Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Resources on Race in the Children's Library

It's time I share the resources I've been gathering for a community-wide initiative on race that will begin in January. I could sit on these resources for another few weeks, but as racist vitriol and privileged ignorance have reared their ugly heads in the wake of the Ferguson grand jury decision--even within our professional community with our mission to serve the public--it is clear to me that anyone who wants resources for helping the children and families they serve deal with these issues should have them immediately, and within easy reach.

Because these racial "tensions" (condescending term for it, media) are not new. True, they are getting more press time now--because too many oppressed voices are speaking up for the media to continue to ignore the realities of race in this country, which means higher visibility, which means more opportunities for children, young children in particular, to encounter these issues without context or emotional support. But as I said, these issues are not new. And many children have been living them their entire lives. And so we, as public libraries, need to support all members of communities by a) knowing these resources, b) having these resources, and c) sharing these resources.

Be an ally.

If you have additional resources you think should be added to this list, or find any of the resources I mention problematic, please share in the comments or shoot me an email. I am trying my best, but I recognize I come from a background of profound privilege and have a long way to go to even start to be a strong, fully-informed ally.

Picture Books to Share with Youth to talk about Race

  • The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles
  • Chocolate Me! by Taye Diggs
  • Whoever You Are by Mem Fox
  • The Colors of Us by Karen Katz
  • I Have a Dream by Kadir Nelson
  • It's Okay to Be Different by Todd Parr
  • Shades of People by Shelley Rotner and Sheila M. Kelly
  • The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler
  • The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson

Picture Books on Social Justice

Books to Share with Older Youth to talk about Race & American Racial History

  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Party-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  • The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis
  • Ball Don't Lie by Matt de la Peña
  • My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman
  • The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata
  • Heart and Soul by Kadir Nelson
  • Jump into the Sky by Shelley Pearsall
  • Imprisoned: The Betrayal of Japanese Americans During World War II by Martin W. Sandler
  • Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
  • One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
  • The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods
  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
  • The Garden of My Imaan by Farhana Zia

Resources for Talking to Kids about Race (for library staff, caregivers, and parents)

Why bother talking to young children about race in the first place?

  • The way that children's brains make synaptic connections is by categorizing, and one of the most superficial types of categorization they do is what things/people look like. Acknowledging that yes, different people look different, but that does not define who they are or what they are like, is developmentally appropriate and recommended by child psychologists and child development experts.
  • Even if we assume that children are making neutral categorizations of racial difference on their own (which is a huge assumption), we live in a society that does not promote equal or equitable portrayals of all races. Left undiscussed, research shows that children default to negative stereotypes of race as they see perpetuated in the dominant culture, in media, and even, in some instances, at home. Talking about race in a simple, age appropriate, non-prejudiced way prevents these negative stereotypes from being the only contextual information young children have about people who look different from themselves.
  • All children need to learn that race does not define people, and generalizations about a person based on their race are unfair and untrue. White children, who by virtue of their white privilege have probably never encountered a situation in which they were unfairly discriminated against because of their race, need to learn that prejudices exist and are wrong. Non-white children also need to hear that prejudices are wrong. These children have probably lived innumerable personal experiences of racial discrimination, and they need to hear that the prejudices informing their oppression are wrong and not true so that they do not internalize negative stereotypes as part of their self image.
  • Children's literature is rife with negative stereotypes of non-white persons, and that's in instances when the cannon has even bothered to try to represent diverse voices in the first place. Race needs to be a continual topic of discussion so that children's encounters with racial stereotypes in books and the media are not learned as fact.


  1. Amy, I couldn't be prouder to share a profession with you. Thank you for your thoughtful, helpful contributions every time I turn around. I learn from you almost every day.

    1. That's very kind of you to say, Katya. I count myself incredibly lucky to be in a profession where so many people are always striving to do even more for our communities.

  2. Excellent resource and so timely - thank you for not waiting to publish this Amy, it is so important that these resources are shared, everywhere.

  3. Fantastic! Librarians can change the world, one excellent resource list at a time and this is the perfect example!

  4. Don't forget Brown Girl Dreaming (Jacqueline Woodson) and Heart and Soul (Kadir Nelson)! Both are beautiful and talk about important movements and moments in America's history

    1. Thanks for the reminder! They've both been added to the list.

  5. Thanks for sharing this great information. Try The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond (for older readers) by Brenda Woods and the picture book Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson.

    1. I've added these two titles. Thanks so much for sharing them!


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