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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.
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.
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 www.apa.org.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.