During this time of growing awareness surrounding systemic racism, many parents and educators are searching for resources to share with the children in their lives. It’s critical that we don’t gloss over teaching kids hard and painful truths, and that we point them towards necessary activism to work towards justice. But what’s the best way to teach our kids about racism? How do we find empowering antiracism books for young readers?
The following books are geared towards helping young readers identify and understand racism and bigotry. They offer education that is age-appropriate, honest, informative, and empowering. My hope is that these books will provide you and the young readers in your life with the desire and motivation to seek social justice through learning, growing compassion, and grassroots activism. Let’s get started!
Empowering Antiracism Books for Young Readers
Note: The first few books listed are specifically for babies and toddlers (because it’s never too early to begin the work of teaching racial and social justice!) You’ll then find that the suggestions transition to books for preschoolers and elementary school-aged kids. But please know that ALL of these books contain powerful and essential messages that older kids and adults will benefit from too! And if you’re interested in resources for tweens, be sure to check out these 10 powerful antiracism books for middle schoolers!
by Ibram X. Kendi and Ashley Lukashevsky
Antiracist Baby is the perfect introduction to what it means to be an antiracist. This board book empowers parents and their children to confront racism in our society and also within ourselves. Through colorful art and playfulness, there are 9 specific steps offered to help us build a more fair and just world.
Ibram X. Kendi is the author of the nonfiction books for adults, How to be an Antiracist and Stamped From the Beginning (both of which I highly recommend for adults!) This board book for little ones is set to release on June 16th, 2020.
A great introduction to antiracism, perfect for little ones!
by Mahogany L. Browne and Theodore Taylor
This is an empowering and playful little book celebrating both what it means to be a baby as well as what it means to be woke. Offering hope and justice through activism.
Another fantastic book for littles!
by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman
A warm, welcoming picture book that celebrates diversity and gives encouragement and support to ALL kids.
This inclusive book follows a group of diverse children throughout their school day. The kids wear a variety of clothing; hijabs, yarmulkes, patkas, and baseball caps. They learn about each other’s culture and traditions as everyone gathers together to celebrate the Lunar New Year.
A beautiful reminder of how diversity is beautiful – full of learning and appreciation!
by Emily Easton and Ziyue Chen
People of all different ages and backgrounds have fought for social justice and equal rights in America. These people have shown courage in the midst of terrifying circumstances and have used peaceful protests to make significant and lasting changes.
Also included are short bios about each protester, additional information about the movement each individual was involved in, and which form of protest they used.
A perfect way to encourage and empower young activists.
by Vashti Harrison
The true stories of 40 incredible Black women in American history come to life in this book. Abolitionist Sojourner Truth, pilot Bessie Coleman, chemist Alice Ball, mathematician Katherine Johnson, and poet Maya Angelou are just a handful of the remarkable women featured. This book offers encouragement and empowerment for all children!
These incredible women have made the world a better place for generations of girls after them.
by Vashti Harrison
Another wonderful book by Vashti Harrison is about Black men in history. Writer James Baldwin, artist Aaron Douglas, lawman Bass Reeves, civil rights leader John Lewis, dancer Alvin Ailey, and musician Prince are among those featured.
These stories of inspiring men are ideal to introduce to young readers.
by Monica Clark-Robinson and Frank Morrison
Children have the power to make remarkable changes in the world. For example, in 1963, in Birmingham, Alabama, thousands of African American children volunteered to march for their civil rights. Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., they protested the laws designed to keep them segregated.
Despite fear and danger, these brave children stood up to racism and bigotry and helped to promote social justice and make necessary and lasting changes.
This is an empowering book for children, especially during this time of so much upheaval.
by Carl Best and Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Zulay and her three best friends are all in the same first-grade class. Their teacher asks the class what they’d like to do on Field Day and Zulay surprises everyone by saying she wants to run a race. This comes as a shock because Zulay is blind. But despite this obvious obstacle, with the help of her friends, a support aide, and her own determination, she succeeds in running the race!
