Using Books to Talk about Racism

America in 2020 seems to insist that we have several difficult conversations all at once, conversations about politics and power, economies and trade-offs, illness and death and safety and fear…

…and race.

Racial conversations are difficult enough for adults, but if you have young children, you may be struggling to know how or where to begin – or whether to begin, at all. How much are children already learning from television and the Internet – and what, exactly, are they learning? How can we help them make sense of what’s happening? How can we answer the questions they will inevitably ask?

A good place to begin is with books. Books beg us to slow down and consider things. They give us time to assimilate or question the information they present, unlike a television program that moves quickly from scene to scene.

And books, when read to a child, seem to insist on closeness, a closeness that helps to allay fears and unease. They encourage parents and children to talk. They suggest things to discuss, and they offer ways to enter into those difficult conversations.

Baxter Memorial Library has many books that can help with these discussions. From board books and picture books to graphic novels and books for older, independent readers, the list below highlights some of our offerings.

Picture Books on Inclusion and Kindness

Books on kindness are always a good place to begin. Here are several choices for the youngest among us.

Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes (we also have this title on DVD)
“Chrysanthemum thinks her name is absolutely perfect—until her first day of school. “You’re named after a flower!” teases Victoria. “Let’s smell her,” says Jo. Chrysanthemum wilts. What will it take to make her blossom again?”

The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig
“Meet Brian, the invisible boy. Nobody ever seems to notice him or think to include him in their group, game, or birthday party . . . until, that is, a new kid comes to class.  When Justin, the new boy, arrives, Brian is the first to make him feel welcome. And when Brian and Justin team up to work on a class project together, Brian finds a way to shine…. This gentle story shows how small acts of kindness can help children feel included and allow them to flourish.” 

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson
“Chloe and her friends won’t play with the new girl, Maya. Every time Maya tries to join Chloe and her friends, they reject her. Eventually Maya stops coming to school. When Chloe’s teacher gives a lesson about how even small acts of kindness can change the world, Chloe is stung by the lost opportunity for friendship, and thinks about how much better it could have been if she’d shown a little kindness toward Maya.”

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson
There will be times when you walk into a room
and no one there is quite like you.
“There are many reasons to feel different. Maybe it’s how you look or talk, or where you’re from; maybe it’s what you eat, or something just as random. It’s not easy to take those first steps into a place where nobody really knows you yet, but somehow you do it. Jacqueline Woodson’s lyrical text and Rafael López’s dazzling art reminds us that we all feel like outsiders sometimes-and how brave it is that we go forth anyway. And that sometimes, when we reach out and begin to share our stories, others will be happy to meet us halfway.”

Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch by Eileen Spinelli (ON ORDER) 
“Mr. Hatch is a drab, predictable gentleman who leads a painfully ordered and uninteresting life, his dreary routine at the shoelace factory barely broken by the same joyless lunch day after day. One Valentine’s Day a giant candy-filled heart is delivered to Mr. Hatch with a note that reads, ‘Somebody loves you.’ Just the thought of someone taking an interest in him completely changes the way Mr. Hatch interacts with his neighbors and co-workers. The newly adorable gentleman becomes so much a part of people’s lives that when it is disclosed that the heart was delivered by mistake, his friends and neighbors rally around him in a loving demonstration (Publishers Weekly).

Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller
“When Tanisha spills grape juice all over her new dress, her classmate wants to make her feel better, wondering: What does it mean to be kind? From asking the new girl to play to standing up for someone being bullied, this moving story explores what kindness is, and how any act, big or small, can make a difference―or at least help a friend. With a gentle text from the award-winning author of Sophie’s Squash, Pat Zietlow Miller, and irresistible art from Jen Hill, Be Kind is an unforgettable story about how two simple words can change the world.”

Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed by Emily Pearson
“Can one child’s good deed change the world? It can when she’s Ordinary Mary―an ordinary girl from an ordinary school, on her way to her ordinary house―who stumbles upon ordinary blueberries. When she decides to pick them for her neighbor, Mrs. Bishop, she starts a chain reaction that multiplies around the world.”

Picture Books on Ways of Seeing

One scene, many accounts. Why? How can one person see a situation in one way, and another person, another? These books show how each person’s (or, in this case, creature’s) perspective can be different.

