hands go up to give a high five, reach something from a high shelf, and even when she praises at church. As she grows throughout the story, she learns what other ways her hands might need to go up and eventually joins her family while they lift their hands up all together as a form of resistance and strength during a protest march. Teaches the different connotations of a simple phrase and movement during the time that we currently live in.

8. “We’ve Got the Whole World in Our Hands” by Rafeal Lopez – With rhythmic verses similar to those in a song, this book nods to the lives of all young people. There is a continued emphasis on the phrases “we” and “our” to show that we are all similar and in this together. I Want to let children know that it is best to be inclusive because inclusiveness and unity will bring about diverse friendships from all over the world.  

9. “All the World” by Liz Garton Scanlon – This book follows the day of a family and their friends from morning to night, encapsulating all of the events that occur during their day. It highlights the importance of all things that appear and occur throughout the day no matter how big or small they are. The story shows how even the tiniest of things can influence the outcome of something else and that each moment links up with another to create something large and meaningful throughout the day. Teaches kids that problems and solutions do not just arise, they are created by things going on in the world and mended by those also making a difference in the world.

10. “Mamá the Alien” by René Colato Lainez– This story follows the day of a young girl named Sofia, who embarks on a journey of understanding and discovery when she finds her mother’s old Resident Alien card. While Sofia thinks her mother could be an alien from outer space at first, she learns that it could just mean that she is from another country. This book sheds light on an immigration tale and celebrates the importance of family, no matter where that family comes from. 

What are some of your favorite children’s books? Share with us in the comments below or share via IG Stories and tag @ShaunT

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