Books to Help Kids (and Adults) Understand Racism

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Teaching kids about racism can be hard. These books can help.

By chance, several of the books I’ve read recently have had themes dealing with the affects of racism, religious stereotyping, physical disabilities and mental disabilities. They’ve explored the way that knowledge, education and empathy are the key to making the world a better place for everyone.

It is time to change the world. It is time to stand up and not accept the way things have been going any more. It needs to stop. It needs to change. Now.

Below is a list of books for different ages to help kids, teens and adults understand what racism is, and how to build a better, safer, more just America for everyone.

Young Kids:

a kids book about racism by Jelani Memory
A kids book about racism

A Kids Book About Racism by Jelani Memory. This is a very simple book that uses words and phrases a young child can understand, to describe a big concept.
When you don’t know where to start, this is a good option. It’s good for kids as young as 3 or 4 on up.

Early Grades

something happened in our town book

Something Happened in our Town by Marianne Celano and Marietta Collins

This book follows two families — one white, one Black — as they discuss a police shooting of a Black man in their community. The story aims to answer children’s questions about such traumatic events, and to help children identify and counter racial injustice in their own lives. It includes an extensive Note to Parents and Caregivers with guidelines for discussing race and racism with children, child-friendly definitions, and sample dialogues.

Free, downloadable educator materials (including discussion questions) are available at

Upper/Middle Grade

Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor was a book that I read when I was young–and it became one of my favorites. It’s currently on my must-read list for my own kids. The book is about a young African American girl named Cassie and the racism her family deals with in Mississippi during the Great Depression and Jim Crow era. Told from Cassie’s perspective, the reader sees through her eyes what it’s like growing up in that place and time. The injustice and blatant cruelty made a big impact on me as a child, and is especially important now. This is a great book for kids about the detrimental effects of racism.

Understanding the history of racism–systemic and overt–that happened in the past, is critical to ending it now.

kids books about racism

Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli has been on my Reeder Family must-read list for a while, and obviously still is. I can’t remember how many times I’ve read it, but it’s a lot. The study in racism is more subtle in this book, but just as profound. It tells the story of Jeffrey (Maniac) Magee, an orphan who drifts from town to town and settles in Two Mills, Pennsylvania. He is an athletic prodigy, and through is amazing feats may be just the person to integrate his racially segregated town.

Young Adult/Upper Grades

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. This one was a must. This book is powerful in its direct and unflinching call out of racism in America and the consequences of the quick to shoot police that are doing the opposite of protecting people.

To be fully honest and transparent, this book has never been on my reading list. With so many books on my to read list, this one didn’t seem like my kind of book. And it isn’t. But then America very visibly turned upside down and I knew I needed to read it anyway. It still isn’t what I’d usually pick up. It makes me uncomfortable. And that’s why it’s important to keep going. If you’re only going to read one book for kids about racism, make it this one. I had no idea. Now I do. Now I can make different choices.

The official summary:
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr. But what Starr does–or does not–say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

kids books about racism

For Non-fiction read Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You by Jason Reynolds.

This is a rewrite for a younger audience of Dr Ibram X. Kendi’s award winning book Stamped from the Beginning.

This is NOT a history book.
This is a book about the here and now.
A book to help us better understand why we are where we are.
A book about race.

The construct of race has always been used to gain and keep power, to create dynamics that separate and silence. It reveals the history of racist ideas in America, and inspires hope for an antiracist future. It takes you on a race journey from then to now, shows you why we feel how we feel, and why the poison of racism lingers. It also proves that while racist ideas have always been easy to fabricate and distribute, they can also be discredited.

Through a gripping, fast-paced, and energizing narrative written by beloved award-winner Jason Reynolds, this book shines a light on the many insidious forms of racist ideas–and on ways readers can identify and stamp out racist thoughts in their daily lives.


I know I said this was about kids books, but adults need to know these things too. All of the above books are a great place for adults to start. If you want something written specifically for adults you could try Dr. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning. If you have a teen, you could read your versions together and compare notes and have a discussion about them.
Another option is:

So you want to talk about race by Ijeoma Oluo.

This book is illuminating. I had several ah ha moments, so much more understanding, understood previous encounters so much more, and have more courage to have discussions about race

Widespread reporting on aspects of white supremacy–from police brutality to the mass incarceration of Black Americans–has put a media spotlight on racism in our society. Still, it is a difficult subject to talk about. How do you tell your roommate her jokes are racist? Why did your sister-in-law take umbrage when you asked to touch her hair–and how do you make it right? How do you explain white privilege to your white, privileged friend?

In So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo guides readers of all races through subjects ranging from intersectionality and affirmative action to “model minorities” in an attempt to make the seemingly impossible possible: honest conversations about race and racism, and how they infect almost every aspect of American life.

This is not an exhaustive list, of course. It’s just a place to start; but that’s the important part. Starting your kids’ education about racism is critical to being part of the solution to a problem that I’m only just starting to learn about and understand myself.

How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi is powerful. This book changed my entire perspective and given me a profound shift in the way that I view racism, what it is to be racist, and the way that is has permeated our society–which is necessary to begin changing it. I am forever changed for the better.

Official summary:
At it’s core, racism is a powerful system that creates false hierarchies of human value; its warped logic extends beyond race, from the way we regard people of different ethnicities or skin colors to the way we treat people of different sexes, gender identities, and body types. Racism intersects with class and culture and geography and even changes the way we see and value ourselves.

