21 CHILDREN'S BOOKS THAT EMBRACE CULTURAL DIVERSITY AND TEACH ANTI-RACISM
Embracerace.org shared research from Harvard University suggests that children as young as three years old, when exposed to racism and prejudice, tend to embrace and accept it, even though they might not understand the feelings. By age 5, white children are strongly biased towards whiteness. To counter this bias, experts recommend acknowledging and naming race and racism with children as early and as often as possible. Children’s books are one of the most effective and practical tools for initiating these critical conversations; and they can also be used to model what it means to resist and dismantle oppression.
I've put together a list of some of our favorite books to support conversations with your little ones about anti-racism. I'll keep adding as I find more! I'd love to hear any other suggestions you have in the comments below!
by Lupita Nyong'o illustrated by Vashti Harrison
Sulwe has skin the color of midnight. She is darker than everyone in her family. She is darker than anyone in her school. Sulwe just wants to be beautiful and bright, like her mother and sister. Then a magical journey in the night sky opens her eyes and changes everything.
We Are Shining
by Gwendolyn Brooks
illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist
This powerful picture book is a celebration of the diversity of our world. Pulitzer Prize-winning Poet Laureate Gwendolyn Brooks speaks to all children of the world in this moving and life-affirming poem about acceptance and opportunity. A story of our shared humanity, Gwendolyn Brooks honors the beauty of our world and the many different people in it. Accompanied by vibrant and stunning artwork from Coretta Scott King Award-winning illustrator Jan Spivey Gilchrist, this picture book is a powerful celebration of diversity and hope for a shining future.
Let's Talk About Race
by Julius Lester
illustrated by Karen Barbour
The author, Julius Lester invites you into his book by writing “I am a story. So are you.” He discusses about how each individual has many different elements to their story, from family, to name, to likes and dislikes and maybe even race. However, he says that race is just a portion of your story, but why do people think it is so important? He explains that sometimes we get too caught up on race and make quick assumptions based on skin color. He shares his own story as he explores what makes each of us special.
Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X
by Ilyasah Shabazz, illustrated by AG Ford
Malcolm X grew to be one of America’s most influential figures. But first, he was a boy named Malcolm Little. Written by his daughter, this inspiring picture book biography celebrates a vision of freedom and justice. Bolstered by the love and wisdom of his large, warm family, young Malcolm Little was a natural born leader. But when confronted with intolerance and a series of tragedies, Malcolm’s optimism and faith were threatened. He had to learn how to be strong and how to hold on to his individuality. He had to learn self-reliance. Ilyasah Shabazz gives us a unique glimpse into the childhood of her father, Malcolm X, with a lyrical story that carries a message that resonates still today — that we must all strive to live to our highest potential. Ages 6–10.
The Colors of Us
by Karen Katz
Seven-year-old Lena is going to paint a picture of herself. She wants to use brown paint for her skin. But when she and her mother take a walk through the neighborhood, Lena learns that brown comes in many different shades.
Through the eyes of a little girl who begins to see her familiar world in a new way, this book celebrates the differences and similarities that connect all people.
Beautiful Beautiful Me
by Ashley Sirah Hinton, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley
A beautiful children's book celebrating diversity and reminding kids of all colors how beautiful they are.
Something Happened in Our Town
by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin
Something Happened in Our Town 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. Includes an extensive Note to Parents and Caregivers with guidelines for discussing race and racism with children, child-friendly definitions, and sample dialogues. Ages 4–8.
I Am Canada: A Celebration
by Heather Patterson
Illustrator Jon Klassen, Barbara Reid
A true-north tribute to our nation and its children, from coast to coast to coast!
Simple text describes the ample space available to our children in this country, and the freedom they have to grow and dream and share.
My Hair is a Garden
by Cozbi A. Cabrera
After a day of being taunted by classmates about her unruly hair, Mackenzie can’t take any more and she seeks guidance from her wise and comforting neighbor, Miss Tillie. Using the beautiful garden in the backyard as a metaphor, Miss Tillie shows Mackenzie that maintaining healthy hair is not a chore nor is it something to fear. Most importantly, Mackenzie learns that natural Black hair is beautiful. Ages 5–8.
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History
by Vashti Harrison
An important book for all ages, Little Leaders educates and inspires as it relates true stories of forty trailblazing Black women in American history. Illuminating text paired with irresistible illustrations bring to life both iconic and lesser-known female figures of Black history such as abolitionist Sojourner Truth, pilot Bessie Coleman, chemist Alice Ball, politician Shirley Chisholm, mathematician Katherine Johnson, poet Maya Angelou, and filmmaker Julie Dash. Among these biographies, readers will find heroes, role models, and everyday women who did extraordinary things — bold women whose actions and beliefs contributed to making the world better for generations of girls and women to come. Whether they were putting pen to paper, soaring through the air or speaking up for the rights of others, the women profiled in these pages were all taking a stand against a world that didn’t always accept them. The leaders in this book may be little, but they all did something big and amazing, inspiring generations to come. Ages 8–11.
