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36 Children’s Books That Build Racial Literacy Without the Overwhelm

Children Books

Lucretia Carter Berry, PhD  •  June, 2023 

Do you find it challenging to discuss the important topic of race/ism with kids? Do you wish there was a comprehensive and impactful way to approach this subject without overwhelming children or ourselves?

Addressing race/ism and other social schisms with children from an early age is crucial for promoting a more inclusive and equitable society. Research has shown that biases can form at a remarkably young age, making it imperative to counteract them early on. Children’s books offer a powerful tool for initiating these conversations, as they captivate children’s attention, provide relatable stories, and model resistance against oppressive beliefs and practices. By using literature to guide discussions, and embracing these critical conversations, we can help children develop empathy, challenge stereotypes, and work towards a future free from racial prejudice.

One fundamental barrier hindering discussions on race and racism with children is the inclination to cover vast complexities and content within limited timeframes. In an effort to be comprehensive and impactful, parents and educators often attempt to address numerous intricate aspects of race and racism simultaneously. This approach, however, overwhelms both the communicator and the child, making it difficult to foster genuine understanding and engagement.

Furthermore, discussions about race and racism frequently occur only after overtly racist incidents transpire. This reactionary approach portrays racism as an isolated event, disregarding its systemic and deeply ingrained nature. Consequently, children perceive racism as a rare occurrence rather than an underlying belief system prevalent in society.

As such, we emphasize gradual learning and growth by advocating for an extended educational process like our Hues of You approach! Our approach offers a structured framework which, like building blocks, starts with an essential foundation and then builds competency without overwhelming learners.

Our Hues of You approach supports parents and educators in their endeavor to foster constructive dialogue that helps children

  • build positive pathways towards understanding and appreciating diversity within humanity enabling them to form inclusive attitudes from an early age,
  • use developmentally appropriate vocabulary necessary to express their thoughts and feelings regarding racial distinctions, enabling them to engage in meaningful conversations while promoting empathy, respect, and understanding,
  • understand key concepts, so that they are equipped with the necessary tools to engage in more nuanced discussions, challenge misconceptions, and combat racial stereotypes,
  • and talk about phenotypic, cultural, ethnic, and racial distinctions without societal stigmas or fear, enabling them to develop a more profound awareness of their own identities and the diverse world around them.

This list and format was curated by our Anti-Bias, Anti-Racism (ABAR) education coaches, Afrika Afeni MillsDr. Tehia Starker GlassAmy Ray, and Dr. Lucretia Carter Berry.

1. Normalize healthy language for naming phenotypic characteristics

Race-colorblindness has made us afraid to simply talk about what we and our friends look like. How can we have nuanced conversations about race/ism if we are afraid to even acknowledge differences in our appearances? Start with these books to help build literacy, understanding, appreciation, and confidence for embracing the beautiful distinctions in skin tone, hair type, eye color and more among individuals.

SKIN TONE

Hues of you
Jan to Tamarind

HAIR

2. See, honor, and value differences

Then, read any of these books to help children cultivate a healthy self-image and embrace their unique identities. Building their capacity to appreciate their individual uniqueness will help them value the differences in others.

The Name Jar
Your name is a song
A Different Pond
Different differenter

3. Unpack the rules of race and racism

Finally, reading these books can help children understand that racism is shaped by harmful beliefs and unfair rules, laws, and practices — not just one person being mean to another person because of their skin color, as is commonly taught. Race is not our phenotype. Instead, race/ism is shaped by unfair rules and laws imposed on our phenotype. By age four, children begin to understand the concept of fairness; and reading these books can help substantiate their sense of fairness (i.e. justice) and the importance of standing up for what is right.

Our skin
Race cars
What is racism (stop racism)
Not My Idea
Something happened in our town
Separate is never equal
The Other Side
That Flag
Freedom summer

See how we incorporate these books into lessons and fun, interactive activities in our on-demand b.Kids course, Let’s Learn About:

brownicity kids lets learn about