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From the moment I found out I was pregnant with my first child in 2009, I started preparing for the arrival of my bundle of joy. Surprisingly, the first couple of items I bought were not onesies and cute clothes but BOOKS! I have always been an avid reader and love learning or escaping into a good book. I knew I wanted to create a diverse library for my child that would include classics I grew up with as well as books featuring African American people like us.
Now in 2020 as a mother of three brown boys, I look at our bookshelf and am so proud that I decided to include beautifully illustrated books that teach and entertain but show my children characters who look just like them. Representation, inclusion, and diversity is important in order to raise well rounded, compassionate, and empathetic little human beings. Here is a list of books that are a great start to help diversify your bookshelf and teach your children about a couple of amazing African American people as well as some history.
Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson: This book tells the story of African American children in 1963 Birmingham, Alabama who volunteered to march for their civil rights, using their voices to change the world. Suggested age range: 6 – 9 years
Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine: This book tells the true story of Henry Box Brown who doesn’t know how old he because he is a slave and there is no record of his actual birth. He dreams of freedom and eventually decides to mail himself to the North to freedom. Suggested age range: 4 – 8 years
Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens by Nina Nolan: This story of the powerful voice of Mahalia Jackson shares her hardships and extraordinary journey that led up to her historic March on Washington. This book includes a timeline and further reading suggestions. Suggested age range: 4 – 8 years.
Coming Home: From the Life of Langston Hughes by Floyd Cooper: Langston Hughes was a dreamer and dreamed about having a happy home. This book shows how he turned his dress into beautiful poetry that reached people all over the world. Suggested age range: 4 – 8 years
Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and his Orchestra by Andrea Davis Pinkney: This amazingly illustrated book about Duke Ellington tells the story of his music journey and his inspiring music. Suggested age range: 6 – 8 years
Radiant Child: The History of Jean-Michel Basquiat by Java Steptoe: Young Jean-Michel saw art everywhere and grew up to be a talented artist who showed the world that art doesn’t always have to be neat and clean or inside the lines! Suggested age range: 4 – 8 years
Michael’s Golden Rules by Delores Jordan with Roslyn M. Jordan: This story of personal friendship and what it really means to be a champion is told by the mother and sister of basketball superstar Michael Jordan. Suggested age range: 6 – 10 years
Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts: Ada Twist’s head is full of questions. Ada has always been endlessly curious. Even when her fact-finding missions and elaborate scientific experiments don’t go as planned, Ada learns the value of thinking her way through problems and continuing to stay curious. Suggested age range: 5 – 7 years
Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o and 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. Suggested age range: 4 – 8 years
The Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson: 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. Suggested age range: 3 – 5 years
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats: Full of wonder, this universal favorite captures the magic and sense of possibility of the first snowfall. The Snowy Day broke ground in 1962 as one of the first picture books for young children to portray a realistic, multi-cultural urban setting. Ezra Jack Keats’ legacy lives on in the popularity of his most famous character, Peter—the star of The Snowy Day, Whistle for Willie, Peter’s Chair, A Letter to Amy, Goggles, and others. Suggested age range: 2 – 5 years
A diverse bookshelf allows children to see and normalize seeing people who may not exactly look like them and later understand some of their history and culture. It may not seem like much… but it is an important start.
Scherrie Donaldson is an NYC influencer, educator, event planner, and mother of 3 boys. She and her family enjoy embarking on new local and distant family adventures, exploring new cities, culture, and discovering history! She shares educational crafts, homeschool ideas, family travel, and more on her website http://www.thirtymommy.com.
Tips for Reading Diverse Books with Your Kids
Ideas sourced from this great article on embracerace.org.
- Encourage your child to read along with you instead of reading to them. They will engage in the story more if they are working to read the words. If your kids are strong readers, have them read to you.
- Ask questions throughout the book. Why do you think he did that? What do you see happening in the picture?
- It’s okay to point out racial differences in picture books. Ask your child, “Is that skin color darker or lighter than yours? How would you describe this skin color? Or yours? Or mine?”
- Share your feelings about race and racism when reading together: “It makes me sad that laws allowed certain groups of people like African-Americans to be treated differently.”
- Respect children’s curiosity by responding to their hard questions and sometimes embarrassing observations, or by admitting gaps in your knowledge. “Let me think about that for a while,” or “That’s a good question” or “I don’t know” can be great replies.
- Ask your child a series of questions at the end. Who were the main characters? What is the problem? What was the solution? Who gets punished? Praised? Who speaks? Who is silenced? Who acts? Who is acted upon? Who looks? Who is observed? What is the central message of the book?
- Welcome diverse responses and interpretations. One book can elicit many responses grounded in your child’s particular experiences and perspectives.
- Stock your car with books to encourage reading! Invest in a car organizer (buy on Amazon) to properly store your kids’ books so they don’t go flying if you have to make a sudden stop.