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21 children’s books to spark important discussions about race + tolerance

If you're wondering when the "right" time is to begin having these talks—it's now, mama.

kids books about race

It seems like there's always a new event that is making us wonder when and how to start talking to our children about race and tolerance. But, you 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, mama.

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.



Skin Again by Bell Hooks, illustrated by Chris Raschka

skin again book

This poetic ode to celebrating our differences is a gentle way to introduce young children to the concepts of race and identity.

$9.49

Beautiful Beautiful Me Book by Ashley Sirah Hinton, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley

beautiful beautiful me book

A beautiful children's book celebrating diversity and reminding kids of all colors how beautiful they are.

$17.50

Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family's Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh

separate is never equal

An inspiring story about one family's efforts to desegregate California schools in the late 1940s. A 2015 Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Book.

$15.19

Henry's Freedom Box by Ellen Levine, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

henrys freedom box

The stunningly illustrated, heart-wrenching tale of a slave who mailed himself to freedom.

$14.03

The Color of Us by Karen Katz

the colors of us

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.

$6.79

Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo

strictly no elephants

A sweet lesson in tolerance, acceptance, and inclusion for even the youngest readers.

$15.58

Martin's Big Words by Julius Lester, illustrated by Karen Barbour

martins big words book

A beautiful, accessible introduction to the life and words of Martin Luther King, Jr. Winner of the 2002 Caldecott Medal.

$7.54

Red: A Crayon's Story by Michael Hall

red a crayons story

A funny, clever story that will help little ones down the path of finding joy in staying true to who you really are.

$11.98

One Family by George Shannon, illustrated by Blanca Gomez

one family kids book

A playful look at diversity and the many ways to form a family.

$10.98

A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara

a is for activist

A primer for social justice perfect for even the littlest activist.

$9.97

Let's Talk About Race by Julius Lester, illustrated by Karen Barbour

let's talk about race book

The perfect conversation starter for any discussion about race, this lively picture books celebrate what makes us different yet all the same.

$7.48

We March by Shane W. Evans

we march kids book

A critical moment in the civil rights movement— the 1963 March on Washington—told in clear, concise prose.

$6.98

The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis

the other side book

A longstanding classic about bridging the racial divide between two young friends, told through powerful prose and gorgeous watercolor illustrations.

$13.37

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

a poem for peter book

The inspiring story behind the groundbreaking classic A Snowy Day, the first mainstream book to feature an African American hero.

$13.29

Be Who You Are by Todd Parr

be who you are kids book

The ultimate celebration of self and a vibrant, playful reminder to be proud of who you are and where you come from.

$10.96

The Adventures of Beekle: An Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat

beekle book

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.

$12.40

The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthia Levinson, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

the youngest marcher book

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.

$15.29

I Like Myself! by Karen Beaumont, illustrated by David Catrow

I like myself book

A silly, joyful celebration of being true to who you are. Catchy rhyming text makes this a perfect read-aloud.

$6.59

The Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson

last stop on market street book

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.

$10.49

Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Caroline Binch

amazing grace kids book

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.

$13.73

Malala's Magic Pencil

malalas magic pencil

Malala's Magic Pencil, the first picture book from Nobel Prize winning Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai. It depicts the story of her childhood for a young audience.

$12.92

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Tips parents need to know about poor air quality and caring for kids with asthma

There are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

When wildfires struck the West Coast in September 2020, there was a lot for parents to worry about. For parents of children with asthma, though, the danger could be even greater. "There are more than 400 toxins that are present in wildfire smoke. That can activate the immune system in ways that aren't helpful by both causing an inflammatory response and distracting the immune system from fighting infection," says Amy Oro, MD, a pediatrician at Stanford Children's Health. "When smoke enters into the lungs, it causes irritation and muscle spasms of the smooth muscle that is around the small breathing tubes in the lungs. This can lead to difficulty with breathing and wheezing. It's really difficult on the lungs."

With the added concern of COVID-19 and the effect it can have on breathing, many parents feel unsure about how to keep their children protected. The good news is that there are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

Here are tips parents need to know about how to deal with poor air quality when your child has asthma.

Minimize smoke exposure.

Especially when the air quality index reaches dangerous levels, it's best to stay indoors as much as possible. You can find out your area's AQI at AirNow.gov. An under 50 rating is the safest, but between 100-150 is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, such as children with asthma. "If you're being told to stay indoors, listen. If you can, keep the windows and doors closed," Oro says.

Do your best to filter the air.

According to Oro, a HEPA filter is your best bet to effectively clean pollutants from the air. Many homes are equipped with a built-in HEPA filter in their air conditioning systems, but you can also get a canister filter. Oro says her family (her husband and children all suffer from asthma) also made use of a hack from the New York Times and built their own filter by duct taping a HEPA furnace filter to the front of a box fan. "It was pretty disgusting what we accumulated in the first 20 hours in our fan," she says.

Avoid letting your child play outside or overly exert themselves in open air.

"Unfortunately, cloth masks don't do very much [to protect you from the smoke pollution]," Oro says. "You really need an N95 mask, and most of those have been allocated toward essential workers." To keep at-risk children safer, Oro recommends avoiding brisk exercise outdoors. Instead, set up an indoor obstacle course or challenge your family to jumping jacks periodically to keep everyone moving safely.

Know the difference between smoke exposure and COVID-19.

"COVID-19 can have a lot of the same symptoms—dry cough, sore throat, shortness of breath and chest pain could overlap. But what COVID and other viruses generally cause are fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea and body aches. Those would tell you it's not just smoke exposure," Oro says. When a child has been exposed to smoke, they often complain of a "scrape" in their throat, burning eyes, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain or wheezing. If the child has asthma, parents should watch for a flare of symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing or a tight sensation in their chest.

Unfortunately, not much is known about long-term exposure to wildfire smoke on a healthy or compromised immune system, but elevated levels of air pollution have been associated with increased COVID-19 rates. That's because whenever there's an issue with your immune system, it distracts your immune system from fighting infections and you have a harder time fighting off viruses. Limiting your exposure to wildfire smoke is your best bet to keep immune systems strong.

Have a plan in place if you think your child is suffering from smoke exposure.

Whatever type of medication your child takes for asthma, make sure you have it on-hand and that your child is keeping up with regular doses. Contact your child's pediatrician, especially if your area has a hazardous air quality—they may want to adjust your child's medication schedule or dosage to prevent an attack. Oro also recommends that, if your child has asthma, it might be helpful to have a stethoscope or even a pulse oximeter at home to help diagnose issues with your pediatrician through telehealth.

Most importantly, don't panic.

In some cases, social distancing and distance learning due to COVID may be helping to keep sensitive groups like children with asthma safer. Oro says wildfires in past years have generally resulted in more ER visits for children, but the most recent fires haven't seen the same results. "A lot of what we've seen is that the smoke really adversely affects adults, especially older adults over 65," Oro says. "Children tend to be really resilient."

This article was sponsored by Stanford Children's Health. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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