In our ongoing journey toward racial equality, nothing is quite as important as education. As numerous wise people have remarked, children aren’t born racist. It’s essential then, that children of every kind should not only see themselves represented in the early books they read but should also know that children are children regardless of perceived differences. Though representation of children of many ethnic groups is improving all the time, there is still a lot that needs to happen on this front. Fortunately, there are books enough available for you to ensure that you and your kids are a part of the solution. Here’s a bunch of great kids’ books that celebrate children across the spectrum.
This Book is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell (10 Years+)
Compiled by an educator and activist dedicated to anti-racist and anti-bias approaches, this colourful and fully inclusive book seeks to educate young people on the origins of racial oppression while encouraging greater knowledge of themselves and their place in the world. Its language is carefully chosen to make sure that nobody is excluded from the debate, it presents lots of easy-to-understand lessons in history — which include various independence movements and triumphs over oppression — and, most notably, it respects every conceivable identity.
Whether the children in your life are struggling to gel with a dominant culture that they do not share, they are keen to find out more about what’s going on or simply wish to know what their part is in it all, this is an invaluable book.
Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o (3 Years +)
You might know author Lupita Nyong’o from her appearances in such films as Black Panther, Us, and The Jungle Book. You may also know her as a vocal activist for women’s and animals’ rights. But now you get to know her as the writer of a beautiful new tale designed to teach young children that true beauty comes from within.
Young Sulwe has the darkest skin of everybody she knows. Skin the colour of the midnight. And all she dreams of is being as beautiful and bright as her mother and sister. She wishes that she could look more like those around her and struggles with the doubts that come with feeling different. Until she takes a miraculous journey through the night sky and is comforted by powerful revelations.
Generously graced by the magical illustrations of Vashti Harrison, Sulwe is a powerful picture book that takes on colourism, self-esteem and the very notion of beauty in a moving and important way: challenging subjects clothed in honesty, whim and great heart.
The Skin We Are In by Sindiwe Magona and Nina G. Jablonski (3 Years +)
A Celebration of the Evolution of Skin Colour
This book is just what you need when those awkward questions about skin colour and differing appearances start to crop up.
When we meet someone, one of the things we notice is the colour of their skin. But what can someone’s skin colour tell us about them? Despite what some people say, your skin means very little! Inside we’re all the same.
Join Njabulo, Aisha, Tim, Chris and Roshni as they discover why humans have different skins, and how people’s thinking about skin colour has changed throughout history. Skin We Are In is a celebration of the glorious human rainbow, both in South Africa and beyond.
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison
Historically, and continuing somewhat to this day, we tend to learn about the same “important figures” generation after generation. And yes, it’s fair to assume that many of these people are white. With these beautifully illustrated volumes, readers of all ages can learn about trailblazing black people across the world and throughout history.
Did you know the treatment for leprosy was developed by a young scientist called Alice Ball?
And Josephine Baker- world famous cabaret singer and dancer- was also a spy for the French résistance?
Also get Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History, which follows the same format, but features pioneering men.
Among these biographies, readers will find aviators and artists, politicians and pop stars, athletes and activists. The exceptional men featured include artist Aaron Douglas, civil rights leader John Lewis, dancer Alvin Ailey, filmmaker Oscar Micheaux, musician Prince, photographer Gordon Parks, tennis champion Arthur Ashe, and writer James Baldwin.
Happy in Our Skin by Fran Manushkin (2 Years +)
Perfect for new mums and toddlers, this is a book that remembers that while the debate rages and while much of the focus is on tragedy, the most important thing of all is that every child should be happy in their skin and should be celebrated regardless of their colour.
Written in rhythm and rhyme this bright and busily illustrated book simply, and beautifully, spreads the love and promotes the joy that should be found by every single ethnicity.
Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry (4 Years +)
Why shouldn’t we all be able to love our hair? Just like skin colour, hair is one of those things that can easily, sadly, inspire discrimination. You only have to turn on a television to know exactly what kind of hair the entire world seems to value above all others. So here’s a thoroughly lovely book that features a truly touching parent-child relationship, and celebrates all the things that make us unique.
Zuri’s hair has a mind of its own. It kinks, coils, and curls every which way. Zuri knows it’s beautiful. When Daddy steps in to style it for an extra special occasion, he has a lot to learn. But 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.
How Many Ways Can You Say Hello? By Refiloe Moahloli (4 Years+)
One of the super-quick ways that you can celebrate all the different ethnicities in the world is by learning some of their languages. Regardless of how much you learn, just taking that time to speak in somebody else’s tongue goes a long way toward promoting understanding and empathy. With all the languages that make up South Africa, this is especially true. And here’s a book that will spark this good habit right from an early age.
Sara’s first day of school is full of surprises, but the biggest one of all is that there is more than one way to say hello. So during the holidays she sets off on a journey around the country in a hot air balloon, to learn them all (in Venda, Afrikaans, Xhosa, Swati, Zulu, Tsonga, Ndebele, Tswana, Pedi, and Sotho). This delightful story of rhyming verse, accompanied by charming illustrations is a must for all young South African children.
As mentioned earlier, there really are quite a lot of books out there that encourage the kind of celebration and empathy that we are all after. Here are some more that can seek out:
- Jamela’s Dress by Niki Daly
- Dream Big, Little Leader by Vashti Harrison
- Dealing With… :Racism by Jane Lacey
- This Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from Around the World by Matt LaMothe
- Why are People Racist? by Cath Senker
- You Are Mighty: A Guide to Changing the World by Caroline Paul
- The Boy At the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Rauf
- Of Thee I Sing by Barack Obama
- It’s Trevor Noah: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (Kids Addition)
- Girl Activist by Louisa Kamps, Michelle Wildgen, and Susanna Daniel
Happy Reading. Be Wonderful to Each Other. And Remember to Celebrate All There Is to Celebrate.