Race issues and racism are a hot topic at the moment; it's all over social media and the news, and sometimes it can be a difficult and complicated topic for parents to tackle with kids. Regardless, especially with what is currently going on, it is important that those issues are addressed and talk about. Luckily for us, there are some helpful kid-friendly books out there that we can use to spark the conversation with our kids. Here is a list of 15 illustrated kids' books addressing race and racism.
1) Hands up
We love this book because it is a celebration of the phrase "hands up" with bright and colorful illustrations. As the little girl grows, she sees how "hands up" are a part of life. It depicts her keeping her hands up to complete everyday activities, receiving encouragement from her family during mishaps, and striving forward with her best efforts while enjoying childhood. The author did a great job reclaiming the stigmatized phrase "Hands up!" by making it about being strong and resilient. This is a great read, especially in today's political climate.
2) We came to America by Faith Ringgold
We love this book because it is a simple reminder that the American Story is one of immigration and of dreams. This book is originally a poem but was created into a children's book. This poem, with its refrain "We came to America,/Every color, race, and religion,/From every country in the world," underscores that being an American has nothing to do with the color of one's skin or their country of birth. A good read and timely reminder of America's rich history of immigration and diversity.
3) Viola Desmond Won't Be Budged.
This is an excellent new picture book biography about Canadian Civil Rights pioneer Viola Desmond. Like her better-known counterpart Rosa Parks, Viola refused to give up her seat--but in this case in a segregated movie theatre in 1946 in New Glasgow Nova Scotia, Canada rather than a city bus in 1955 Montgomery, Alabama. Viola Desmond's refusal to give her seat on the upper floor where blacks had to sit result in her be sent to jail. The book is well written for kids and full of beautiful illustrations describing the incident. At the end of the book, there is a brief glimpse of African Canadian history experiences with racism in Canada, which is similar to African Americans in the US. The author also provides additional suggestions for reading on African Canadian history.
4) Something Happened in Our Town
This is a timing book that provides insightful historical context regarding racial injustice. It shows conversations around the topic of racial injustice from different generations and ethnic background point of view. In the book, a black and white kid, try to understand the shooting of an unarmed black man in their town. The book explains complex issues in terms children can understand using examples that they can easily recognize. At the end of the book, there is a lengthy note from the author to help parents discuss racism and discrimination with their children.
5) The Wedding Portrait
This book is a great introduction to civil disobedience, social justice, and activism for children. The author does a great job making it understandable and simple for kids. The book is centered around the writer's real-life wedding portrait. He tells his son about a picture from his wedding where he and his spouse were arrested for protesting nuclear weapons. He shares stories of people who stood up against injustice. The book is filled with great lessons explained with simplicity and clarity.
6) American Born Chinese
This is a graphic novel that is suitable for older children 13+. The book highlights the pressures to assimilate into the predominant culture, even at the cost of one's individuality. The story is about a teenager Jin Wang, the only Chinese-American at his new school. This book shows the identity crisis that many minorities feel in North America. The main themes are racism, friendship, identity, and acceptance. The author meshed 3 narratives together, and each has a unique life's lesson. If you want to know more, you will have to read it.
7) The Name Jar
A delightful book about a little Korean girl Unhei (Youn-Hye): she had moved from Korea to America with her family and got teased at school because of her name and wants to change it for an American name. This book can create many teachable moments about tolerance, cultural differences, kindness, and so forth.. do you think she changed her name? Well, you should read to book to find out.
8) Let's Talk About Race
This colorful and interactive book brings the reader on a journey and asks him/her to think about his/her own story. What is your story? This book will ask readers about the beginning of their story, what their race is, and if one person can be better than another. By the end of this book, the reader will understand that we are all made of the same things inside!
9) Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara story
An inspirational story of a young boy Hiroki Sugihara recounting his father's heroic act during WW2. This is a true story of a Japanese government official Chiune Sugihara, who chose to go against his government official orders to helped many Jews from fleeing the Holocaust. His good deed did not go unpunished. The Sugihara family spent 18 months in a Soviet camp, and when he finally returned to Japan, he was asked to resign from diplomatic service. It is estimated that he may have rescued more than 40,000 lives. There are so many heroes whose stories go untold! This book is about one such hero—a great read and testimony of Hiroki Sugihara – the eldest of four sons.
10) New Kid
2020 Newbery winner graphic novel addresses diversity and race issues. It showcases bias and microaggressions. It follows Jordan, a kid from Washington Heights, for his entire seventh grade school year. The 12-year-old is an artist, would love to go to art school but, instead, is enrolled in a private school by his parents. Jordan finds that he's one of only a few kids of color. The book, full-color artwork, and humor. A good read for teenagers
11) The Youngest Marcher
This story is about 9 years old Audrey Faye Hendricks and her role in the Civil Rights Movement. Audrey grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, at a time when black people could not be served food in restaurants with white people. Audrey did not feel this was fair, and when Dr. Martin Luther King visited their church, she wanted to be part of the solution. His call to "fill the jails" was heeded by children as part of the Children's March (May 1963).
She wanted the same rights as everyone else, and she was willing to go to jail for it. Audrey was arrested and spent a week in juvenile hall. Two months later, Birmingham rescinded its segregation ordinances. This book does a great job of portraying Audrey's childhood, and her tremendous courage and heroism fighting for what she believed in. This is a good read that reminds us how, recently, in history, these events occurred. This book brought up great questions and discussions from my kid. Incredibly interesting, and most highly recommended!