10 Books To Teach Children About Race And Racism

Here are 10 books to help explain racism and difference to children of all ages. 

As protests over the killing of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor enter a second week, many of us our wondering how to talk about the unrest and the #BlackLivesMatter movement with our children.

We urgently need to keep the conversation about race and racism going, even when it is not in the headlines, and ensure that our children see the importance of fostering a culture where every person feels seen, heard and supported.

Children as young as three are aware of race and skin colour and aren’t afraid to ask questions.

With very young children, we should be discussing difference in a positive way and as our children grow older, we must talk about racism honestly and in an age appropriate fashion, without underestimating their ability to comprehend issues around race and injustice.

As Caryn Park, a professor researching children’s understanding of race an ethnicity at Antioch University in Seattle, remarks in an article in NationalGeographic.com, children as young as three are aware of race and skin colour and aren’t afraid to ask questions.

“Their identities really matter to them, and racial identity is a significant part of their total identity,” she says. “They also understand the power in talking about race and racism, and that when they bring those things up, they can get the attention of grown-ups and other children.”

Here are 10 books to help explain racism and difference to children of all ages.

The Same But Different Too by Karl Newson 

These children and animals are all very different to each other. Some are big, some are small. Some are gentle, some are rough. Everyone is playful, but who’s the best at hiding?

One thing’s certain: they all love a good bedtime story!

The perfect picture book for little ones who are just beginning to make sense of their place in the world.

Happy in Our Skin by Fran Manushkin

Bouquets of babies sweet to hold: cocoa-brown, cinnamon, and honey gold. Ginger-coloured babies, peaches and cream, too – splendid skin for me, splendid skin for you!

A delightfully rhythmical read-aloud text is paired with bright, bustling art from the award-winning Lauren Tobia, illustrator of Anna Hibiscus, in this joyful exploration of the new skin of babyhood.

A wonderful gift book for new mums and toddlers, all children can see themselves, and open their eyes to the world around them, in this sweet, scrumptious celebration of skin in all its many, many, wonderful forms.

An ABC of Equality by Chana Ginelle Ewing

A is for Ability, B is for Belief, C is for Class. All people have the right to be treated fairly, no matter who they are, what they look like or where they come from. An ABC of Equality introduces complicated concepts surrounding social justice to the youngest of children.

My Hair by Hannah Lee

My birthday’s coming up so soon,
I’ll need new clothes to wear.
But most of all, I need to know,
How shall I style my hair?

Joyous and vibrant, this captures perfectly the excitement of getting ready for a celebration, as well as showcasing a dazzling array of intricate hairstyles.

Whoever You Are by Mem Fox

Every day all over the world, children are laughing and crying, playing and learning, eating and sleeping. They may not look the same.

They may not speak the same language. Their lives may be quite different. But inside, they are all alike. Stirring words and bold paintings weave their way around our earth, across cultures and generations.

At a time when, unfortunately, the lessons of tolerance still need to be learned, Whoever You Are urges us to accept our differences, to recognize our similarities, and-most importantly-to rejoice in both.

I Am Not a Number by Lisa Heathfield

Ever since the Traditional party came into power, 15-year-old Ruby’s life has changed for the worse. Everything Ruby and her family and friends celebrate – equal rights for women, freedom of movement, individual expression – are forbidden. And things are getting worse . . .

Soon Ruby and her family find themselves taken to a prison camp far from home with no possessions, food or rights. Each person is allocated a number – Ruby is number 276.

Forced into hard labour, starving and with friends and family going missing every day, Ruby knows she has to escape and let the world know what is happening. She has to somehow cling on to her identity, and fight back. The future depends on it.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs.

The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Now what Starr says could destroy her community. It could also get her killed.

Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl’s struggle for justice.

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold

No matter how you start your day, What you wear when you play, Or if you come from far away, All are welcome here. Follow a group of children through a day in their school, where everyone is welcome.

A school where children in patkas, hijabs, baseball caps and yarmulkes play side by side. A school where students grow and learn from each other’s traditions.

A school where diversity is a strength.

Warm and inspiring, All Are Welcome lets young children know that no matter what, they have a place, they have a space, and they are welcome in their school.

Where Are You From? by Yamile Saied Mendez

This resonant picture book tells the story of one girl who constantly gets asked a simple question that doesn’t have a simple answer. A great conversation starter in the home or classroom—a book to share, in the spirit of I Am Enough by Grace Byers and Keturah A. Bobo.

When a girl is asked where she’s from—where she’s really from—none of her answers seems to be the right one.

Unsure about how to reply, she turns to her loving abuelo for help. He doesn’t give her the response she expects. She gets an even better one.

 

Skin Again by Bell Hooks

Celebrating all that makes us unique and different, Skin Again offers new ways to talk about race and identity.

Race matters, but only so much–what’s most important is who we are on the inside.

Looking beyond skin, going straight to the heart, we find in each other the treasures stored down deep. Learning to cherish those treasures, to be all we imagine.
This award-winning book, with its myriad of faces, introduces a strong message of loving yourself and others that will appeal to parents of our youngest readers.

More from Anna Tyzack

How to make new motherhood easier

Six bewildering weeks after the birth of my first child, a friend recommended...
Read More