They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel
The cat walked through the world, with its whiskers, ears, and paws . . . In this glorious celebration of observation, curiosity, and imagination, Brendan Wenzel shows us the many lives of one cat, and how perspective shapes what we see. When you see a cat, what do you see?”

A Stone Sat Still by Brendan Wenzel
A Stone Sat Still tells the story of a seemingly ordinary rock but to the animals that use it, it is a resting place, a kitchen, a safe haven…even an entire world. This is a gorgeous exploration of perspective, perception, and the passage of time, with an underlying environmental message that is timely and poignant.”

Seven Blind Mice by Ed Young
“‘It’s a pillar,’ says one. ‘It’s a fan,’ says another. One by one, the seven blind mice investigate the strange Something by the pond. And one by one, they come back with a different theory. It’s only when the seventh mouse goes out-and explores the whole Something-that the mice see the whole truth.”

Voices in the Park by Anthony Browne
“Different characters tell the same story from their own perspectives in this timeless children’s story book, which explores the themes of alienation, friendship, and the bizarre amid the mundane. Four people enter a park, and through their eyes we see four different visions. There’s the bossy woman, the sad man, the lonely boy, and the young girl whose warmth touches those she meets.  As the story moves from one voice to another, their perspectives are reflected in the shifting landscape and seasons.”

Books that Specifically Talk about Race

The Family Book by Todd Parr
For the youngest readers/listeners, a board book about how families are different – and the same.  “The Family Book celebrates the love we feel for our families and all the different varieties they come in. Whether you have two moms or two dads, a big family or a small family, a clean family or a messy one, Todd Parr assures readers that no matter what kind of family you have, every family is special in its own unique way.  Parr’s message about the importance of embracing our differences is delivered in a playful way. With his trademark bold, bright colors and silly scenes, this book will encourage children to ask questions about their own families.” Includes two pages that talk about the color of families (“Some families are the same color. Some families are different colors.”)

The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson
“Clover’s mom says it isn’t safe to cross the fence that segregates their African-American side of town from the white side where Anna lives. But the two girls strike up a friendship, and get around the grown-ups’ rules by sitting on top of the fence together.” A “moving, lyrical narrative told in the hopeful voice of a child confused about the fence someone else has built in her yard and the racial tension that divides her world.”  

That Is My Dream!: A picture book of Langston Hughes’ “Dream Variation” by Langston Hughes
“Dream Variation,” about the dream of a world free of discrimination and racial prejudice, is one of Langston Hughes’ most celebrated poems.
To fling my arms wide

In some place of the sun,
To whirl and to dance
Till the white day is done….
Langston Hughes’ inspiring and timeless message of pride, joy, and the dream of a better life is brilliantly and beautifully interpreted in Daniel Miyares’ gorgeous artwork. Follow one African-American boy through the course of his day as the harsh reality of segregation and racial prejudice comes into vivid focus. But the boy dreams of a different life—one full of freedom, hope, and wild possibility, where he can fling his arms wide in the face of the sun.

Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights by Rob Sanders
“A primer for peaceful protest, resistance, and activism from the author of Rodzilla and Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag. Protesting. Standing up for what’s right. Uniting around the common good—kids have questions about all of these things they see and hear about each day. Through sparse and lyrical writing, Rob Sanders introduces abstract concepts like “fighting for what you believe in” and turns them into something actionable. Jared Schorr’s bold, bright illustrations brings the resistance to life making it clear that one person can make a difference. And together, we can accomplish anything.

The Colors of Us by Karen Katz  
“Seven-year-old Lena is going to paint a picture of herself. She wants to use brown paint for her skin. But when she and her mother take a walk through the neighborhood, Lena learns that brown comes in many different shades. Through the eyes of a little girl who begins to see her familiar world in a new way, this book celebrates the differences and similarities that connect all people.”

Can I Touch Your Hair: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship by Sean Qualls and Selina Alk
“Two poets, one white and one black, explore race and childhood in this must-have collection tailored to provoke thought and conversation. How can Irene and Charles work together on their fifth grade poetry project? They don’t know each other . . . and they’re not sure they want to. Irene Latham, who is white, and Charles Waters, who is black, use this fictional setup to delve into different experiences of race in a relatable way, exploring such topics as hair, hobbies, and family dinners.”

