Protests over the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor have left us all wondering what we could be doing better. For parents, it can be difficult to foster constructive conversations about race, racism, and protest. Explaining what is happening in the world is a parent’s duty right now. And, doing so responsibly means telling children stories in which black people are the heroes and not merely victims of oppression.
Being honest about the protests and killings in an age-appropriate way is the best way to address the topic with your children. One of the greatest tools to help you do this is a children’s book. Here are 10 children’s books with appropriate ages for each. You’ll also find links to Black-owned bookstores for you to order them from (just click or tap on the title).
by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin
“Something Happened in Our Town follows two families — one White, one Black — as they discuss a police shooting of a Black man in their community. The story aims to answer children’s questions about such traumatic events and to help children identify and counter racial injustice in their own lives.” Ages 4-8.
by Vashti Harrison
“An important book for all ages, Little Leaders educates and inspires as it relates true stories of forty trailblazing Black women in American history. Illuminating text paired with irresistible illustrations bring to life both iconic and lesser-known female figures of Black history such as abolitionist Sojourner Truth, pilot Bessie Coleman, chemist Alice Ball, politician Shirley Chisholm, mathematician Katherine Johnson, poet Maya Angelou, and filmmaker Julie Dash. Among these biographies, readers will find heroes, role models, and everyday women who did extraordinary things — bold women whose actions and beliefs contributed to making the world better for generations of girls and women to come. Whether they were putting pen to paper, soaring through the air, or speaking up for the rights of others, the women profiled in these pages were all taking a stand against a world that didn’t always accept them. The leaders in this book may be little, but they all did something big and amazing, inspiring generations to come.” Ages 8–11.
by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes
“Despite fierce prejudice and abuse, even being beaten to within an inch of her life, Fannie Lou Hamer was a champion of civil rights from the 1950s until her death in 1977. Integral to the Freedom Summer of 1964, Ms. Hamer gave a speech at the Democratic National Convention that, despite President Johnson’s interference, aired on national TV news and spurred the nation to support the Freedom Democrats. Featuring vibrant mixed-media art full of intricate detail, Voice of Freedom celebrates Fannie Lou Hamer’s life and legacy with a message of hope, determination, and strength.” Ages 9-12.
by Ilyasah Shabazz, illustrated by AG Ford
“Malcolm X grew to be one of America’s most influential figures. But first, he was a boy named Malcolm Little. Written by his daughter, this inspiring picture book biography celebrates a vision of freedom and justice. Bolstered by the love and wisdom of his large, warm family, young Malcolm Little was a natural born leader. But when confronted with intolerance and a series of tragedies, Malcolm’s optimism and faith were threatened. He had to learn how to be strong and how to hold on to his individuality. He had to learn self-reliance. Ilyasah Shabazz gives us a unique glimpse into the childhood of her father, Malcolm X, with a lyrical story that carries a message that resonates still today — that we must all strive to live to our highest potential.” Ages 6-10.
by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael López
“A heartening book about finding courage to connect, even when you feel scared and alone. There will be times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you. There are many reasons to feel different. Maybe it’s how you look or talk, or where you’re from; maybe it’s what you eat, or something just as random. It’s not easy to take those first steps into a place where nobody really knows you yet, but somehow you do it. Jacqueline Woodson’s lyrical text and Rafael López’s dazzling art reminds us that we all feel like outsiders sometimes-and how brave it is that we go forth anyway. And that sometimes, when we reach out and begin to share our stories, others will be happy to meet us halfway.” Ages 4–8.
by Ezra Jack Keats
“Winner of the 1963 Caldecott Medal, Ezra Jack Keats’ story of a young boy experiencing the year’s first snowfall has delighted millions of readers. Now, this perennial favorite is accessible to even the youngest child in a durable board book edition. Full-color illustrations.” Ages 0-3.
by Veronic Chambers, illustrated by Paul Ryding
“A perfect tool for young readers as they grow into the leaders of tomorrow, Veronica Chambers’s inspiring collection of profiles—along with Senator Cory Booker’s stirring foreword—will inspire readers of all ages to stand up for what’s right.” Ages 9-12.
by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
“Rashad Butler and Quinn Collins are two young men, one black and one white, whose lives are forever changed by an act of extreme police brutality. Rashad wakes up in a hospital. Quinn saw how he got there. And so did the video camera that taped the cop beating Rashad senseless into the pavement. Thus begins ALL AMERICAN BOYS, written in tandem by two of our great literary talents, Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. The story is told in Rashad and Quinn’s alternating perspectives, as they grapple with the complications that spin out of this violent moment and reverberate in their families, school, and town.” Ages 12+.
by Anastasia Higginbotham
“Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness is a picture book about racism and racial justice, inviting white children and parents to become curious about racism, accept that it’s real, and cultivate justice.” Ages 9-12.
by Nikki Giovanni, illustrated by Bryan Collier
“Fifty years after her refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, city bus, Rosa Parks is still one of the most important figures in the American civil rights movement. This tribute to Rosa Parks is a celebration of her courageous action and the events that followed. Award-winning poet, writer, and activist Nikki Giovanni’s evocative text combines with Bryan Collier’s striking cut-paper images to retell the story of this historic event from a wholly unique and original perspective.” Ages 4–8.
We hope these powerful and inspiring books help you have, what can be, difficult conversations about racism. It’s your responsibility as a parent to educate your children about systemic racism and how it affects people of color in both subtle and tragic ways. Show your kids images of black heroes to let them see themselves or others in positions of power and glory.
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