In light of the recent events involving George Floyd and the protests asking for justice, I found myself asking how could I best contribute? There are many different ways to show support and solidarity for POC, and it boggles my mind to see people’s confusion asking, “What do I do?” To me, education through books has always been my go-to. Immersing myself in pages of fiction and non-fiction that tackle difficult topics helps me to understand and empathize. If it works for a grown person, think of the wonders it could do for a child. Children’s brains are sponges. As much as we try to steer them into making the morally correct decisions, those sponges can unfortunately absorb bad habits and a line of thinking that was never intended.
There is no correct age, no set date to start educating, as there is no end. Learning to be a better human being is something that should be ongoing for the rest of a person’s life.
Here is a small list of books geared for children 0-17 that I have read, but don’t worry if you are above the suggested age. Pick one up if it interests you! I am also including links to other lists as well. I could not get to them all in a week due to pesky interferences, such as work and sleep and not having the ability to just touch a book and immediately absorb its contents. (A girl can dream)
The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles, illustrated by George Ford
Follow Ruby Bridges, a 6-year-old in 1960 New Orleans. She was the first African American child to be allowed in a white elementary school. Each morning Ruby faced a degrading verbal gauntlet from adult white people. The courage that this child shows is both moving and heartbreaking.
I got this book circa 1996 and was in love with Ruby. I remember telling my mom, “I would be her friend, I would help her.” This book has definitely stuck with me, 24 years later.
Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin
Discussing police violence against POC with your child can feel scary. Something Happened in Our Town gives the reader a look into two families, one White one Black, and how they explain to their children the terrible incident.
I suggest this book be read by the adult first, there is a fantastic afterword that deals with questions a child might have and how to answer them. Feeling prepared to the best of your ability can help when broaching difficult topics. That being said, if you are unsure about how to answer a question, do not be ashamed to tell them, “I don’t know.” You can always follow up uncertainty with, “But we can find out together.” Showing a child that you are willing to learn can help keep that childlike curiosity and wonder that so many of us lose as adults.
Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh
When Sylvia Mendez and her siblings were denied entry into a “White only” school, her parents brought together the Hispanic community to file a lawsuit against the public school system in Orange County. With the support of many different minority organizations, the Mendez family came out the victors. In June 1947, the California governor signed a law stating that all children in The Golden State were allowed to go to school together.
I was surprised to find out these events took place 10 years before Brown vs. the Board of Education! This proves that you are never too old to learn new things, and discovering this story with a child together sounds like a pretty magical moment.
Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Eric Velasquez
Arturo Schomburg was an Afro- Puerto Rican with an instrumental role in the Harlem Rennaisance. Growing up in Puerto Rico, he was told Black people had no history or people of importance. Arturo set out to collect letters, books, and poetry to document the achievements of African Americans. Immigrating to New York City in 1891, this bibliophile continued to hunt down anything he could get his hands on. He amassed such a large collection that in 1926, the New York Public Library purchased the collection and was placed in the 135th Street Branch in Harlem. Arturo became the curator, and the collection was named Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
My bookish heart really connected with Arturo. I also enjoyed that the book weaved in prolific POC throughout history, making it a great jumping-off point for children to be interested in and do more research.
Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Jerome is killed by a police officer who mistook his toy gun for a real one. Jerome is 12 years old. This story bounces back and forth between the events leading up to his death and his current situation; as a ghost boy watching his family and community mourn him. Jerome meets another ghost, Emmett Till, who helps him understand the gravity of what has happened to him. Jerome desperately wants to help comfort his family, but the only person who can see him is a girl named Sarah. She is the daughter of the police officer that shot Jerome and is struggling with the emotions she has for her father.
There is one part of the book that doesn’t hit right with me, but I don’t believe it deterred it from being a good story. The book is wonderfully written and I absolutely cried. Check it out and see how you feel about it.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Starr is a 16-year-old girl who has learned to live two lives. One as a straight-A student at a white suburban prep school and the other as an African American teen living in a poor neighborhood. Her two lives collide when she is the only witness to her old best friend’s death at the hand of a police officer. She is pressured and pulled in different directions on what she “should” and “should not” say publicly. Struggling with the decision to find a balance and be safe, or speak the truth and be in harm’s way, Starr navigates the repercussions of staying silent or speaking out.
I was screaming at people to read this book when it came out 3 years ago. I still scream. Definitely better suited for 13+ years old, but I feel if a child is on this reading level no matter the age then just give it to them. That includes you too, you adult human you.
The 57 Bus: The True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime that Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater
After a prank goes horribly wrong, two teens from Oakland have their lives forever changed. Told in forms of interviews, Tumblr posts, and text messages, The 57 Bus explores the lives of the teens from both before and after the incident. The book is heavy with themes of gender norms and race, both important and potentially difficult topics. It also highlights how the justice system handles juvenile cases, especially those that involve a POC.
As a reader, you may finish this book and feel yourself wanting more. In this case, I find that to be good. I felt it made me want to pick up similar non-fictions that address certain unfairness that juvenile offenders of color face in our justice system. If a book can make you think and want to further explore a topic, I would say that’s a job well done by the author.
It’s Trevor Noah: Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
Trevor Noah was born into a period in South Africa called apartheid. A white supremacy authoritarian economic and social structure, apartheid strongly limited races from interacting suppressing anyone that was not white. Trevor is a product of a white European father and a Black mother, which was a crime that could have severely punished his mother and him. His stories of growing up under such an oppressive government are both eye-opening and horrifying but often flecked with levity and humor.
Although this takes place in South Africa, the reality is that racism can be found anywhere, no matter how “progressive” a country can be. Also a disclaimer: this is a version that has been adapted for young readers. It’s predecessor, Born a Crime, contains profanity and other content that may be too adult for a 12-year-old. I’m not saying you shouldn’t let a preteen read the adult version if they’re comfortable with it. It just might be a little easier for them to digest the adapted one.
This isn’t even close to a complete list, but for anyone looking where to start this could be helpful. The importance of discussing racism as well as other current events with children is paramount. As adults, it can be a knee jerk reaction to shield them from “the bad things” in this world, but remember that some communities do not have that luxury.
I am including links to other lists and tools to check out below, but if you have a suggestion on other books and materials do not hesitate to share in the comment section!