Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be A$%holes Part II- Books for Raising Anti-Racist Kids
In this moment, there is so much to learn.
There are so many voices to amplify, words to sit with, books to read and emotions to process and feel. It is time for us to listen and begin to understand what so many have been trying to share with us for so long. The world should be fair, it should be just and it should be equal for all…but it’s not. Black Lives Matter.
As the Founder of For Purpose Kids and as a white woman of privilege, I’ve thought a lot about my role in this moment. I’ve gotten much more comfortable in my role as an individual, which is why I encourage people to follow me on my personal pages. I’ve committed to always being transparent to this community about who I am as a woman, wife, mom, friend, ally/ co-conspirator and all of the other things I am.
I will stumble, I will make mistakes, of that, I am sure.
But I’ve committed to that choice and I stand firm in that. That choice may not be right for all Founders, but it is right for me.
Where things get more difficult is with the role that For Purpose Kids will play.
The mission of For Purpose Kids is to cultivate empathy in young children through diverse characters and global stories, to start conversations that matter and inspire the next generation of global citizens.
While I have traveled and lived in diverse cultures around the world, I have always existed in those situations as a white woman and therefore view the world through that lens. If we are to raise kids to be more empathetic, then we need to ensure that they are viewing the world through many lenses- specifically the lenses that represent the cultures and ideas they are learning about.
Therefore, it is my commitment to the community and the world that we will always consider the lens that is being used to share information with our kids. We will seek input from and build a team of individuals that represent the cultures and identities that we educate about- because it’s crucial to tell stories to our kids in the most authentic way possible. That’s how we truly inspire the next generation of global citizens.
But what was true for me personally, will be true for For Purpose Kids as well- we will stumble and make mistakes.
We will be called out for those mistakes and we will work through them. The choice is to do everything we can to be better, or we can fade away because it’s hard. And that choice has already been made.
OK, that’s enough of an intro. Here's what I really want to provide to you:
Children’s books and resources to support raising anti-racist kids.
If you’re like me, you’ve received a zillion emails with links and articles about ways to educate yourselves and your kids over the past few weeks, but I’ve tried to capture the best of them in one place, while using the space to amplify the voices that we need to be listening to.
When I was thinking of putting this list of books together in a way that felt useful and connected to For Purpose Kids, I remembered a post I wrote back in October 2018:
Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be A$%holes (yes, my Mom was a big Willie Nelson fan, hence the inspiration for this title).
In this post, I talked about the challenge of raising a son in today’s world, where the phrase "boys will be boys" is still a phrase we hear often (click on link above to read).
And somehow, that title seemed extremely important to revisit again, as I think we can all agree that there are already enough a$%holes in the world.
The Importance of Diverse Characters & Books
Before I introduce this list of books, there are a few more things I want to share with you, and they speak to the importance of exposing our children to things that help expand their immediate knowledge of the world. We all know it’s important to fill our kids’ bookshelves and toy chests with diverse books, toys, characters and stories…it’s why we’re here.
I was introduced to this video this past week while attending a virtual event with friends, and it is of Rudine Sims Bishop, talking about the idea of books being mirrors, windows and sliding doors for their readers. This is a concept that she developed over 30 years ago and it really struck me as something I wish I’d learned about earlier (and perhaps did- but didn’t retain during my training as an Early Childhood Educator...sorry JMU professors).
Books can be mirrors for individuals to see themselves represented, windows can help people see into the lives of others that are different from them and the sliding doors can invite people into the story- something that is vital to increasing empathy.
While we know many races and cultures are underrepresented in books, we can think about what that communicates to kids when they read books containing characters that don’t look like them- it certainly does not add to feelings of self-esteem and self worth.
On the flip side of that, think about how kids, particularly white kids, will get an inflated sense of self when they are always seeing “themselves” in books. If you have a couple of minutes, I highly recommend watching this video, as it does an incredible job of explaining all of this in less than 2 minutes.
We Need Diverse Books also has a great post outlining 5 reasons why including diverse books in the lives of kids is important, including the mirrors and windows analogy, the building of community & unity, opportunities for conversations about current events, and emphasizing similarities while celebrating differences, if you want to check it out here.
The Book List
I wanted to include books that are written and/ or illustrated by BIPOC (Black & Indigenous People of Color) for this list (all but a few are) and don’t only focus on Black History or topics around social justice. While it is important to include those books on every bookshelf, we also want our kids to see themselves and see diverse characters experiencing the joys, and sometimes disappointments, of everyday life.
The following books are listed in alphabetical order and the * indicates that the book was written and/ or illustrated by BIPOC.
The links in this post will take you to either the publisher’s pages where there are several options for purchasing, or to indiebound.org, which supports independent bookstores.
We do encourage support of bookstores owned by BIPOC and you can find a list here. Several of the books that I ordered and recommend (Intersection Allies, A is for Activist, All Are Welcome, Anti-Racist Baby, Same, Same But Different, Whoever You Are, Let the Children March The Day You Begin, Let’s Talk About Race, Something Happened in Our Town) can be found at the Black Pearl Bookstore, which is a minority-woman-owned indie bookstore.