ABC of African American Poetry by Ashley Bryan
And God stepped out on space,
And he looked around and said:
I’m lonely — I’ll make me a world.
~ James Weldon Johnson
“Thus begins Coretta Scott King Award-winner Ashley Bryan’s collection of inspiring excerpts of poems by celebrated African American poets. Beautifully illustrated with his own tempera and gouache paintings, Ashley Bryan’s unique alphabet book will delight readers of any age.”

Show Way by Jacqueline Woodson
“Soonie’s great-grandma was just seven years old when she was sold to a big plantation without her ma and pa, and with only some fabric and needles to call her own. She pieced together bright patches with names like North Star and Crossroads, patches with secret meanings made into quilts called Show Ways — maps for slaves to follow to freedom. When she grew up and had a little girl, she passed on this knowledge. And generations later, Soonie — who was born free — taught her own daughter how to sew beautiful quilts to be sold at market and how to read. From slavery to freedom, through segregation, freedom marches and the fight for literacy, the tradition they called Show Way has been passed down by the women in Jacqueline Woodson’s family as a way to remember the past and celebrate the possibilities of the future. Beautifully rendered in Hudson Talbott’s luminous art, this moving, lyrical account pays tribute to women whose strength and knowledge illuminate their daughters’ lives.”

Let’s Talk about Race by Julius Lester  
“‘This wonderful book should be a first choice for all collections and is strongly recommended as a springboard for discussions about differences’ (School Library Journal). In this acclaimed book, the author of the Newbery Honor Book To Be a Slave shares his own story as he explores what makes each of us special. A strong choice for sharing at home or in the classroom. Karen Barbour’s dramatic, vibrant paintings speak to the heart of Lester’s unique vision, truly a celebration of all of us. ‘This stunning picture book introduces race as just one of many chapters in a person’s story’ (School Library Journal). ‘Lester’s poignant picture book helps children learn, grow, discuss, and begin to create a future that resolves differences’ (Children’s Literature). Julius Lester says, ‘I write because our lives are stories. If enough of these stories are told, then perhaps we will begin to see that our lives are the same story. The differences are merely in the details.’”

Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library by Carol Boston Weatherford
Where is our historian to give us our side? Arturo asked. Amid the scholars, poets, authors, and artists of the Harlem Renaissance stood an Afro–Puerto Rican named Arturo Schomburg. This law clerk’s life’s passion was to collect books, letters, music, and art from Africa and the African diaspora and bring to light the achievements of people of African descent through the ages. When Schomburg’s collection became so big it began to overflow his house (and his wife threatened to mutiny), he turned to the New York Public Library, where he created and curated a collection that was the cornerstone of a new Negro Division. A century later, his groundbreaking collection, known as the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, has become a beacon to scholars all over the world.”

Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport
“Doreen Rappaport weaves the immortal words of Dr. King into a captivating narrative to tell the story of his life. With stunning art by acclaimed illustrator Bryan Collier, Martin’s Big Words is an unforgettable portrait of a man whose dream changed America-and the world-forever.”

Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome
“An evocative poem and stunning watercolors come together to honor an American heroine in a Coretta Scott King Honor and Christopher Award-winning picture book. We know her today as Harriet Tubman, but in her lifetime she was called by many names. As General Tubman she was a Union spy. As Moses she led hundreds to freedom on the Underground Railroad. As Minty she was a slave whose spirit could not be broken. As Araminta she was a young girl whose father showed her the stars and the first steps on the path to freedom.”

Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan
“Using original slave auction and plantation estate documents, Ashley Bryan offers a moving and powerful picture book that contrasts the monetary value of a slave with the priceless value of life experiences and dreams that a slave owner could never take away. Imagine being looked up and down and being valued as less than a chair. Less than an ox. Less than a dress. Maybe about the same as…a lantern. You, an object. An object to sell. In his gentle yet deeply powerful way, Ashley Bryan goes to the heart of how a slave is given a monetary value by the slave owner, tempering this with the one thing that CAN’T be bought or sold—dreams. Inspired by the actual will of a plantation owner that lists the worth of each and every one of his “workers”, Bryan has created collages around that document, and others like it. Through fierce paintings and expansive poetry he imagines and interprets each person’s life on the plantation, as well as the life their owner knew nothing about—their dreams and pride in knowing that they were worth far more than an Overseer or Madam ever would guess. Visually epic, and never before done, this stunning picture book is unlike anything you’ve seen.”

