Kids’ Books to Help With Conversations About Race and Discrimination

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It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.” – Maya Angelou

For a long time, I thought I didn’t need to talk to my kids about race because, frankly, it didn’t come up. We live in a diverse city, and they’ve always made friends with kids from all kinds of backgrounds. But the murder of George Floyd, and its explosive aftermath across our communities, is a stark reminder that we do need to be talking about race with our children. And it’s not easy. Here are some kid’s books I’ve found helpful for sparking conversations around race, racism, and discrimination.

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James – With illustrations that jump off the page, this joyful tribute to barbershop culture has themes of confidence-building and self-esteem.

We Are The Change  – This anthology’s words of inspiration from civil rights leaders jump off the page with the help of vivid illustrations from 16 award-winning children’s book artists.

Dream Big, Little One by Vashti Harrison – A gorgeous board book that showcases women of color who changed the world. It’s never too early for kids to start dreaming.

Just Ask!: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You by Sonia Sotomayor, illustrated by Rafael López – In this picture book celebrating Hispanic heritage, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor uses her experience as a child with diabetes to write a story about kids who face different challenges of various kinds.

Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o – Actress Lupita Nyong’o creates a fanciful and thoughtful story to inspire children to love the skin they’re in and see their own unique beauty.

Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers – A rich diversity of characters come together to remind all readers to be kind to one another and the Earth.

Little Man, Little Man: A Story of Childhood by James Baldwin – Baldwin’s only children’s book centers around a 4-year-old exploring his lively Harlem block in a series of vignettes that share the joys and challenges of the community.

Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano – This beautifully written and illustrated book tackles a difficult subject with grace, helping families share conversations about racism and discrimination.

Hats of Faith by Medeia Cohan, illustrated by Sarah Walsh – A board book with bright images to introduce the youngest readers in your house to shared customs of religious head coverings.

Hair Love
  by Matthew A. Cherry, illustrated by Vashti Harrison – This ode to self-confidence and individuality features a loving relationship between a black father and his daughter.

Zen Shorts by Jon J Muth – Short Buddhist tales provide graceful art and simple stories filled with love and enlightenment. These are valuable lessons for adults and children alike.

Hija (Little One) by Ariel Andrés Almada, illustrated by Sonja Wimmer – A captivating Spanish story with whimsical illustrations to remind all daughters to dream big.

I Have a Dream by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., illustrated by Kadir Nelson – This beautifully illustrated picture book of Martin Luther King’s iconic speech deserves a spot in every child’s library.

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson – A bustling ride on a city bus gives kids the chance to see a compassionate relationship between a boy and his grandmother while exploring themes of inequality.

The Undefeated by  Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson – Winner of the 2020 Caldecott Medal, this illustrated poem is a tribute to black life in the United States.

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold, illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman – Show children that no matter what they are and who they are, they have a place in their school with this warm picture book that celebrates diversity.

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Toby Lowenfels is a writer and mom of three in Nashville. Follow her daily musings at @tobyfels.