It's never too early to introduce your child to the topic of race, discrimination and cultural understanding.
We all know the benefits of reading to your child are endless, and a parenting rite of passage. Reading can also provide a thoughtful way to introduce your child to the topics of race and cultural understanding. And with the uptick in hate crimes against Asian Americans, coupled with the ongoing racial inequality issues that Black Americans and other people of color face every day, parents have an opportunity (and in my opinion, an obligation) to begin discussing race with their children at an early age. Simply put, we can promote anti-racism and cultural understanding by paying closer attention to the books we read our children.
The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that children as young as 2 years old can internalize racial bias. Much of what children learn at home and at school really shape the adults they will one day become, and by talking about issues of race, children will increase their self-awareness, self-esteem and learn to recognize and confront things that are unfair, like discrimination and prejudice. We obviously have such an important role in our children's lives, and that includes promoting anti-racist behavior. While it may seem like a small offering, reading our children books and stories filled with characters who might not look exactly like them, whether it's the color of their skin, their nationality, or both, is crucial. Likewise, offering BIPOC children the chance to see themselves represented in the stories they read is equally important.
Start a conversation around race and cultural understanding with these suggestions:
In this read aloud board book, appropriate for ages 2-5, children are offered concise language and beautiful imagery about skin color ("We all have skin. It comes in different colors! What do you like about your skin?") and racism ("Racism can be on purpose, like calling a person of color a mean name because of their skin color. Racism can be a mistake, like if the same friend always has to play the bad guy.") in a way they can understand. Developed by experts in the fields of early childhood and injustice activism, Our Skin provides a great starting point for further conversations.
In this picture book by award-winning author Mitali Perkins (aimed at ages 3-6), a family comes together on the border of California and Mexico to celebrate Christmas. Their grandmother is on one side and Maria and her brother, Juan, are on the other. While the border crisis is an overwhelmingly complicated human rights issue, this beautiful tale sheds light on one part of the story and is ultimately about the love between families told from a multicultural point of view.
Perfect for ages 4-8, Andrea Wang's autobiographical story is about a young girl embracing her family's Chinese heritage after first being embarrassed by her mother foraging for watercress on the side of the road. It's only after her mother shares a story of her family's time in China that the girl can appreciate the fresh watercress they found and the new memory they made together. With gorgeous illustrations by Caldecott Honoree Jason Chin, this is a beautiful story of a child of immigrants connecting with her family's history.
A Kids Book About
A Kids Book about Racism is just that. Written by a black father with a blended family, Jelani Memory knew that racism was an inevitable topic of conversation. He wrote this book originally just for just his family, but quickly discovered that other parents could use an honest kids book on the topic, too. Recently featured on Oprah's Favorite Things list, A Kids Book about Racism offers children of all ages a clear description of what racism is, how it makes people feel when they experience it and how to spot it when it happens. The A Kids Book About publishing brand also covers topics on a wide range of issues and feelings, from feminism and voting to empathy and bullying.
In this New York Times bestselling book by Olympic medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad and award-winning author S.K. Ali, two sisters are excited about the first day of school. Older sister Asiya wears a hijab (a head covering worn in public by some Muslim women) for the first time, and unfortunately, not everyone sees this as beautiful. Faizah, the younger sister, must find ways to be strong and supportive in the face of hurtful words from others that don't understand. Written with 4-8 year olds in mind.
In Latinitas, by Juliet Menéndez, you'll discover the stories of 40 influential Latinas. With short biographies of women from all over Latin America and the United States, you'll learn about how each of their journeys began and hurdles they faced along the way to achieving their dreams. Examples include Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, singer Selena Quintanilla, NASA's first virtual reality engineer, Evelyn Miralles, artist Frida Kahlo and U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Best for ages 8-12, but children of all ages will love the vivid illustrations.
In this New York Times bestselling book for ages 4-8, a young Asian girl notices that her eyes look different from other kids, but just like her mother's, grandmother's and little sister's. In the same spirit as Hair Love, by Matthew A. Cherry, Eyes that Kiss in the Corners is all about learning to love and celebrate who you are and where you come from.
Parenting expert Doyin Richards offers the universal subject of diversity and acceptance in his book, which is suitable for ages 3-5. What's the Difference? shares with its readers that what matters most is not our differences, but what we can do together as friends, families, colleagues and citizens.
In this debut picture book by Michelle Sterling (available May 18), a young girl and her visiting Filipino grandmother spend a magical summer together. This sweet book, with whimsical illustrations by Aaron Asis, showcases the bond of family as the duo teaches each other about their own traditions that span oceans and generations. Best for ages 4-8.
Fulton Street Books & Coffee
Since the issues of race and cultural understanding are an ongoing conversation, I love the idea of Little & Lit. Each month, the subscription box service will deliver two high quality children's books featuring captivating stories centered around BIPOC heroes (ideal for preschoolers through 3rd grade).
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