And for older readers:

New Kid a graphic novel by Jerry Craft
“Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade. As he makes the daily trip from his Washington Heights apartment to the upscale Riverdale Academy Day School, Jordan soon finds himself torn between two worlds—and not really fitting into either one. Can Jordan learn to navigate his new school culture while keeping his neighborhood friends and staying true to himself?” Winner of the Newbery Medal, Coretta Scott King Author Award, and Kirkus Prize for Young Readers’ Literature.

Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow a graphic novel by James Strum and Rich Tommaso
“Baseball Hall of Famer Leroy ‘Satchel’ Paige (1906 – 1982) changed the face of the game in a career that spanned five decades. Much has been written about this larger-than-life pitcher, but when it comes to Paige, fact does not easily separate from fiction. He made a point of writing his own history . . . and then re-writing it. A tall, lanky fireballer, he was arguably the Negro League’s hardest thrower, most entertaining storyteller and greatest gate attraction. Now the Center for Cartoon Studies turns a graphic novelist’s eye to Paige’s story. Told from the point of view of a sharecropper, this compelling narrative follows Paige from game to game as he travels throughout the segregated South.

March I, II, and III a graphic novel trilogy by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin
“Discover the inside story of the Civil Rights Movement through the eyes of one of its most iconic figures, Congressman John Lewis. March is the award-winning, #1 bestselling graphic novel trilogy recounting his life in the movement, co-written with Andrew Aydin and drawn by Nate Powell.”

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning by Jason Reynolds and Irbram X. Kendi (ON ORDER)
“The construct of race has always been used to gain and keep power, to create dynamics that separate and silence. This remarkable reimagining of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning reveals the history of racist ideas in America, and inspires hope for an antiracist future. It takes you on a race journey from then to now, shows you why we feel how we feel, and why the poison of racism lingers. It also proves that while racist ideas have always been easy to fabricate and distribute, they can also be discredited. Through a gripping, fast-paced, and energizing narrative written by beloved award-winner Jason Reynolds, this book shines a light on the many insidious forms of racist ideas–and on ways readers can identify and stamp out racist thoughts in their daily lives.”

Why Do We Fight?: Conflict, War, and Peace by Niki Walker
“Battles, protests, standoffs, strikes. We hear about them all the time. On the surface, a battle and a protest don’t seem to have much in common, but they’re really just two ways of handling a dispute. One uses violence, the other uses signs and picket lines. But both start as a disagreement between two groups of people. Both are conflicts.”  This book will spur many good discussions.

Racial Profiling: Everyday Inequality by Alison Narie Behnke
“In the United States, racial profiling affects thousands of Americans every day. Both individuals and institutions―such as law enforcement agencies, government bodies, and schools ― routinely use race or ethnicity as grounds for suspecting someone of an offense. The high-profile deaths of unarmed people of color at the hands of police officers have brought renewed national attention to racial profiling and have inspired grassroots activism from groups such as Black Lives Matter. Combining rigorous research with powerful personal stories, this insightful title explores the history, the many manifestations, and the consequences of this form of social injustice.”

Life on the Underground Railroad (Way People Live) by Stuart A. Kallen
“Kallen presents his material in lively, yet objective prose, buttressed by well-chosen quotations from relevant 19th-century documents. The introduction and the first chapter review the history of slavery in America to 1861 and describe a slave’s treatment, labor, cabin, and diet. Subsequent chapters describe terrifying journeys on the “railroad,” and how runaway slaves worked with underground conductors and stationmasters to outwit bounty hunters. A brief final section links the impact of the Underground Railroad experience on African-American military service for the Union and the events of Reconstruction. The text is supplemented by a generous selection of black-and-white maps and period photographs and illustrations, all with much sharper images than found in other volumes in this series. Shaded boxes highlight major figures and interesting facts.” (School Library Journal)

Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America’s First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone
“World War II is raging, and thousands of American soldiers are fighting overseas against the injustices brought on by Hitler. Back on the home front, discrimination against African Americans plays out as much on Main Street as in the military. Tanya Lee Stone examines the little-known history of the Triple Nickles, America’s first black paratroopers, who fought in an attack on the American West by the Japanese. The 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, in the words of First Sergeant Walter Morris, ‘proved that the color of a man had nothing to do with his ability.’”

