Racism is learned. “We call it a socially transmitted disease: It’s taught, it’s passed down, but the impacts on children and families are significant from a health perspective,” said professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine Maria Trent, PhD, MD, in an interview with The New York Times. And reading at every age is fundamental to a better understanding of race relations in America.
Today, as protests and anguish spread across the country in the aftermath of George Floyd‘s death at the hands of a police officer, the importance of Dr. Trent’s words cannot be understated. White people in this country are long overdue for a reckoning with how to be an ally in the present and future America—without exception of the youngest among us. Below, parents and young people can find anti-racist books for kids to make reading a political exercise.
10 anti-racist books for kids to read about the Black experience
Many anti-racist books for kids are now sold out online, so opt for e-book versions or no-contact pickups from your local bookstores to get your hands on copies of these reads today.
This book, written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Stephen Alcorn, chronicles the lives of pivotal Black historical figures like Harriet Tubman, Shirley Chisholm, and Rosa Parks. It’s available for purchase through Bookshop and Pyramid Books, a Black-owned bookstore in Boynton Beach, Florida.
2. My Hair Is A Garden, $17
Meet McKenzie: A Black girl tormented by her classmates because of her hair. After a particularly grueling day at school, McKenzie visits her neighbor, Miss Tillie, who helps her learn that her hair is gorgeous and caring for it is worthwhile. My hair is a Garden, written and illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera, is available for purchase through Bookshop and Pyramid Books.
3. The Legendary Miss Lena Horne, $18
Lena Horne wanted to be an actress, but as a Black woman, she mostly found herself offered roles as a maid or a mammy. She refused these roles and ultimately became a civil rights leader. The Legendary Miss Lena Horne, written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon, is available for purchase through Bookshop and Black Pearl Books, a Black-owned bookstore in Austin, Texas.
4. I Am Enough, $19
“Black girls are enough” is the ultimate them of this beautiful children’s book. It’s a message that white adolescents need to hear about their Black classmates often. I Am Enough, written by Grace Byers and illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo, is available for purchase through Bookshop and AfriWare Books, a Black-owned bookstore in Maywood, Illinois.
5. The Hate U Give, $19
For high schoolers, Angie Thomas’ National Book Award-nominated work is an absolute must-read. Inside its pages, you’ll find the story of 16-year-old Starr Carter, who walks the precarious line between her Black life at home and the hallways of the white-privileged private school she attends daily. That is, until she witnesses the shooting of her friend Khalil by a police officer. It’s available for purchase through Bookshop and Frugal Bookstore, a Black-owned bookstore in Boston.
6. Daddy, There’s a Noise Outside, $20
Two children wake up when they hear noises in the middle of the night in their neighborhood. As the night wears on, their parents explain to them that their neighbors are protesting about the ongoing maltreatment of Black people by police. Written by Kenneth Braswell and illustrated by Joe Dent and Julie Anderson, Daddy, There’s a Noise Outside is available for purchase through Amazon.
7. THE BOOK ITCH, $18
Illustarated by R. Gregory Christie, Vaunda Micheaux Nelson’s National Memorial African Bookstore (which sold books in Harlem, on Seventh Avenue and later West 125th Street, from 1932 to 1974) acted as a gathering place for black activists like Malcolm X. This story is told through the vantage point of Micheaux’s young son, and includes many of his father’s signature catchphrases on books, including “Don’t get took! Read a book!” It’s available for purchase through Bookshop and Books & Crannies, a Black- and female-owned bookstore in Martinsville, Virginia.
An illustrated Black history that you sadly won’t find taught in schools, Jabari Asim and Lynn Gaines’ encyclopedia includes the stories of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown. Children growing up today should know their stories by heart. It’s available for purchase through Bookshop and Loyalty Bookstore, a Black-owned bookstore in Washington, D.C., and Silver Spring, Maryland.
9. A Good Kind of Trouble, $17
Shayla’s older sister participates in Black Lives Matter protest, but she—for one—doesn’t want to get in trouble. The kids at school tell her she’s “not black enough” and her hands itch at the mere idea of contradicting them. Throughout this middle-grade novel, she comes to realize that she needs to be part of the BLM movement—just like her sister. It’s time to get in trouble. A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée is available for purchase through Semicolon Bookstore, the only Black woman-owned bookstore in Chicago.
10. BROWN GIRL DREAMING, $11
Jacqueline Woodson’s memoir communicates her experience of growing up in South Carolina and Brooklyn in the ’60s and ’70s, barred from her human rights by the Jim Crow laws. The reader follows her through the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power movement in poignant prose. It’s available for purchase through Bookshop and Black Stone Bookstore and Cultural Center, a Black-owned bookstore in Ypsilanti, Michigan.
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