An inspiring story highlighting diversity, compassion, and friendship.
by Kevin Noble Maillard and Juana Martinez-Neal
All too often, Native Americans are depicted as being part of history and only living in the past. This is tragic as it dismisses the rich culture and modern lives of Native American families.
A lovely book that does a great job of describing life as a modern Native American family might experience it.
by Brenda J. Child, Jonathon Thunder, and Gordon Jourdain
In this playful story, Windy Girl attends a powwow with her Uncle and her dog. She watches traditional dancing and singing, eats yummy food, and gathers with friends and family around the campfire. When she falls asleep under the stars, her Uncle’s stories prompt vivid and magical dreams.
Accompanied by a companion retelling in Ojibwe, this is a beautiful description of a powwow.
by Whitney Stewart and Christiane Engel
This book offers a tasty and delightful way to explore the food and culture of 14 different countries. With an overview and illustrated map of each country, a description of its native foods, pictures of different dishes with pronunciations and descriptions, and simple recipes, it’s packed with interesting and fun information.
This book offers an engaging way to learn about different cultures and lifestyles.
by Latasha M. Perry and Bea Jackson
This is a delightful book celebrating diversity among children. It acknowledges the beauty of all different skin tones and encourages us to embrace each other and embrace ourselves.
Latasha M. Perry and Bea Jackson have also teamed up and written Hair Like Mine so be sure to check that out too!
by Lupita Nyong’o and Vashti Harrison
Full disclosure: I adore Lupita Nyong’o! She is creative, talented, and inspiring. And of course, you already know about my obsession with Vashti Harrison since I’ve already recommended a couple of her books! These two women teaming up to write this beautiful treasure is truly something special.
In this book, Sulwe has darker skin than everyone else in her family and all of her classmates at school. She longs to be what she considers bright and beautiful and match the color of her mother and sister. But through this heartwarming story, Sulwe begins to recognize her unique beauty and her feelings of self-worth and celebration begin to grow.
A reassuring and encouraging celebration of beauty in all colors!
by Dee Romito and Laura Freeman
Georgia Gilmore is a woman very few know about which is a tragedy because she was instrumental during the civil rights movement.
Georgia was a cook at the National Lunch Company in Montgomery, Alabama during the time of the bus boycotts. To help sustain the boycott, she organized a group of women who cooked and baked to help raise money. In addition to her organization and fundraising efforts, she also testified on behalf of Martin Luther King Jr. when he was arrested for his role in the boycott.
This is a fascinating and informative look at a courageous historical figure. It also includes one of her tasty recipes for kids to try!
by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, Ann Hazzard, and Jennifer Zivoin
This book explores what happens when the characters Emma and Josh find out that a Black man in their town was shot by the police. We follow their families – one Black and one White, as they discuss the event and what it means for their community.
This story helps children identify what racial injustice looks like in their own lives and helps to answer questions related to injustice and traumatic events in the world.
Included are guidelines for discussing race and racism with children, child-friendly definitions, and sample dialogues.
by Garcelle Beauvais, Sebastian A. Jones, and James C. Webster
Twins, Jay and Nia are of mixed ancestry. This story provides a lovely glimpse into their lives and all of the beauty contained in their heritage, as well as from their individual personalities.
A great choice to read about and discuss biracial and multiracial children and their families.
This is a story about a young biracial girl who can’t seem to find the color of her skin reflected in anyone around her. So she ends up choosing her own and creating a new word for herself – honeysmoke!
Another supportive and encouraging story about being biracial.
by Yamile Saied Mendez and Jaime Kim
When a young girl is constantly asked where she’s from, none of her answers seem to suffice. So she turns to her abuelo for help. While his answer is much more complicated than she expects, it helps her find the identity and self-acceptance she was yearning for.