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin
“On July 17, 1944, a massive explosion rocked the segregated Navy base at Port Chicago, California, killing more than 300 sailors who were at the docks, critically injuring off-duty men in their bunks, and shattering windows up to a mile away. On August 9th, 244 men refused to go back to work until unsafe and unfair conditions at the docks were addressed. When the dust settled, fifty were charged with mutiny, facing decades in jail and even execution. The Port Chicago 50 is a fascinating story of the prejudice and injustice that faced black men and women in America’s armed forces during World War II, and a nuanced look at those who gave their lives in service of a country where they lacked the most basic rights.” A National Book Award Finalist, a YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist, and a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year

Other Books for Young Readers Featuring Black Characters

Here are some of the picture books and easy readers at Baxter that feature black characters:

Love Is by Diane Adams
Daniel Finds a Poem by Micha Archer
Daniel’s Good Day by Micha Archer
Have You Seen Elephant? by David Barrow
Dragons and Marshmallows (Zoey and Sassafras #1) by Asia Citro
Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall
Island Born by Junot Diaz
Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel by Nikki Grimes
Yo, Jo by Rachel Isadora
Ben’s Trumpet by Rachel Isador
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
Flossie and the Fox by Patricia C. McKissack
Over and Under the Pond by Kate Messner
Thank You, Omu by Oge Mora
Raising Dragons by Jerdine Nolen
The Paperboy by Dav Pilkey
Chicken Sunday by Patricia Polacco
I Got the Rhythm by Connie Schofield-Morrison
How to Find Gold by Viviane Schwarz
Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale by John Steptoe
The Jones Family Express by Javaka Steptoe
My Name is Blessing by Eric Walters
Coming on Home Soon by Jacqueline Woodson
The Jones Family Express by Javaka Steptoe
Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale by John Steptoe
My Name is Blessing by Eric Walters
Coming on Home Soon by Jacqueline Woodson

And nonfiction picture books:
Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets by Kwame Alexander
Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters by Michael Mahin
A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin by Jen Bryant

For Older Readers

The library also owns quite a few junior fiction and young adult novels that deal with issues of race.

Junior Fiction Novels

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
Stone Mirrors: The Sculpture and Silence of Edmonia Lewis by Jeannine Atkins
The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis
Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis
Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton
The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson
Night on Fire by Ronald Kidd
Sarny: A Life Remembered by Gary Paulsen
A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramee
Jason Reynold’s Track Series: Ghost, Patina, Sunny, and Lu
Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
Paperboy by Vince Vawter
My Name Is Not Friday by Jon Walter
The World Beneath: A Novel (One South African Boy’s Struggle to be Free) by Anice Warman
The Length of a String by Elissa Brent Weissman
Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia
Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson
Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Young Adult Novels

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Solo by Kwame Alexander
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
Booked by Kwame Alexander
Dread Nation: Rise Up by Justina Ireland
Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson
Letters from a Slave Girl by Mary E. Lyons
Light It Up by Kekla Magoon
Handbook for Boys: A Novel by Walter Dean Myers
Monster by Walter Dean Myers
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
Miles Morales: Spider-man by Jason Reynolds
Dear Martin by Nic Stone
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (also on DVD)
On the Come Up by Angie Thomas
Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson
The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
American Street by Ibi Zoboi

We also have junior reader biographies of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Toni Morrison. 

If you’d like to discuss specific titles or offer suggestions on purchasing, I’m always more than happy to talk. You can email me or give me a call at the library on Mondays, Tuesdays, or Thursdays (763-2875). If there’s any way I can help you navigate these turbulent waters, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

Wishing kindness and understanding for all,