Sojourner Truth’s Step-Stomp Stride
by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney
Born into slavery, Belle had to endure the cruelty of several masters before she escaped to freedom. But she knew she wouldn’t really be free unless she was helping to end injustice. That’s when she changed her name to Sojourner and began traveling across the country, demanding equal rights for Black people and for women. Many people weren’t ready for her message, but Sojourner was brave, and her truth was powerful. Ages 5–9.
Strictly No Elephants
by Lisa Mantchev, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo
Today is Pet Club day. There will be cats and dogs and fish, but strictly no elephants are allowed. The Pet Club doesn’t understand that pets come in all shapes and sizes, just like friends. Now it is time for a boy and his tiny pet elephant to show them what it means to be a true friend. A sweet lesson in tolerance, acceptance, and inclusion for even the youngest readers.
All Are Welcome
by Alexandra Penfold
New York Times bestseller A warm, welcoming picture book that celebrates diversity and gives encouragement and support to all kids. Follow a group of children through a day in their school, where everyone is welcomed with open arms. A school where kids in patkas, hijabs, and yarmulkes play side-by-side with friends in baseball caps. A school where students grow and learn from each other's traditions and the whole community gathers to celebrate the Lunar New Year. All Are Welcome lets young children know that no matter what, they have a place, they have a space, they are welcome in their school.
The Day You Begin
by Jacqueline Woodson illustrated by Rafael López
There will be times when you walk into a room
and no one there is quite like you.
There are many reasons to feel different. Maybe it's how you look or talk, or where you're from; maybe it's what you eat, or something just as random. It's not easy to take those first steps into a place where nobody really knows you yet, but somehow you do it.
Jacqueline Woodson's lyrical text and Rafael López's dazzling art reminds us that we all feel like outsiders sometimes-and how brave it is that we go forth anyway. And that sometimes, when we reach out and begin to share our stories, others will be happy to meet us halfway.
Where Are You From?
by Yamile Saied Méndez
illustrated by Jaime Kim
WHERE ARE YOU FROM? tells the story of a little brown girl who can't seem to give the answer people want to this very common question. So, she asks her Abuelo, who also looks like he doesn't belong, "Where am I from?" Abuelo thoughtfully answers by describing the beauty, strength, and resilience of the people and places her family came from. The Pampas, the guachos, the brown river, the mountains, the sea, hurricanes, even a tiny, singing frog are all a part of the girl's family history, part of her identity. It isn't the answer she was looking for, but she "sees" her identity in a new way and is able to take pride in it.
Not Quite Snow White
by Ashley Franklin
illustrated by Ebonny Glen
Tameika is cute. She’s spunky. And she loves the stage. When her elementary school announces that they’ll hold auditions for a Snow White musical, Tameika knows exactly who she wants to play. But when going for the main part, Tameika hears her classmates chattering about her. Will Tameika let this be her final curtain call? Or will she prove that “not quite” is JUST right?
I Am Enough
by Grace Byers
illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo
This gorgeous, lyrical ode to loving who you are, respecting others, and being kind to one another comes fromEmpireactor and activist Grace Byers and talented newcomer artist Keturah A.
Last Stop on Market Street
by Matt de la Pena, Christian Robinson (Illustrator)
Every Sunday after church, CJ and his grandma ride the bus across town. But today, CJ wonders why they don't own a car like his friend Colby. Why doesn’t he have an iPod like the boys on the bus? How come they always have to get off in the dirty part of town? Each question is met with an encouraging answer from grandma, who helps him see the beauty—and fun—in their routine and the world around them.
by Matthew A. Cherry, Vashti Harrison (Illustrator)
Zuri’s hair has a mind of its own. It kinks, coils, and curls every which way. Zuri knows it’s beautiful. When mommy does Zuri’s hair, she feels like a superhero. But when mommy is away, it’s up to daddy to step in! And even though daddy has a lot to learn, he LOVES his Zuri. And he’ll do anything to make her—and her hair—happy.
Tender and empowering, Hair Love is an ode to loving your natural hair—and a celebration of daddies and daughters everywhere.
Malala's Magic Pencil
by Malala Yousafzai,
As a child in Pakistan, Malala made a wish for a magic pencil that she could use to redraw reality. She would use it for good; to give gifts to her family, to erase the smell from the rubbish dump near her house. (And to sleep an extra hour in the morning.)
As she grew older, Malala wished for bigger and bigger things. She saw a world that needed fixing. And even if she never found a magic pencil, Malala realized that she could still work hard every day to make her wishes come true.
This beautifully illustrated picture book tells Malala's story, in her own words, for a younger audience and shows them the worldview that allowed her to hold on to hope and to make her voice heard even in the most difficult of times.
Same, Same But Different
by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw (Illustrations)
Elliot lives in America, and Kailash lives in India. They are pen pals. By exchanging letters and pictures, they learn that they both love to climb trees, have pets, and go to school. Their worlds might look different, but they are actually similar. Same, same. But different!