It's time to talk about race. Why? In a piece for CNN, Jennifer Harvey, author of Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America, wrote, "Do our kids know it's not only OK to notice racial differences, but that it's a good and important thing to do? We have to show our kids these are discussions we want to have with them, otherwise white kids learn race talk is taboo."
So, how do you talk to a toddler or young child about this? Begin by filling your bookshelves with non-white voices and imagery, and use the differences—and shared experiences—you see on the page to guide a conversation. Here are some wonderful books to start with.
1. “Rap a Tap Tap: Here's Bojangles - Think of That!” by Leo and Diane Diillon
Hey, it's never too early to jumpstart your kid's love of non-fiction. This picture book tells the story of the groundbreaking Black entertainer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson with a "Rap-a-Tap-Tap" line on repeat that is highly mimic-able for your toddler. Black historical figures are often glossed over or white-washed in school curriculums and even the media we consume, so why not start a love of learning with this fun book?
2. “The Snowy Day” by Ezra Jack Keats
A classic for a reason—this is the story of a Black boy who lives in an apartment in the city and is obsessed with snow. Know anyone else obsessed with snow? Simply pointing out our similarities in spite of our different backgrounds can build the foundation for empathy.
3. “Saturdays” by Oge Mora
Saturdays are everything to this Black mother-daughter pair. But for many reasons, this one doesn't go according to plan. As the mom starts to feel a meltdown coming on, her daughter, Ava, reminds her that togetherness is the point. Ask your child to point out how the characters are similar or different from your family.
4. “Dream Big, Little One” by Vashti Harrison
This illustrated board book is like a toddler 101 class in Black heroines. Think: astronaut Mae Jamison, mathematician Katherine Johnson, aviator Bessie Coleman, and more.
5. “Last Stop on Market Street” by Matt de la Peña and Illustrated by Christian Robinson
Every Sunday after church, CJ and his grandma ride the bus across town. On this particular afternoon, CJ asks several important questions, such as why he and his grandma take the bus and not a car, and why he doesn't have an iPod. Like many other picks on this list, this one's not overtly about race, but Market Street is about class and being grateful for and mindful of all the people in a community.
6. “You Hold Me Up” by Monique Gray Smith and Illustrated by Danielle Daniel
Considered a foundational book about building relationships, fostering empathy and encouraging respect between peers, You Hold Me Up's bright illustrations also feature Native and Indigenous characters, which are vastly underrepresented in media. We also recommend pre-ordering When We Are Kind, another illustrated book about acts kindness from Smith.
7. “Imani's Moon” by Janay Brown-Wood and Illustrated by Hazel Mitchell
As the smallest girl in her African village, Imani is the target of much teasing, but she never lets go of her dreams. With vibrant illustrations, this book is a wonderful starting place to talk about those who are different from us and resilience in the face of adversity.
8. “This Day in June” by Gayle E. Pitman and Illustrated by Kristyna Litten
It may take a few years for your kid to actually say, "intersectionality," but you can imbue them with those ideals starting at any age. In fact, since the pages of This Day in June are composed of simple two-line rhymes and whimsical illustrations, this is an easy book for introducing respect, acceptance and understanding of the LGBTQ+ community. Plus, the book includes age-appropriate ways to address questions on sexual orientation and gender identity, too.
9. “The Skin You Live In” by Michael Tyler and Illustrated by David Lee Csicsko
A nursery rhyme book that tackles race simply by highlighting bold, friendly faces of all colors, The Skin I'm In was basically designed to spark important discussions with children.
10. “Not My Idea: A Book about Whiteness” by Anastasia Higginbotham
For the kids who start asking more serious questions about the world around them, this multimedia picture book offers an honest explanation of racism and whiteness (including white supremacy). A Publisher's Weekly review wrote: "It's that exact mix of true-to-life humor and unflinching honesty that makes Higginbotham's book work so well..."
11. “The Anti-Racist Baby Book” by Ibram X. Kendi and Illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky
Targeted for actual babies and up, The Anti-Racist Baby wants to help you make your child anti-racist. In addition to the awesome art, the book provides language to help you start that conversation at an early age.
12. “A Kid's Book About Racism” by Jelani Memory
Author and entrepreneur, Jelani Memory, founded his company, A Kids Book About, to empower children, speak to them like the smart (OK, and small) humans they are and encourage uncomfortable conversations with the adults in their lives. And it all started with this book. Long story short, this is an honest kids book about racism—what it is and how to know when you see it.