Amidst the current state of the world, many folks find themselves (once again) explaining race, systemic racism, and the fight for equity and social justice to children. The teacher in me will always, ALWAYS, recommend books to support any lesson and conversation. Keeping that same energy, here are some of our favorite books to engage children and adults in justice discourse.
Let’s read the revolution!
PreK – 3
Day one. That’s where you start and that’s where this book begins. From that beautiful Black baby raising their fist in the air, to the abolishment of ceilings (glass or otherwise); this is a must read for every little revolutionary.
A is for Activist written and illustrated by Innosanto Nagara
A is for Activist is packed with alliteration and consciousness. “Kings are fine for storytime/Knights are fun to play/But when people make decisions/we will choose the people’s way.” Don’t let the age recommendations fool you, everybody can get these lessons.
Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo
This book tackles exclusion and creating your own spaces when a boy and his elephant are kept from Pet Club and stumble upon a girl and her skunk who were also turned away. There’s conversation here about how when one group is marginalized, others are as well. These kids didn’t fight to be included, instead they made their own INCLUSIVE club. There’s something to be said about having a seat at the table and something else to be said about building your own table.
“There will be times when you walk into a room, and no one there is quite like you.” This book tackles feeling different, being fearful of being the “only” in a room and finally, celebrating that individuality is the standard- not conformity and homogenized experiences.
Internment by Samira Ahmed
Set in a “not-so” dystopian America where Muslim Americans must be “registered,” Layla Amin and her family are considered threats by their neighbors. The Amins find themselves and other fellow Muslims placed in internment camps by the Exclusion Authority. There is violence and brutality within the camps; people are missing, and this teen and her new friends are determined to activate. With the help of an ally and her Jewish boyfriend who is outside of the camps, a slew of blog posts shed light on the systemic abuse of her people.
“We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices” edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson
This book carries the voices and artistry of 50 diverse leaders in the literary and art worlds. Poems, letters, art, and personal essays cover 96 pages and include the voices of Sharon Draper (Out of My Mind), Jason Reynolds (All American Boys), Jaqueline Woodson (Brown Girl Dreaming) and more.
While Delphine and her sisters visit their mother, whom they haven’t seen in some time, they attend a Black Panther Youth Camp and discover their mother’s work in social justice. During this crazy summer, the girls learn both about their family and their country.
The Women Who Caught the Babies: A Story of African American Midwives by Eloise Greenfield
Poet and children’s book author Eloise Greenfield is known for her exquisite rhythmic writings. In this book, she details Black pre-natal care through the historic background of African midwives and the ancestry brought to America by enslaved Africans. This books uses poetry, prose, and essays to make connections between Black births from the time of slavery to present-day America.
All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson
This memoir follows the life of a LGBTQIA+ activist and prominent journalist George M Johnson. He takes his readers on a journey through personal essays that illustrate memories of having his teeth kicked out by bullies at five years old, times of going to flea markets with his grandmother, his first sexual encounters, and more. It is a telling of the trials and triumphs of a boy growing up Black and queer.
Lifting As We Climb: Black Women’s Battle for the Ballot Box by Evette Dionne
Much of the history shared about the woman’s suffrage movement is surrounded by stories of Susan B. Anthony and the Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls in 1913. During that same time, Black women were fighting not only for the right to vote, but for the basic civil right to be treated as an equal human in America. Author Evette Dionne uncovers the “forgotten” truth and voices of the Black women (like Ida B Wells and Mary Church Terrell) who shaped the suffrage movement, civil rights and abolitionist history.
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
“Well, you shouldn’t wear red lipstick anyway. On your lips, you look like a clown.” The chapter about microaggressions had me ready to fight Jennifer who said this to grade school aged Ijeoma. Ijeoma Olu’s examination of race in America is an accessible read that tackles everything from intersectionality, police brutality, affirmative action, the school-to-prison pipeline, and so much more. First giving a definition of racism, she moves through each chapter inserting her lived experiences, illustrating what’s wrong, and the harm that results. Educating yet a book that will make you uncomfortable, it is certainly worth reading and rereading again.
Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum
I’m grateful that even before I was able to purchase my own copy of this extraordinary book, chapters of the book were required reading in my curriculum and the author, Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum was mentioned in plenty of lectures as a Communications major. This one is a blessed resource on the development of racial identity and a framework on thinking and talking about race when it comes to our children. A book so powerful and necessary for educators, parents, students, and practically everybody under the sun to read–but educators of all ages and grade levels, especially non-Black ones, should have a copy and read to gain a greater understanding of the blindspots, folks in their position, can miss.
There are some troubling statistics regarding Black children, especially Black girls in the K-12 school system. Black girls in high school are 6 times more likely than their white female counterparts to be suspended. Black girls are 3 times more likely to receive 1 or more in-school suspensions than white female students. Black girls are also twice as likely to receive corporal punishment than white female students. There are more troubling statistics that will make your heart hurt. Monique W. Morris, who is also the co-founder of the National Black Women’s Justice Institute brings to light, in book form, the terrifying move to criminalize Black girl children in schools and the tactics that defeat, dismiss, and demean them. The complexities of the issue include taking a look at poverty, incarceration and dropouts and offers tactics to help protect our girls who live in systems that were never created to protect them.
This list in barely a drop in the bucket of books out there that you can read to up your knowledge on the social justice, racism, and all topics that surround and branch off, and now is a great time to dive in head first. Let us know what books you are reading during this time.