The events of the last few weeks have many of us wondering when and how to start talking to our children about race and tolerance. We might be overwhelmed by the idea: How do I start the conversation? What if I say the “wrong” thing? Can a very young child even benefit from these kinds of discussions?
The answer is a resounding yes, so if you’re wondering when the “right” time is to begin having these talks—it’s now.
Having honest and open discussions about race, tolerance, and acceptance from a very early age can set the stage for a much broader and deeper understanding of these issues as your child grows.
Here are 20 books that can help spark these conversations.
1. Skin Again by Bell Hooks, illustrated by Chris Raschka
This poetic ode to celebrating our differences is a gentle way to introduce young children to the concepts of race and identity.
2. Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh
An inspiring story about one family’s efforts to desegregate California schools in the late 1940s. A 2015 Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Book.
3. Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
The stunningly illustrated, heartwrenching tale of a slave who mailed himself to freedom.
4. The Color of Us by Karen Katz
A celebration of the many shades of skin color, as told through the eyes of a seven-year-old girl trying to paint a picture of herself. Perfect for introducing the concept of race to even the youngest readers.
5. Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo
A sweet lesson in tolerance, acceptance, and inclusion for even the youngest readers.
6. Martin’s Big Words by by Julius Lester, illustrated by Karen Barbour
A beautiful, accessible introduction to the life and words of Martin Luther King, Jr. Winner of the 2002 Caldecott Medal.
7. Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall
A funny, clever story that will help little ones down the path of finding joy in staying true to who you really are.
8. One Family by George Shannon, illustrated by Blanca Gomez
A playful look at diversity and the many ways to form a family.
9. A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara
A primer for social justice perfect for even the littlest activist.
10. Let’s Talk About Race by Julius Lester, illustrated by Karen Barbour
The perfect conversation starter for any discussion about race, this lively picture books celebrate what makes us different yet all the same.
11. We March by Shane W. Evans
A critical moment in the civil rights movement— the 1963 March on Washington—told in clear, concise prose.
12. The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis
A longstanding classic about bridging the racial divide between two young friends, told through powerful prose and gorgeous watercolor illustrations.
13. A Poem for Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of The Snowy Day by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher
The inspiring story behind the groundbreaking classic A Snowy Day, the first mainstream book to feature an African American hero.
14. Be Who You Are by Todd Parr
The ultimate celebration of self and a vibrant, playful reminder to be proud of who you are and where you come from.
15. The Adventures of Beekle: An Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat
A charming, endearing friendship story that reminds us all there’s a place for everyone in this big, wide world. Winner of the 2015 Caldecott Medal.
16. The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthia Levinson, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
The story of the youngest known civil rights protester in history will teach children that you’re never too small to stand up for what you believe in.
17. I Like Myself! by Karen Beaumont, illustrated by David Catrow
A silly, joyful celebration of being true to who you are. Catchy rhyming text makes this a perfect read-aloud.
18. The Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson
This bus ride through a busy city showcases people of different skin colors, ages, and classes, and takes readers on a journey that will help them appreciate the beauty all around. Winner of the 2016 Newbery Medal and the 2016 Caldecott Honor.
19. Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Caroline Binch
Ideal for sparking conversations about race and gender with young children, the story of spirited Grace remains as important today as it was when it was first published 25 years ago.
And, 20. Keep an eye out for Malala's Magic Pencil, the first picture book from Nobel Prize winning Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, releasing this fall.