It’s important to offer a wide variety of books to our kids, especially diverse books that feature storylines and characters. Diverse books for kids allow them to develop an accepting mindset and create a more inclusive world.
I grew up in the middle of South Minneapolis, not very far from where a majority of the protests are taking place. The schools I attended in Minneapolis are in the same neighborhood where George Floyd was murdered. I still have family that lives blocks from the Third Police Precinct that was burned down. My heart hurts for that community.
But my heart hurts far worse for the Black community that have been treated so poorly in this country for centuries and have been expected to take it. Some will try and say that things are better, that things are equal. They aren’t. Not by a long shot. If you take the time to really listen to the stories from those in the Black community you will begin to understand how skewed everything really is.
I have never once feared for my life or safety when approached by an officer. I don’t worry about my kids wandering to another aisle in a store to look at toys because they might get profiled as a shoplifter. I don’t worry when we go for a walk in the nicer neighborhoods in town because we look “out of place.”
That is white privilege and something I want my kids to understand. I want them to be aware of how easy things are for them and why others don’t have the same peace of mind.
We began explaining what was happening in Minneapolis to our kids not long after it happened. Micah and I were discussing it and they overheard so we talked about it in a very basic but factual way. We wanted them to understand that while most police officers are wonderful people that do their jobs well, there are occasionally some that use their power to hurt people and often the victims of this violence are people of color.
We’ve kept the dialogue going. We’ve talked about segregation and how our neighbors would not have been allowed to be our neighbors during segregation. Or how many of their classmates would not be in school with them. It’s interesting to hear their takes on all of it. But we can’t stop there.
The importance of adding diverse books for kids to our shelves
Conversations are wonderful, but we all know that sometimes kids simply don’t listen to what comes out of their parents’ mouths. I can say “brush your teeth” until I’m blue in the face but suddenly their favorite cartoon character sings a song about it and they can’t wait to use the toothpaste that night.
Reading books about and by people of color adds authenticity to these stories. I haven’t lived their lives so I can’t explain what it feels like to experience blatant racism by teachers, doctors, and others who should be helpers and encouragers. I wasn’t there when a Black person wasn’t allowed to purchase a ticket to a movie or sit in a certain place on the bus so hearing the stories from the actual person is important.
Why should we read books about racism, segregation, and civil rights to our kids?
This is a real and unpleasant part of this country’s history. It started long before we became a nation but that doesn’t mean we should sweep it under the rug as “over and done with.” The last few weeks should show us how far we are from it being “over and done.”
Growing up I remember learning about Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, and others that fought for equality and thinking about far away it seemed. The pictures were in black and white! It’s ancient! All three of them were alive when my parents were alive. It no longer seems like segregated schools and the civil rights marches were ancient history.
Our kids deserve to hear a non-sanitized but still age appropriate version of history. We need to teach them the real stories so they can learn to do better.
Why should we read books about diverse characters and by non-white authors to our kids?
Books can be a mirror or a window. When we only read mirror books we are reading books that reflect our own biases, lifestyle, and perceptions. While there is nothing wrong with reading books that we relate to and feel connected to, we also should be reading books that offer a window into a world outside our own.
There are some incredibly talented authors out there that are not white. I feel like that shouldn’t need to be said, but it’s true. And I’m guilty of falling into this trap! Most of my recent books over the last several years have been from white women. I discovered a few authors I enjoyed through Kindle Unlimited and started reading everything I could by them. I need to do better to diversify my own reading list!
So why is it important? Because they have their own unique voices and stories to share. Sometimes their stories have nothing to do with race, but other times it plays an important role. I want my kids to see that not all stories from people of color are filled with painful moments and if we are only reading books about segregation or racism that is a message I might accidentally send.
Picture Books about Racism, Segregation, and Civil Rights to read with your kids
The week after George Floyd’s death I started looking online for books to read with the kids and compiled a large list. I added as many as I could from our library so the kids and I could get started. I recommend all the books listed and will add a few more at the bottom that I plan to still read but haven’t had a chance to yet.
Not everything pictured is on this list and not everything on this list is in the picture.
The story of the Gwynn Oak Amusement Park in Maryland and how Sharon Langley became the first African American child to ride the merry-go-round after it was desegregated.
An easy reader biography of the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. featuring facts about the Civil Rights movement, glossary of terms, and ideas for how to make a difference.
A picture book version of “Dream Variation,” one of Langston Hughes’ most famous poems. A young boy dreams of a world free from racial prejudice and discrimination after he faces it himself.
