The country is in the throes of a nationwide protest against racial injustice and police brutality. As demonstrations and calls for action continue in Boston and beyond, many families are looking for ways to engage and educate even the youngest kids about issues of racism, white privilege, and systemic inequality.
Social justice organizations and libraries have long compiled book lists and other resources for parents and educators on these topics. Here are just a few. All the recommended books listed here are geared toward school-age kids and address themes of equality, diversity and civil rights. There’s so much more out there, so get reading if you haven’t already.
Boston-based social justice initiative Wee the People provides resources for parents raising race-conscious children, in addition to holding a variety of workshops. On May 31, the organization launched Wee Chalk the Walk, a family day of action in response to ongoing profiling, harassment, and violence toward Black individuals by law enforcement. Organizers curated a playlist and reading recommendations to spark uncomfortable conversations between children and their caregivers about race in America:
“Freedom in Congo Square” by Carole Boston Weatherford and R. Gregory Christie: Set in 19th-century New Orleans, the book details the day-to-day life and oppression of enslaved people and the way they congregated in Congo Square every Sunday for some semblance of freedom. Recommended for ages 6-8.
“Ruth and the Green Book” by Calvin Alexander Ramsey: The picture book tells the fictional story of Ruth, a young Black girl traveling with her family in the early 1950s. Suitable for young readers, the story outlines Jim Crow laws and The Green Book’s role in safe travel for Black Americans. Recommended for ages 6-10.
Raising Race Conscious Children is a blog created by educator Sachi Feris to provide child-friendly resources for other teachers and parents. Feris put together a roundup of books mentioned on the blog that explicitly confront race and diversity:
“A is for Activist” by Innosanto Nagara: This ABC book focuses on social justice in many facets including racial justice, LGBTQ+ rights, and environmental consciousness. It introduces children to unapologetic activism and how to use their voices for fairness. Recommended for ages 3 and up.
“Harlem’s Little Blackbird” by Renee Watson and Christian Robinson: Set in the 1920s, the book explores the life of Florence Mills, a Black singer during the Harlem Renaissance. Mills ultimately chose to support all-Black musicals throughout her career, and the book outlines the bigotry and racism in the performance industry. Recommended for ages 3-7.
“Let’s Talk About Race” by Julius Lester with illustrations by Karen Barbour: Western Massachusetts-based author Lester uses his personal experiences to outline the commonalities between every person while acknowledging how racial differences make people unique as well. Recommended for ages 6-10.
“We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song” by Debbie Levy: This picture book offers a historical look at “We Shall Overcome,” a song with roots in American slavery, the civil rights movement, and social justice organizing. Recommended for ages 4-8.
Teaching Tolerance is a nationwide program that provides free educational resources that emphasize social justice and anti-bias. A project from the Southern Poverty Law Center, the organization also parses out grants and releases publications, like a magazine and podcast. Registering to view the site’s ongoing list of student texts is free. Some recommendations from the list here:
“Barracoon: The Story of the Last ‘Black Cargo’” by Zora Neale Hurston: Hurston’s non-fiction book details her conversations in 1927 in Plateau, Alabama with Cudjoe Lewis, the last living survivor of the Atlantic slave trade. The celebrated work was published years after the author’s death. Recommended for grades 6-8.
“Creating a Culture: the Music of Enslaved People” by Rebecca Bodenheimer: This text explores African American culture, traditions, and music after they were brought to America in chains. Recommended for grades 4-7.
“New Girl in School” by Carol Passmore: This story follows a girl who befriends her school’s first African American student after desegregation. Recommended for grades 3-8.
EmbraceRace, founded in 2016, is a multiracial community organization that creates and compiles tools, resources, discussion spaces, and networks for children of color. Here are a just a few of the 31 books they recommend for conversations on race, racism, and resistance:
“Malcolm X: The Little Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X” by Ilyasah Shabazz: Written by Malcolm X’s daughter, this picture book offers a glimpse into the civil rights leader’s childhood — and his penchant for leadership. Recommended for ages 6-10.
“Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation” by Duncan Tonatiuh: This illustrated treasure centers around Sylvia Mendez, an American citizen of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage, who helped end segregation at schools in California 10 years before the landmark case, Brown v. Board of Education. Recommended for ages 6-9.
“Schomburg: The Man Who Built A Library” by Carole Boston Weatherford: Law clerk Arturo Schomburg passionately collected books and art from the African diaspora. When the works overtook his house, he turned to the New York Public Library, where the collection is today. This story is told through illustrations and poems. Recommended for ages 9-12.
“My Hair is a Garden” by Cozbi A. Cabrera: In this book, young Mackenzie turns to her neighbor, Miss Tillie, after being taunted by classmates for her natural Black hair. Recommended for ages 5-8.
The Falmouth Public Library compiled a neat list of books about #blackjoy. The books are available for free to Falmouth residents with a library card, and obviously can be found in other libraries and purchased online. A few of the recommendations here:
“Hey Black Child” by Useni Eugene Perkins: This picture book includes a lyrical poem with illustrations made to inspire young Black children to dream big. Recommended for grades 3-5.
“In Plain Sight: A Game” by Richard Jackson: Every day after school, Sophie helps her Grandpa find items he “lost” in this collection. A tour through daily life, this book draws a connection though generations of Black families. Recommended for grades 3-5.
“Ada Twist, Scientist” by Andrea Beaty: In this book, amateur scientist Ada Twist delves into wild fact-finding missions and experiments to learn the power of thinking and problem-solving. Recommended for grades 3-5.