Part of a child’s learning and developmental experience also includes navigating the complex and nuanced subject of racism. We all want our children to grow up accepting people for who they are and not because of the color of their skin. But creating a safe and productive environment to discuss racial identity and racism is not the easiest task. Luckily, to support your conversations at home, there are lots of books written to help parents initiate, guide, and answer many questions children might have during the process. Especially for teenagers, reading about a teen protagonist experiencing similar racial issues can be a great touchstone for larger conversations.
Books expose children and teens to new cultures they wouldn’t have experienced otherwise, and examples age-appropriate language adults can use. They also help disprove biased messaging and false information that could lead to unfounded conclusions if left alone. So, here are sixteen books to help you explain racism:
Shades of Black: a Celebration of Our Children by Sandra L. Pinkney
This poetic and photographic exploration of African-American children creates a collection of affirmation and self-love for children. It normalizes varying skin tone colors and hair types which instills acceptance at a young age.
Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o
Did you know Academy Award-winning actress Lupita made a picture book about colorism? This whimsical nighttime adventure with Sulwe captures the intricacies of racial biases for children at a very young age. Preschoolers can recognize they do not look like everyone else, and to ensure it’s not a negative experience Sulwe is the perfect guide to self-acceptance.
The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family by Ibtihaj Muhammad
Ibtihaj Muhammad, the Olympic fencer, teamed up with S. K. Ali to write this heartwarming picture book about a young girl wearing her hijab for the first time. It examples the hurtful words that are said to young girls and help empower them to express themselves freely. It is great for helping your kids understand the importance of hijabs.
Grandpa is Everything Black Bad? By Sandy Lynne Holman
Often, many books, tv shows, movies, etc. depict Black characters as evil and White characters as the hero. In this book, Montsho, an African-American boy, talks with his grandpa about his heritage and the beauty of being Black.
When We Were Alone by David A. Robertson
For another take on a grandparent story, Robertson wrote about a little girl who asks her Cree grandmother why she looks the way she does. The grandmother answers all of her questions by recounting her childhood living in a residential school where her identity was stripped away.
Re-imagined Fairy Tales
We all love classic fairy tale princess stories, but wouldn’t it be nice if the princess looked like your kids? Today, thousands of authors are re-imagining classic fairy tales to incorporate different cultures and highlight BIPOC communities. Some include Rachel Isadora’s Rapunzel, The Korean Cinderella by Shirley Climo, and La Princesa and the Pea by Susan Middleton Elya. Not only do they teach the classic stories of our childhood, but they also help expose children to diversity at a young age in a fun and engaging way.
Enough! 20 Protestors Who Changed America By Emily Easton
This picture book is great for history-buff parents. It covers protests from the Tea Party all the way to Black Lives Matter. While it is a picture book, there is additional biographical information on each individual provided in the back. There is also a forward written by a survivor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school shooting.
Intersection Allies: We Make Room for All by Chelsea Johnson, LaToya Council, and Carolyn Choi
When three women-of-color sociologists come together, they can write a wonderful children’s message about allyship and equality. This picture book is a wonderful introduction to intersectional feminism. It features nine different characters with a wide range of identities that bring personal and collective connections together.
The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas
While George Floyd’s death made headlines in 2020, it was not the first nor last time people of color have been brutalized by police officers. If you are looking for a book to help explain police brutality, then consider picking up this novel by Angie Thomas. It is about a sixteen-year-old girl named Starr Carter who witnesses the death of her best friend by a police officer.
Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan
For an inside look at migrant workers, try reading this novel. Esperanza lived a charmed life in Mexico until tragedy fell and her mother took her to a Mexican farm labor camp in California. Now faced with hard work, the Great Depression, and a labor strike, she must find a way to overcome these new obstacles to save their lives.
Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley
For teens who love romance, murder mysteries, or chemistry, the story of eighteen-year-old Daunis Fontaine will be sure to win their hearts. Danuis suddenly finds herself reluctantly helping an FBI investigation with her knowledge of chemistry and Ojibwe traditional medicine after witnessing a murder. Yet, the more the investigation continues, the more the FBI cares about punishing the offender rather than protecting the victims.
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
If your teens are not big readers, then try this award-winning and New York Times bestselling graphic novel. It combines three stories: Jin, a teen who is the only Chinese-American at his new school, the ancient Chinese fable of the Monkey King, and Chin-Kee the epitome of personifying negative Chinese stereotypes. The three seemingly distinct characters combine in an action-packed climax all while exploring some of the most commonly experienced Chinese-American racial biases.
The Whole Story of Half a Girl by Veera Hiranandani
This novel is about a girl named Sonia Nadhamuni who is half Indian and half Jewish-American. She is transferred to public school after her father loses his job and her new classmates ask questions about her mixed heritage she doesn’t know how to answer. Hiranandani’s writing has been compared to Judy Blume and she has won a Newbery Honor Book Award.
Stamped: Racism, Anti Racism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X Kendi
Different from graphic novels or fiction, this non-fiction book traces the history of implicit and explicit racial ideas. It can explain how racial stereotypes came to be, why certain groups may feel a certain way, and why racism continues today. The novel helps readers identify various forms of racism and how we can work towards an anti-racist future.
This Book is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell
For a more hands-on approach, ties together activism, history, and self-improvement into one. It has 20 activities and personal stories throughout history that inspire learning. Plus, the book provides real-world steps people can do today to stand up to racism and support local communities.
No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row by Susan Kuklin
While the justice system in America may seem like a heavy topic for teenagers, it is vital they understand how capital punishment and inequality go hand-in-hand. Susan Kuklin interviewed real teenagers in America who were on death row. They shared their experiences of life in prison and how they ended up in prison unfiltered. Also consider reading with it The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander.
Teenagers and children are at a time in their lives when information and education can come from all over. If you are concerned about their relationship with technology impacting their lives, then consider connecting with IAW member Sarah Maynard. Sarah is a children’s book author and illustrator, kids yoga instructor, CEO of The Start Effect, chapter president, and mom.
“I wanted to find a way to help build that bridge for people to say this is a communication tool, and how can we help remember that that’s what it is. Because we can get so consumed by all of the things and how do we fit in it, how do we fit our business in it, and how do we find balance?” said Sarah. From starting her business, she learned a lot about herself and how children/teenagers use technology.