A comprehensive but easy to understand introduction to prejudice based on appearance, abilities, behaviors, and more.
The youngest marcher: the story of Audrey Fay Hendricks, a young civil rights activist by Cynthia Levinson
The story of Audrey Fay Hendricks, the youngest known child to ever be arrested for a civil rights protest in Birmingham, Alabama.
Viola Desmond refused to move from the main floor to the balcony at the theater, knowing she was being told to move because she was black. After being arrested and fined she is determined to continue fighting against racial segregation.
A picture book biography of Malcolm Little, written by his daughter that celebrates his natural born leadership, faith, and optimism that made him the leader he became.
Sylvia Mendez, an 8-year-old American citizen of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage became instrumental in the fight against segregated schools in California, years before Brown v. Board of Education.
This book, Separate is never equal: Sylvia Mendez & her family’s fight for desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh, is also available on Kindle Unlimited. Sign up for a free trial here.
Cousins Ella Mae and Charlotte decide to start their own shoe store after learning they cannot try on shoes at the shoe store because they are African American.
Black slaves and free Blacks gathered together on Sunday afternoons at Congo Square on Sunday afternoons, free from oppression.
As a child art was the center of his world and he dreamed of being a famous artist. This picture biography shares the story from childhood to fame of Jean-Michel Basquiat.
While on a road trip to visit her grandma, Ruth and her family must rely on a pamphlet called “The Negro Motorist Green Book” to find places along the way that will serve them.
A rope is passed down through the generations and helps share one African American family’s story of traveling north for better opportunities during the Great Migration.
A lyrical picture book of a little known part of America’s past. Oklahoma territory was open and free to anyone in the 1880’s ready to start a new life.
When a young boy’s older brother joins a gang, he and his mother come up with a plan to save him and reunite their neighborhood.
Books about diverse characters to read with your kids
A child explores the wonders of freshly fallen snow.
The hilarious antics in the life of a toddler.
A grandmother tells her granddaughter of her love for baseball and the day she was able to play in a game, even though she was a girl.
Mimi and her little brother discover a respite from the hot and humid summer in Miami – inside the library!
A fun, rhythmic biography of one of the most famous entertainers of the 1920s-30s, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.
The true story of four black women that used their incredible math skills to help NASA launch men into space.
This book, Hidden Figures: the story of four black women and the space race by Margot Lee Shetterly, is also available on Kindle Unlimited. Sign up for a free trial here.
Based on the story of Mae Jemison, the first African American woman in space.
A rhythmic read-aloud that celebrates the humanity of black boys and how magnificent they feel walking out of the barber shop with a new haircut.
A view of Harlem in the 1970’s through the eyes of a small boy.
A retelling of Little Red Riding Hood with a twist – it’s set in Africa and instead of the Big Bad Wolf, the Very Hungry Lion has it out for Little Red.
A young girl works up the courage to knock on the door of the last castle in town after walking by it over and over.
A celebration of what makes us the same – our hopes, dreams, but also our mistakes and fears. This book aims to teach about having compassion and empathy for others in our world.
The neighborhood monsters won’t let Winifred go to bed. She’s not scared, but she does need her sleep! Find out how she gets rid of the pesky monsters in this cute book!
A young girl expresses her imagination in any way she can – drawing, painting, sculpting, singing, dancing, and building.
Diverse books for older kids
This is not an exhaustive list by any means, these are simply the few books I ended up getting or finding while gathering other books. If you are interested I can try to put together a larger list for middle grade kids.
A look at the story of the Civil Rights protests in 1963 when more than 30 African-American girls between the ages of 11 and 16 were arrested and confined to unsanitary conditions. This book contains historical facts and personal accounts from some of the girls.
Set in the pre-Civil Rights era, this story follows Francie as she waits for the chance to move to Chicago from rural Alabama. During her wait she becomes involved in helping a young black man escape arrest for a crime for which he was framed. Her actions put the entire black community in danger.
In Depression-era Michigan, a young boy tries to track down the man he believes to be his father based on a clue his mother left.
A white boy is forced to become aware of racial discrimination and segregation after an incident at school involving his jacket.
One more thing to remember about reading books about race with your kids
You don’t need to read all of these books in one fell swoop. They don’t need to be the only books on your shelves. Incorporate these stories into your regular reading routine. Incorporate diverse movies, music, and other forms of media into your family on a regular basis rather than doing this as a flash in the pan. By making these stories a regular part of your life you will keep the conversations going, keep learning, and keep moving forward to make changes.