We do not receive any commissions for purchases made through these links.
A is for Activist* by Innosanto Nagara (ages 3-7):
Although this board book is recommended for ages 3-7, this is one I support reading as early as you begin reading to your littles (and is also a great gift for your activist friends that are soon-to-be parents). It goes through the alphabet, introducing language and images associated with modern day activism. While you may need to “google” a few words or phrases, this will be a great start for raising the next generation of little activists.
All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold & Suzanne Kaufmann (ages 4-8)
This story celebrates the diverse backgrounds of the kids as it welcomes them into an inclusive school community. The beautifully illustrated book allows kids to see themselves represented in a safe and engaged environment while building connections with friends that represent cultures from around the world. This book presents a great opportunity to shift away from the idea of “colorblindness” and towards the idea of talking about and celebrating differences with young children.
An ABC of Equality* by Chana Ginelle Ewing and illustrated by Paulina Morgan (ages 0-5)
This colorful and visually stimulating board book is great for kids from 3 months to 5 years as it introduces concepts and language associated with social justice, equality, kindness and celebrating differences in a relatable way. If the concepts are a bit too lofty for your young ones, don’t worry, they’ll still enjoy exploring the playful & vibrant illustrations. But one thing I’ve learned with my son is that I can never underestimate how much information he is absorbing and filing away for later use, so introducing these ideas and concepts is always a good idea.
Counting on Community* by Innosanto Nagara (ages 3-7):
As “A is for Activist” goes through the alphabet, this board book by the same author, takes us on a counting journey from 1-10, showcasing the things that connect members in their community. Also geared towards ages 3-7, I think this book can be read to the youngest among us, stimulating their eyes and ears with both inclusive images and sing-song(y) language.
Don’t Touch My Hair* by Sharee Miller (ages 4-8):
This book is a favorite in my house with my 4 year old son- he’s loved it from the first time we read it and asks to read it often. This book directly speaks to something that many in the white community don’t realize is often not only not welcomed by black women and men, but is considered to be offensive, and that is requesting to touch their hair. This story does a fantastic job of teaching this, as well as the idea of consent, to young kids and parents alike. An important story told in a unique way, and a great reinforcement of the need for respect, especially when it comes to one’s body.
Dream Big, Little One* by Vashti Harrison (ages 0-3):
This is the perfect bedtime book to plant tiny seeds for big dreams in the minds of our kids. This board book highlights the amazing accomplishments of 18 Black women, encouraging our young children to “reach for the stars like Mae, Bessie and Katherine…”. This book is the perfect combination of history & inspiration as it introduces kids to women who were pioneers and legends that contributed in huge ways to our culture and community.
Homemade Love* by bell hooks with pictures by Shane W. Evans (Board Book ages 0-3, Picture Book ages 4-8):
Homemade Love is a wonderful book to read to little ones because of it’s beautiful language and illustrations, but also because it introduces them to an important author and figure in the world of feminism and social justice, bell hooks (Gloria Jean Watkins). Most of all, what I love about this book is that it provides several opportunities for hugs, kisses and snuggles with your kids as you read along, something we can never give too many of.
Intersection Allies* by Chelsea Johnson, LaToya Council, and Carolyn Choi, with illustrations by Ashley Seil Smith, Foreward by Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw (ages 6-12, with additional notes and resources for kids and parents):
This is a MUST READ for all kids and families looking to learn more about intersectionality (if you don't know what this means, get this book!) and how important it is as we begin to learn, and teach, about social justice. As excerpted from the Foreword, written by Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw, “What might the future look like if all children were taught about justice, equity, and solidarity alongside the alphabet and arithmetic?”
I can’t overestimate the importance of this book as a story for kids to be introduced to the ideas around intersectionality and social justice, and as a resource for the adults and caregivers looking to be the example that their kids follow. The “Letter to Grown-Ups” at the beginning of the book outlines this so well, that to not include it in its’ entirety here would not accurately capture its’ full message.
If there is one book you decide to read from this list to better understand this moment of time that we are in, both for you and your kids, this is the book.
Just in case you want to fly* by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Christian Robinson (ages 3-7)
I recently found this book at the bookstore on one of my first outings following the quarantine and I fell in love with the illustration on the cover by illustrator Christian Robinson, whose award-winning book, Last Stop on Market Street, is also on this list. The book follows a lovely rhyming cadence and the pictures delight in a very carefree way- making this an all-around joy to read at any time during the day or night.
Last Stop on Market Street* words by Matt de la Peña, pictures by Christian Robinson (ages 3-5):
This is a beautiful and powerful story in many ways, but particularly in the sense of community it creates, one that is diverse, accepting and real. CJ’s Nana has a gift of recognizing beauty in hidden spaces and of sparking the imagination of her grandson, keeping him focused on the present moment and all that it has to offer. A great story to invite kids & families into a community through both mirrors and windows.
