Many children have some level of awareness of race relations in America right now. Maybe they’ve heard things on the radio, glanced at the news at home, or have even had frank discussions with friends and family. As a parent, it can be hard to find the “right” way to explain our country’s history and what is currently happening. These books by authors of color can help begin to teach your child in an age-appropriate way, building understanding and empathy. They are also a great way to initiate important discussions at home. Your public library is an excellent resource to recommend further reading.
“Shades of People” by Shelley Rotner and Sheila M. Kelly
This book for young readers/listeners celebrates the diversity of people and everyday life. It is a good way to begin an age appropriate conversation about the uniqueness of various skin tones.
“Grandpa, Is Everything Black Bad?” by Sandy Lynne Holman
Noticing that the dark night is scary, black cats are bad luck, and there are negative Black stereotypes on television, a young boy asks his grandfather if everything black is bad. Thus begins a discussion of the rich cultural background of the boy’s African heritage.
“Be A King” by Carole Boston Weatherford
A class of young students begins a school project inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and learns to follow his example of dealing with adversity. A great introduction to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., this book encourages young readers to reflect on how they can be “kings,” and how they can make the world a better place.
“Can I Touch Your Hair?” by Irene Latham and Charles Waters
Great for elementary-aged children, the story is told through the voices of a young white girl and a young Black boy who are paired together for a poetry assignment. In this book that will spark important conversations, the children explore race and similarities/differences through their poems.
“A Child’s Introduction to African American History: The Experiences, People, and Events That Shaped Our Country (A Child’s Introduction Series)” by Jabari Asim
A look at heroes, heroines, and critical moments from African American history, from the slave trade to the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Goin’ Someplace Special” by Patricia C. McKissak
In segregated 1950s Nashville, a young African American girl braves a series of indignities and obstacles to get to one of the few integrated places in town, the public library.
“No! My First Book of Protest” by Julie Merberg
This board book introduces famous activists and historic protests through the use of a little one’s favorite word – “No!”
“The Story of Ruby Bridges: Special Anniversary Edition” by Robert Coles
This picture book tells of the bravery of Ruby Bridges, the first African American child to attend and desegregate an all-white Louisiana elementary school.
“Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down” by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Appropriate for elementary-aged readers, this book tells the story of four Black college students staging a peaceful protest by sitting down at a “Whites Only” Woolworth lunch counter.
Elementary and Middle School
“Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History” by Vashti Harrison
This collection highlights 40 notable Black women throughout U.S. history.
“This Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality” by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy
In 1956, fourteen-year-old Jo Ann Allen was one of twelve African American students who integrated a Tennessee high school. When hostility erupted at school and among the townspeople, Jo Ann found herself the spokesperson of the student group. This is the true story of her experience and is a thought-provoking read for tweens and teens.
“Black Lives Matter” by Sue Bradford Edwards and Duchess Harris, JD, PhD
A straightforward history of the current movement up to 2016 and the treatment of African Americans, beginning with slavery, covering reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the civil rights movements of the 1950s and 60s.
Middle and High School
“This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work” by Tiffani Jewell
This book aims to give the reader “the language and ability to understand racism, and a drive to undo it.” Appropriate for middle school and older readers.
“The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas
Recommended for those in grade 8 and up, this novel follows sixteen-year-old Starr Carter, who is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her friend by a police officer. A timely tale, sure to spark discussion.
Alison Bogle is an Austin-based freelance writer and mom of three.