In the journey to raise my children as anti-racists, I have learned so much. I have been humbled by my lack of education around historical perspectives, and feel amply blessed by the generous authors and beautiful works I have encountered along the way.
One suggestion for parents in reading these amazing books to young children, is to read the Author’s Notes before launching into the book with your child. They are chock full of context and perspective that will help you in explaining things to your child as the stories unfold. Also, it’s okay to still be learning. Humbly admitting this to your children can help them realize that anti-racist work is a lifelong process that requires commitment and constant education.
The following are some books our family has enjoyed together as we celebrate and honor Black History Month:
Lyons outlines a family tradition and interweaves that tradition to introduce children to the reality of slave and free Black marriage, and its impact on the family. Children will connect to the injustice of how families could be torn apart with the sale of mothers, fathers, and children by slaveowners at their will. This story recognizes the importance of the practice of “jumping the broom,” what it signified for Black families, and introduces the protections that legal recognition of those unions provided. Complete with beautiful illustrations, this book is a great introduction to aspects of discrimination that impacted family life very directly.
Written by his daughter, this book introduces the early life of Malcom X, one of America’s most influential people. This perspective helps children connect with a historical figure in a unique way. Young Malcolm’s story is interwoven with the racial landscape of the times – including the death of his father at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan and Black Legion – the real impact of the Jim Crow era, and the Great Depression. This is a story of childhood resilience, determination, and hope.
This short book tells a story of overcoming racial discrimination and the power that that work had for future generations. It is a brief, hopeful story outlined in a sharing between a grandfather and young boy. This story will require the reader to draw out context and history for the younger child, including the specific practices of The Wonder Bread factory outlined in this book.
This book outlines the lives of 20 American protestors spanning decades, from Samuel Adams to Colin Kapernick and American Ferrera. Written in lyrical prose with stunning illustrations by Ziyue Chen, it is then completed with brief histories for each protestor. This book offers a high level look at 20 important influencers in America, and serves as a good starting point for further research into each one.
The story of Molly Williams, recognized as the first known Black female firefighter in America, is one of empowerment and strength as Molly rises to the occasion during an emergency. Children will connect with this story as Molly realizes she can take on a bigger role than cook for the fire station, when called upon. The story is a captivating one of her bravery and also offers a history of the volunteer citizen fire companies of the 1800s and how they supported their communities.
The story is a wonderful introduction into both the history of Effa Manley, one of the most influential women in American baseball history, and The Negro League. It touches on everything from workers rights and the effectiveness of boycotts, to the work Effa did to bring proper recognition and equitable pay to players in the Negro League. Baseball lovers will be enriched with this history, and perhaps surprised to learn that some of their favorite players were discriminated against for so long. In fact, it wasn’t until 2020 that Major League Baseball recognized players in the Negro League as Major Leaguers!
School integration is another good topic for the younger child, because it is an issue that they can uniquely connect to as young students themselves. This non-fiction book by Toni Morrison is complete with historical photos full of emotion. These help the reader relate to how it might have felt to be on the receiving end of many cruelties, but also highlights what allyship looks like. Photos of Ruby Bridges, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King Jr. may be familiar to children as this story unfolds. There are photo notes at the back of the book with explanations that parents may find useful, and a timeline that highlights the many, many years between the Supreme Court ruling legalizing “separate but equal” facilities (1896), the first integration of Black children into public schools in New Orleans (1960), and The Little Rock Nine being awarded the Congressional Gold Medal (1999). These timelines can be useful in explaining to children how long the fight for equality and justice has been, and continues to be.