Books are a great way to initiate conversations about racism with your kids and teens
The police killing of George Floyd and the resulting protests have inspired a much-needed national dialogue about race and diversity. But if you’re not sure how to initiate conversations about anti-black racism, police violence and the right to peaceful protest with your kids, books are a great way to break the ice.
These children’s books about race, selected by Jennifer Rothschild of Arlington Public Library, offer a jumping-off point for families to discuss current events.
“Black is a Rainbow Color” by Angela Joy, illustrated by Ekua Holmes
In this joyous celebration of all the ways black is beautiful, a young black child explores the world around her as well as the history and culture of her people.
“Hands Up” by Breanna J. McDaniel, illustrated by Shane Evans
A black girl shows all the ways she raises her hands—to reach a book, to worship, to answer a question in class and to join in a protest march.
“Don’t Touch My Hair” by Sharee Miller
Aria loves her soft and bouncy hair, but so does everyone else. People are constantly reaching out to touch it, even though she doesn’t want them to. How can she get them to stop?
Early Elementary Books
“Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice” by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin
A white family and a black family answer their child’s questions after a Black man is shot by police in their town. Written by child psychologists, this book includes a note to parents and caregivers about discussing racism and traumatic events with children.
“Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness” by Anastasia Higginbotham
A white child is confused after being told by their parents that they “don’t see color.” After doing library research, the child asks more questions of their parents, thoughtfully exploring the ways white people can confront and dismantle racism.
“Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship” by Irene Latham and Charles Waters, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko
After being partnered together on a poetry project, a white girl and a Black boy write paired poems each offering their own take on similar experiences.
Middle Grade Books
“Blended” by Sharon Draper
Biracial Isabella struggles to find her place as she switches every week between her divorced parents’ houses. Her questions about identity and belonging are thrown into sharper relief after a racist incident at school and a dangerous encounter with the police.
“New Kid” by Jerry Craft
Jordan wanted to go to art school, but instead is starting at prestigious Riverdale, where most of the students are white. It’s a very different world from his diverse neighborhood, and Jordan tries to fit in in this award-winning graphic novel.
“Ghost Boys” by Jewell Parker Rhodes
After being murdered by police who thought his toy gun was real, 12-year-old Jerome’s ghost bears witness to the resulting grief and outrage. He also meets the ghosts of other black boy victims, including historical figures such as Emmett Till.
“How it Went Down” by Kekla Magoon
After a white man shoots a black teenager, no one can agree on what happened. Told from multiple perspectives and voices, Magoon explores the competing narratives and lets readers draw their own conclusions.
“This Book is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and the Do the Work” by Tiffany Jewell, illustrated by Aurélia Durand
This introduction to racism gives teens and tweens the knowledge and language to discuss and confront the injustice they experience or witness. Featuring a strong visual design, calls to action and journal prompts, this book helps explain and relate racism’s complexities.
“All American Boys” by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Keily
When white teenager Quinn witnesses his mentor, a policeman, brutally beat Rashad, a black classmate, he can’t believe it. After security footage is released, the event becomes national news and divides the school and community, something both boys grapple with in this award-winning dual-voices narrative.
Have a book that you want to recommend to other parents or young readers? Send your picks to our editor Jessica Gregg at [email protected]