In How to Be an Antiracist, Kendi takes readers through a widening circle of antiracist ideas–from the most basic concepts to visionary possibilites–that will help readers see all forms of racism clearly, understand their posionous consequences, and work to oppose them in our systems and in ourselves. Kendi weaves an electrifying combination of ethics, history, law, and science with his own personal story of awakening to antiracism. This is an essential work for anyone who wants to go beyond the awareness of racism to the next step: contributing to the formation of a just and equitable society.

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Editor’s note: This post has been updated from it’s original.


  1. Linda Egeler | 8th Jun 20

    Such a tough subject to talk about with our kids. I always read and discuss Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry with my 4th graders. I’ve heard good things about The Hate U Give buy haven’t read it. Seems like now is the time!

  2. Yvette | 8th Jun 20

    Awesome suggestions. Every one of these is a good read and worth the time. Thank you!

  3. Danielle Ardizzone | 8th Jun 20

    Very timely suggestions!

  4. Douglas Jasper | 8th Jun 20

    Awesome suggestions. Thank you.

  5. Holly | 8th Jun 20

    Fantastic selections of books that can change a whole generation! Love this!

  6. Tiffany | 8th Jun 20

    These are awesome suggestions. I read “The Hate U give” last summer and a very good read. We have to be more aware and reading is a great way to educate and expose ourselves and continue the dialogue with family and friends.

  7. Lisa Manderino | 8th Jun 20

    I wish our library was open I would go check some of these out!

  8. leeandra | 9th Jun 20

    Great suggestions.

  9. Kendra | 9th Jun 20

    I love that there are such great resources out there for kids to learn more about this topic. Thanks for sharing this!

  10. Debbie | 9th Jun 20

    Thanks for sharing. Understanding what people feel and face goes a long way. Our country sure could use a heart change! Loving everyone like we love ourselves would go even further to heal hurts. People are hurt.

    • Kirsten Reeder | 12th Jun 20

      Yes! It really does…and yes they really are.

  11. Sandi | 9th Jun 20

    We have taken so much out of education that would make us more tolerant of people that are a little different from us. Knowledge is power not censorship.

    • Kirsten Reeder | 12th Jun 20

      Yes! So true. Thanks for sharing that perspective!

  12. Alice | 9th Jun 20

    As a mom of two biracial kids I believe it is important to discuss race at an early age. Thanks for the helpful information.

    • Kirsten Reeder | 12th Jun 20

      Yes, the earlier the better. I think that often parents think that kids won’t understand, but they are often much smarter than we are.

  13. Angela | 9th Jun 20

    Your recommendations on age appropriate books about racism will help this next generation gt off on the right foot!

    • Kirsten Reeder | 12th Jun 20

      I hope so!!!!

  14. Stacey Billingsley | 9th Jun 20

    Great topic! I just ordered The Hate U Give for myself. I plan to add it to my classroom library after I read it. (I teach high school English.) I agree that we need to have these conversations with kids, no matter what the age!

    • Kirsten Reeder | 12th Jun 20

      Thanks Stacey! Oh, that’s a great idea. We do. It’s often so much easier to put off when they aren’t affecting you personally, but that makes it that much more important. =)

  15. hethrn | 10th Jun 20

    Great choices. I am going to look into these for my son.

    • Kirsten Reeder | 12th Jun 20

      Thank you. Let me know what you think after you read them.

  16. Sara | 10th Jun 20

    Thank you for sharing. I just put these books on hold at the library so we can read them.

    • Kirsten Reeder | 12th Jun 20

      Awesome! Let me know what you think!

  17. Heather | 10th Jun 20

    This is such an important post. I have the hate U give on hold for my book club and I am really looking forward to reading it.

    • Kirsten Reeder | 12th Jun 20

      Thanks Heather. I got the audio version and it’s really good so far. Such a different perspective than my own, and important to hear.

  18. Suzan | It's My Sustainable Life | 11th Jun 20

    Wonderful suggestions! I know a few adults who could stand reading them (yes, including the childrens books too)!

    • Kirsten Reeder | 12th Jun 20

      lol, yeah, me too! Maybe they will with enough sharing. =)

  19. Jean | 11th Jun 20

    Thank you for your list. I havv=e added the ones I have not read to my list. The blog I am working on now, hopefully to be posted by this weekend, is based on the book, The Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes. I believe it will compliment your list. Great list!

    • Kirsten Reeder | 12th Jun 20

      Oh, great. I haven’t heard of that one. I’ll have to look into it. Thanks!

  20. Eva Keller | 11th Jun 20

    I like that you separated the books by what is age appropriate.

  21. Andrea | 12th Jun 20

    This is a great list, and so appropriate to address what is happening in the world right now with our kids. I remember reading Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry as a child, but now I want to read it with my girls. Thanks for sharing this!

    • Kirsten Reeder | 12th Jun 20

      Thanks Andrea! I’m excited to read it with my girls this week too. Let me know what they think!

  22. Melissa | 12th Jun 20

    Thank you for these resources! Everyone should have this list available to work on stepping outside of their comfort zone and learning about racism.

  23. Courtney | 12th Jun 20

    It is SO important to talk about these issues early as kids definitely understand more than we think. These are awesome reads, for sure!

  24. Marianne | 13th Jun 20

    Will have to look into which is most age appropriate for my kiddos. Thanks for a great resource on a difficult topic!

  25. Cindy | 15th Jun 20

    What a great list of important books to read. I’m going to find the last two you mentioned for adults.

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