Parker Looks Up: An Extraordinary Moment* by Parker Curry & Jessica Curry, illustrated by Brittany Jackson (ages 4-8):
I remember when I first saw the picture that went viral of a young Parker looking up, in awe, at the portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama at the National Portrait Gallery- everything about that photo represented hope. This book tells the story of that day, when Parker looked up and saw the image of everything she could be, as represented by the First Lady, in a moment of pure magic.
Saturday* by Oge Mora (ages 3-5):
Oge Mora brings us right into this mother-daughter story with such excitement for the day ahead and the bright colors and collage illustrations only add to the anticipation for what adventures are to come. But when things don’t unfold quite the way they had planned, Ava’s mother focuses on messages of resilience and gratitude to enjoy the day, regardless of what has happened. A fun and engaging story that focuses on a typical Saturday in the day and the life of a Black mother & daughter.
*This book is featured as one of our bi-monthly book club selections- it arrives as package #3.
Sulwe* by Lupita Nyong’o and illustrated by Vashti Harrison (ages 4-8):
This stunning and magical book will take you and your kids on a journey of understanding how a young girl feels about the darkness of her skin. This book introduces colorism to young readers, which is defined as “prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group.” (Oxford Dictionary) You’ll learn how Sulwe learns to feel beautiful both inside and out, with a little help from Day and Night.
The Old Truck* by Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey (ages 3-5):
This recently published book by two brothers, Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey, is definitely one of my favorites on this list. Kids (and adults) of all ages will delight in reading this book as they follow the old truck on many adventures over time while enjoying the beautiful images created by over 250 individually made stamps. And I’ve just learned that there will be a new book in this series coming out next year, called The Old Boat…so we’ll have many more adventures to look forward to soon!
What’s the Commotion in the Ocean*, words written by Nyasha Williams and pictures drawn by Sof’ya Glushko (ages 3-7):
I discovered What’s the Commotion in the Ocean last fall, as the author, Nyasha Williams was running a Kickstarter for this book at the same time I was doing mine for For Purpose Kids. When I learned that it was a kids’ book about the environment and cleaning up our oceans AND featured a Black mermaid- I was sold. I’ve been following Nyasha ever since and I’m happy to report she’s working on another awesome book too…so follow her @writingtochangethenarrative on IG for a sneak peek- I know I can’t wait!
Woke Baby* by Mahogany L. Browne and illustrated by Theodore Taylor III (ages 0-3)
This board book is perfect for the littlest of littles- as a mirror and a window for themselves and others. It tells the story of Woke Baby and all that Woke Baby is and all that Woke Baby can be in the world.
**One of the books included in the picture of the stack of books for this post, Racism And Intolerance, is not included here following a review we found by an early childhood educator who teaches anti-racism to parents and teachers. The review pointed out several instances where the book upheld harmful narratives of about racism. I apologize for including this book in the initial photo without doing my due diligence and deferring to those with more knowledge than I on the subject of talking to kids about racism and anti-racism.
Books on Order:
These are books I have not yet read myself but have been featured on several book lists discussing how to talk to kids about racism and anti-racism. Although it’s been hard to find some of them in stock, I’m looking forward to reading them with my son:
Let’s Talk About Race* by Julius Lester and illustrated by Karen Barbour (ages 4-8)
Same, Same But Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw (ages 4-7)
Whoever You Are by Mem Fox and illustrated by Leslie Staub (ages 4-7)
Antiracist Baby* by Ibram X. Kendi and illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky (ages 0-3)
Let the Children March* by Monica Clark-Robinson and illustrated by Frank Morrison (ages 6-9)
Something Happened in our Town* by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins and Ann Hazzard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin (ages 4-8)
The Day You Begin* by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael López (ages 5-8)
A Kids Book About Racism* by Jelani Memory (ages 5-9)
Books Recommended by Black Moms:
While seeking input and feedback for this post from Black Moms, these books were recommended as some of their favorites from their bookshelves at home.
B is for Black Girl* by Channing Moreland, Chelsea Moreland and illustrated by Delmaine Donson (ages 3-7)
Malcolm Little* by Ilyasah Shabazz and illustrated by AG Ford (ages 6-10)
Chocolate Me* by Taye Diggs and illustrated by Shane W. Evans (ages 4-8)
While this is a long list of books and resources, it is by no means complete.
Just like our learning and teaching about racism, anti-racism and celebrating differences amongst cultures, this is the beginning of a lifelong journey. There is no certificate of completion or graduation from this work, it is something we commit to embracing for ourselves, our kids and our communities every day.
As we continue learning, the following communities have been extremely instrumental in providing kid-friendly resources as well as resources for adults for me and For Purpose Kids and I highly recommend connecting with them if you’re interested in gaining a broader understanding of the importance of exposing the next generation to diverse books and toys.
And as previously mentioned, For Purpose Kids is committed to creating a safe space for kids and families to learn and grow as we cultivate empathy in the next generation through diverse characters and global stories. We will make mistakes- it is part of the process- but we will use those mistakes as opportunities to do better.
“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”
- Dr. Maya Angelou
Where Conversations That Matter, Begin.