9 Children’s Books to Start the Conversation Around Race and Prejudice
Martin Luther King Jr. called on us to judge others by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. When it comes to raising children, however, attempting to teach “colorblindness”—that is, to ignore physical and cultural differences in an effort to treat everyone equally—can have adverse effects. That’s because kids don’t necessarily care about the color of someone’s skin, but they do recognize when it’s different from their own. Avoiding talking about it at home can make them feel like physical differences are taboo subjects, rather than something to be celebrated.
Ahead are nine children’s books about to help inspire a conversation with your children and create a space for open dialogue surrounding race, diversity and prejudice.
Dream Big, Little One by Vashti Harrison
A board book version of the wildly popular book Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, each page features black women who accomplished big dreams. Perfect for babies, this is an age-appropriate way to show off the beautiful faces of women heroes in black history. From Mae Jemison who went all the way to space to Oprah who shined her light on others, this book inspires children to start dreaming big. As they get older, the book can open up a conversation about the setbacks these women faced when going after their dreams.
Recommended for babies ages 0-3.
What I Like About Me by Allia Zobel Nolan
Each of the kids depicted in this board book is uniquely different from one another and love themselves for it. This lighthearted, fun book boosts self-esteem while calling out the ways we can be different, from the texture of our hair to the foods we eat. When your little is old enough to talk, let them join in the story and name the things that they love the most about themselves.
Recommended for babies ages 0-3.
We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Tracy Sorell
This book follows modern Native American traditions throughout the year:
from the Great Moon Ceremony in fall to sewing moccasins in the spring. Through each season’s blessings and challenges, members of the Cherokee Nation say otsaliheligato to express their gratitude. Sorell’s telling demonstrates the importance of keeping indigenous traditions alive and celebrates a way of life that is often overlooked in history books, all while giving your child a taste of Cherokee culture and language. As a mama, it’s an opportunity to connect with your child about the importance of culture, keeping traditions alive, and celebrating differences. The book is appended with a glossary of terms and the complete Cherokee syllabary.
Recommended for children ages 3-7.
A Kids Book About Racism by Jelani Memory
You’ll know when it’s time to talk to your kids about racism, and unfortunately, that time tends to be at a much younger age than you might have imagined. And when that time comes, leaning into the discomfort and being as direct and honest as age-appropriately possible can help lay the foundation for cultivating anti-racist minds. This book explains racism in a way kids would understand and acts as an introduction to an issue that sadly continues to plague our society.
Recommended for children ages 5+
Same Same but Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki—Shaw
A story about two pen pals living a world apart, Same Same but Different is a story about Elliot, who lives in the United States, and Kailash, who lives in India. Although colorful illustrations depict how their worlds look different, the two boys find the ways they are the same through an exchange of letters and pictures. It’s a fun example of how friendships can form in the most unlikely places and invites young readers to begin recognizing and exploring other cultures and ways of life.
Recommended for children age 4-6.
The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson
A book about seeking connections despite differences, Woodson states the obvious in a simple, unintimidating way: “There will be times when you walk into a room and no one is quite like you.” It could be that your family didn’t take a vacation during summer break while others did, or it could be how you talk, the color of your skin, or the curl of your hair. Being different is sometimes a lonely feeling, but you go forward anyway, and that takes courage. The book’s straightforward language sets the tone for conversations around physical differences and the vibrant illustrations draw little minds into a story that inspires courage in the face of insecurity.
Recommended for children ages 4-8.
Something Happened In Our Town: A Child’s Story of Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano PhD
A book with a devastatingly familiar storyline, Something Happened In Our Town, follows two families—one White, one Black— after the police shooting of a Black Man. At its core, the story seeks to answer questions children might have about racial injustice, like “Can police go to jail?” or “Why did this happen?” When facing them in reality, these questions are even more challenging to answer, and though this book doesn’t truly help the circumstances of our present reality, it does help create a safe space for kids to express how they feel during tumultuous times. For parents struggling to find the right words, this book also includes a note to parents and caregivers that breaks down how to have difficult conversations about racial bias, racism, and injustice with children in a way that’s easy for them to understand.
Recommended for children ages 4-8.
Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey
Set in the early 1950s, Ruth and her family take a road trip from Chicago to Alabama. It was rare for African American families to own a car during that time, and they find themselves up against racism and prejudice at businesses along the way until being introduced to the Green Book. The story mentions the Jim Crow Laws and shows the Green Book’s role in helping African American travelers find safe passage across the country. After reading, let your babe ask questions and talk about the feelings they experienced when hearing Ruth’s story.
Recommended for children 7-11.
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison
This collection highlights the stories of 40 influential black women throughout U.S. history. Each entry features an illustration of the smiling heroine coupled with two to three easy-to-read paragraphs explaining their accomplishments. Featuring strong female figures of Black History like Bessie Coleman, Alice Ball, and Maya Angelou, this collection not only details the courage of these women against their adversaries but also demonstrates their leadership skills as qualities all children can acquire. It presents a good opportunity to talk to your child about their dreams while also introducing themes like privilege and racial equity.
Recommended for children ages 8-11.
By starting the dialogue around race, culture, and prejudice early, mamas can teach awareness, compassion, and gratitude for human beings.