This book is perfect for anyone searching for their identity and not sure about how they fit in.
by Ibtihaj Muhammad and S.K. Ali Hatem Aly
Faizah is so excited about her first day of school! It’s also her older sister Asiya’s first day of hijab. But not everyone sees hijab as beautiful which leads to Faizah and Asiya experiencing a lot of hurtful words and confusion. As a result, the girls find new ways to practice being strong.
This touching story provides an excellent way for kids to gain understanding and empathy.
by Hena Khan and Aaliya Jaleel
A young girl observes six different women in her life who each wear the hijab in a different way. She begins to dream of her own future and how she will express herself through how she wears her own hijab.
Honoring the diversity of modern Muslim women and girls, this book offers a beautiful glimpse into the Muslim culture and faith.
by Carmen Tafolla, Sharyll Tenayuca, and Terry Ybanez
This book tells the true story of Emma Tenayuca, a young Mexican-American girl living in San Antonio in the 1920’s,
During a time when many Mexican Americans were starving to death and working long hours for little pay, Emma cared enough to organize and act for fair treatment. At the age of 21, she led 12,000 workers in what was the first significant action in the Mexican-American struggle for justice.
A model of courage, compassion, and the important positive role we can all play in making the world a more fair and just place.
by Cynthia Grady and Amiko Hirao
This true story follows Children’s Librarian Clara Breed as she corresponds with her young Japanese American patrons after they’re sent to an internment camp after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Right before the children relocate with their families, Clara asks the children to write her letters while they’re away and she gives them books to take with them.
During the three years of their internment, Clara corresponds with the children, sharing their stories, offering feedback on books, and ultimately creating a record of their experiences.
An honest look at Japanese Internment, this book includes actual excerpts from children’s letters held at the Japanese American National Museum.
by Calvin Alexander Ramsey and Floyd Cooper
This book tells the story of (fictional character) Ruth, as she heads out on a road trip with her family from Chicago to Alabama. But in the early 1950’s when the story takes place, Black travelers weren’t treated fairly in many towns. In fact, it wasn’t uncommon for many hotels and gas stations to refuse service altogether. This is the beginning of Ruby’s understanding of Jim Crow Laws.
We’re introduced to The Green Book when a helpful gas station attendant gives a copy to Ruth’s family. It includes all of the places that welcome black travelers, enabling them to be able to travel safely to their destination.
While Ruth’s story is fiction, The Green Book did in fact, exist. It assisted an entire generation of African Americans as they traveled during the dangerous time of Jim Crow Laws.
by Jenny Kay Dupuis, Kathy Kacer, and Gillian Newland
During the late 1800s and early 1900s, many Native American children were separated from their families and placed in boarding schools. In this story, Irene is removed from her First Nations family to live in a residential school where she is forbidden from living the life she is used to. As she is required to learn certain things and forget her way of life, she becomes confused and scared.
Once she returns home for the summer, her parents decide they won’t send her away again. But this leaves a huge dilemma. Where will Irene go to hide and what will happen to her parents if they disobey the law?
A heartbreaking and tragic period of American history that is essential for everyone to understand.
by Carole Boston Weatherford and Eric Velasquez
Arturo Schomburg was an Afro-Puerto Rican man who during the time of the Harlem Renaissance, collected books, letters, music, and art from Africa and the African diaspora. His goal was to recognize and celebrate the remarkable achievements of people of African descent.
When Schomburg’s collection became so big it began to take over his house, he contacted the New York Public Library, where he created and curated a collection that became the cornerstone of a new Negro Division.
I hope this list of Empowering Antiracism Books for Young Readers provides you with motivation and inspiration to talk with your kids about racism and social justice!
be sure to check out these other resources too:
- How to Teach Your Kids About Racism
- 10 Powerful Antiracism Books for Middle Schoolers
- 25 Empowering Books for Girls
- A Special Holiday Celebrating Interracial Marriage
- How to Raise Compassionate Kids
- How to Raise Respectful Kids
Let me know if you have any recommendations to add to the list!