Happy Birthday to these Leaders and Dreamers ?? pic.twitter.com/JKskPZ4WRI
— Vashti Harrison (@VashtiHarrison) June 22, 2020
It’s never too soon to begin talking with your child about race.
And it’s never been more imperative for white parents to initiate daily, intentional conversations examining privilege, inequality, systemic racism, and what it truly means to be an ally to people of color.
Unfortunately, younger children are often left out of such conversations, due to the mistaken belief that they are unable to understand concepts like race or discrimination.
According to psychological research, children are able to identify physical differences associated with race and use them to nonverbally categorize people as early as six months of age. By the age of two, toddlers use race as a factor when seeking to explain people’s behavior.
Although race is a social construct, it is clear that children notice differences between people starting at a very early age, and it’s our job as parents to teach them that those differences are to be acknowledged and appreciated, rather than despised or ignored. The way we go about doing that depends, of course, on our child’s age, as the conversation we would have about police brutality with a 16-year-old would be different from what we might say to a six-year-old.
One of the best ways to start such conversations with younger children is through the medium of books.
We’ve known for decades that reading aloud to children is associated with numerous benefits, including increased or strengthened language abilities, early literary skills, concentration, discipline, creativity, school readiness, and overall cognitive development. Reading to your child is also an opportunity to discuss what it means to be anti-racist and to explore specific actions that can be taken to ensure that liberty and justice for all are more than just words mumbled at the start of sporting events.
As a pediatric neuropsychologist and author, I am passionate about two things—child development and books. So, as a way of helping children develop an accurate understanding of race and racial issues in the United States, I have compiled the following reading list—10 books for children under 10 that discuss race, feature a Black character, and/or highlight the achievements of Black people in American history, all written by Black authors.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but is intended to be a starting place from which further exploration and learning can proceed. Book summaries were taken directly from the back cover of the book or from the website where the book can be purchased, as it was important to me to convey the information exactly as the author intended, rather than describing it using my own words.
Ten books for children under 10 that can help our children learn to be anti-racist:
1. Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History 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.”
2. Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o
“A New York Times bestseller! Recipient of a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Award. Recipient of an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Children’s Literary Work. From Academy Award–winning actress Lupita Nyong’o comes a powerful, moving picture book about colorism, self-esteem, and learning that true beauty comes from within.
Sulwe has skin the color of midnight. She is darker than everyone in her family. She is darker than anyone in her school. Sulwe just wants to be beautiful and bright, like her mother and sister. Then a magical journey in the night sky opens her eyes and changes everything.
In this stunning debut picture book, actress Lupita Nyong’o creates a whimsical and heartwarming story to inspire children to see their own unique beauty.”
3. Brown Sugar Babe by Charlotte Watson Sherman
“When a little girl has doubts about the color of her skin, her mother shows her all the wonderful, beautiful things brown can be! This message of self-love and acceptance uses rich, dreamy illustrations to celebrate the color using all the senses: sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing.
“I don’t want to be brown!” says a little girl about her skin. But so many beautiful things in the world are brown—calming beaches, cute animals, elegant violins, and more. Brown is musical. Brown is athletic. Brown is poetic. Brown is powerful! Through lyrical words and stunning illustrations, it soon becomes clear that this brown sugar babe should be proud of the skin she’s in.”
4. A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara
“A is for Activist is an ABC board book written and illustrated for the next generation of progressives: families who want their kids to grow up in a space that is unapologetic about activism, environmental justice, civil rights, LGBTQ rights, and everything else that activists believe in and fight for.
The alliteration, rhyming, and vibrant illustrations make the book exciting for children, while the issues it brings up resonate with their parents’ values of community, equality, and justice. This engaging little book carries huge messages as it inspires hope for the future, and calls children to action while teaching them a love for books.”
5. Happy to be Nappy by bell hooks
“Happy to be nappy!
Happy with hair all short and strong.
Happy with locks that twist and curl.
Just all girl happy!
Happy to be nappy hair!
Legendary author bell hooks and Caldecott Medalist Chris Raschka present a lyrical celebration, brimming with enthusiasm for girls and their hair. Nominated for an NAACP Image Award, this stunning picturebook is now available again in board book form.”
6. Princess Hair by Sharee Miller
“Princesses with curls wear pearls. Princesses with head wraps take long naps. And princesses with teeny-weeny Afros wear teeny-weeny bows.
Celebrate different hair shapes, textures, and styles in this self-affirming picture book! From dreadlocks to blowouts to braids, Princess Hair shines a spotlight on the beauty and diversity of black hair, showing young readers that every kind of hair is princess hair.
Debut author-illustrator Sharee Miller encourages confidence and pride in this playful, colorful picture book that teaches readers to love every bit of themselves.”
7. Anti-Racism Starts With Me! A Coloring Book for Kids by Kadeesha Bryant
“Beautiful hand-drawn illustrations with messages of tolerance and togetherness to help educate and inspire children.
Community educator Kadeesha Bryant has created a unique coloring book that mixes creative fun with powerful messages of hope and understanding. Every page contains hand-drawn illustrations to color as well words of wisdom on overcoming prejudice and bridging divides in our society. Examples include:
- The only thing that should be separated by color is laundry
- Hate causes a lot of problems—but hasn’t solved one
- Strong people stand up for themselves. Stronger people stand up for others
- Judging a person does not define who they are. It defines who you are
- There is one race that matters most. The human race
- People of quality do not fear equality
This anti racist book for kids is designed to help instill hope and humanity through our children. Makes a perfect gift for kids of all ages and parents who want to see a just and tolerant society.”
8. The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander
“Winner of the 2020 Caldecott Medal
A 2020 Newbery Honor Book
Winner of the 2020 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award
The Newbery Award-winning author of THE CROSSOVER pens an ode to black American triumph and tribulation, with art from a two-time Caldecott Honoree.
Originally performed for ESPN’s The Undefeated, this poem is a love letter to black life in the United States. It highlights the unspeakable trauma of slavery, the faith and fire of the civil rights movement, and the grit, passion, and perseverance of some of the world’s greatest heroes. The text is also peppered with references to the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, and others, offering deeper insights into the accomplishments of the past, while bringing stark attention to the endurance and spirit of those surviving and thriving in the present. Robust back matter at the end provides valuable historical context and additional detail for those wishing to learn more.”
9. Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up To Be Malcolm X by Ilyasah Shabazz
“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.
Together with acclaimed illustrator AG Ford, 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.”
10. Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi
“From the National Book Award-winning author of Stamped from the Beginning and How to Be an Antiracist comes a fresh new board book that empowers parents and children to uproot racism in our society and in ourselves.
Take your first steps with Antiracist Baby! Or rather, follow Antiracist Baby’s nine easy steps for building a more equitable world.
With bold art and thoughtful yet playful text, Antiracist Baby introduces the youngest readers and the grown-ups in their lives to the concept and power of antiracism. Providing the language necessary to begin critical conversations at the earliest age, Antiracist Baby is the perfect gift for readers of all ages dedicated to forming a just society.
Raising anti-racist children begins with anti-racist parents, and even the very youngest children can begin learning the truth about racism in American. May we as parents commit to raising children who will become part of the solution, rather than continuing to perpetuate a system of segregation and discrimination that only benefits a select few.”