November 22, 2023
On the heels of the Black Lives Matter movement and ongoing civil unrest, particularly around race, children are learning and discussing racism in America more than ever before, whether it is discussed at home or not. With COVID-19 resulting in many children attending virtual school at home, it is up to us as parents and caregivers to equip our children with the education and proper context from which to speak. While this can seem like a daunting task, we can lean on the many great authors who have taken on the challenge—and written honestly and creatively about racism. In honor of Black History Month, and because this is an essential topic for all families, compiled below are six books for children and teens that address race, racism, and the Black experience.
Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from The Underground Railroad
By Ellen Levine
This one is so popular that Scholastic has made a teaching guide geared toward teachers that you can use when introducing it to your child. Henry’s Freedom Box follows the tale of a young boy and his escape from slavery. It helps your child learn about the Underground Railroad, while allowing them to imagine themselves in Henry’s place, and therefore begin to comprehend the injustice of slavery.
Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters
By Barack Obama
Positioned as a letter from Barack Obama to his two daughters, this tender book is strong for a myriad of reasons. It has meaningful illustrations to captivate children; it shows them the power and accomplishments of 13 key people of color throughout history; and it encourages unity, while empowering readers to know they can dream just as big and accomplish just as much.
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History
By Vashti Harrison
Vashti Harrison does an incredible job of gathering some of the most influential women of color over time and presenting them in an inspiring and motivational light, without minimizing their struggles. This book highlights the power of women of color and the ability in all of us to stand up for change when needed.
One Crazy Summer
By Rita Williams-Garcia
This book tells the story of three sisters who visit their mother in Oakland, California, during the 1960s. Focusing on the history of racism in America, the story serves as a learning tool for children growing up during the Black Lives Matter movement who may not understand the overall context that ultimately shaped it.
Grades 7 and up
The Hate U Give
By Angie Thomas
In 2017, The Hate U Give won the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Young Adult Fiction. This book follows the life of 16-year-old Starr Carter, the only witness to the fatal shooting of a dear friend at the hands of a police officer. Thomas’ story offers a gripping and earnest tale of the fear and vulnerability racism instills, and the courage needed to push against it.
By Jewell Parker Rhodes
Written in the unique perspective of Jerome, a ghost of a young boy, Ghost Boys takes readers on a journey from the view of those who have paid the ultimate price of racism. This book expertly balances the gutting realities of racism and the importance of hope for our future.
Let these books start your child’s important journey of discovering, processing, and addressing racism in America. Books like these inspire us to take racism out of the shadows of taboo and into the light where it can be examined and challenged. If you find yourself at a loss for these discussions, PBS has put together a helpful guide for parents with key words and helpful questions to get the conversation going. Also read our blog post, “How to Start Talking About Racism.”