Children's Books to Promote Conversations on Race, Privilege, and Activism

via barnes and noble

It's never too early to learn!

It's imperative that parents start teaching their children about notions of equality, anti-racism, and activism, as early as possible. Even if this means reading some of these books to your children before they can read themselves. Harvard University recently released a study that shows that children exposed to racism tend to accept and embrace it as young as age 3, and in just a matter of days.

Thanks to the help of embracerace.org, we've compiled a list of some of the best children's books that you can read with or to your child, to help teach them about racism, the importance of equality, and much more. Exposing them to these ideals early on will help foster more open and informed conversations about race down the road.

If you're a parent of a young child and you're wondering what books would be appropriate and informative for your child, please use this list as a guide. We've organized the list based on age group, starting from youngest to oldest.

You can reference this site to find Black-owned bookstores in your area where you can purchase these books. Should they happen to not carry or be out of what you wanted, we've also linked additional vendors below.

1. Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills by Renée Watson, illustrated by Christian Robinson

Amazon

Ages 3-7

Featuring a moving text and colorful illustrations, Harlem's Little Blackbird is a timeless story about justice, equality, and the importance of following one's heart and dreams.

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2. We Are Grateful, Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Frané Lessac

Amazon

Ages 3-7

Written by a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, this look at one group of Native Americans is appended with a glossary and the complete Cherokee syllabary, originally created by Sequoyah.

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3. Young Water Protectors: A Story About Standing Rock by Aslan and Kelly Tudor

Amazon

Ages 3-8

Told from the point of view of a child, Young Water Protectors is a rare kind of story of a unique period of activism with Native people from so many nations standing together to fight a company exploiting people and hurting earth's resources.

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4. The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael López

Amazon

Ages 4-8

National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson and two-time Pura Belpré Illustrator Award winner Rafael López have teamed up to create a poignant, yet heartening book about finding courage to connect, even when you feel scared and alone.

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5. The Legendary Miss Lena Horne by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon

Amazon

Ages 4-8

Celebrate the life of Lena Horne, the pioneering African American actress and civil rights activist, with this inspiring and powerful picture book from award-winning author Carole Boston Weatherford.

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6. Something Happened in Our Town by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin ​

Amazon

Ages 4-8

Something Happened in Our Town follows two families — one White, one Black — as they discuss a police shooting of a Black man in their community. The story aims to answer children's questions about such traumatic events, and to help children identify and counter racial injustice in their own lives.

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7. Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis by Jabari Asim, illustrated by E.B. Lewis

Amazon

Ages 4-8

Something Happened in Our Town follows two families — one White, one Black — as they discuss a police shooting of a Black man in their community. The story aims to answer children's questions about such traumatic events, and to help children identify and counter racial injustice in their own lives.

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8. When We Were Alone by David A. Robertson, illustrated by Julie Flett

Amazon

Ages 4-8

A grandmother passes along her history to her curious granddaughter in this beautifully illustrated and thought-provoking book.

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9. Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Jamey Christoph

Amazon

Ages 4-8

Told through lyrical verse and atmospheric art, this is the story of how, with a single photograph, a self-taught artist got America to take notice.

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10. Coretta Scott by Ntozake Shange, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Amazon

Ages 4-8

Walking many miles to school in the dusty road, young Coretta Scott knew the unfairness of life in the segregated south. A yearning for equality began to grow. Together with Martin Luther King, Jr., she gave birth to a vision of change through nonviolent protest. It was the beginning of a journey—with dreams of freedom for all.

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11. Rosa by Nikki Giovanni, illustrated by Bryan Collier

Amazon

Ages 4-8

Fifty years after her refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, city bus, Mrs. Rosa Parks is still one of the most important figures in the American civil rights movement. This tribute to Mrs. Parks is a celebration of her courageous action and the events that followed.

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12. My Hair is a Garden by Cozbi A. Cabrera

Amazon

Ages 5-8

After a day of being taunted by classmates about her unruly hair, Mackenzie cant take any more and she seeks guidance from her wise and comforting neighbor, Miss Tillie. Using the beautiful garden in the backyard as a metaphor, Miss Tillie shows Mackenzie that maintaining healthy hair is not a chore nor is it something to fear. Most importantly, Mackenzie learns that natural black hair is beautiful.

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13. That’s Not Fair! Emma Tenayuca’s Struggle for Justice by Carmen Tafolla and Sharyll Tenayuca, illustrated by Terry Ybáñez

Amazon

Ages 5-7

A vivid depiction of the early injustices encountered by a young Mexican-American girl in San Antonio in the 1920s. This story serves as a model for young and old alike about courage, compassion, and the role everyone can play in making the world fairer.

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14. Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Amazon

Ages 5-8

This poetic book is a resounding tribute to Tubman's strength, humility, and devotion. With proper reverence, Weatherford and Nelson do justice to the woman who, long ago, earned over and over the name Moses.

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15. Sojourner Truth’s Step-Stomp Stride by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney

Amazon

Ages 5-9

Born into slavery, Belle had to endure the cruelty of several masters before she escaped to freedom. But she knew she wouldn't really be free unless she was helping to end injustice. That's when she changed her name to Sojourner and began traveling across the country, demanding equal rights for black people and for women. Many people weren't ready for her message, but Sojourner was brave, and her truth was powerful. And slowly, but surely as Sojourner's step-stomp stride, America began to change.

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16. Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged! by Jody Nyasha Warner and Richard Rudnicki

Amazon

Ages 5-9

In 1946, Viola Desmond bought a movie ticket at the Roseland Theatre in Nova Scotia. After settling into a main floor seat, an usher came by and told her to move, because her ticket was only good for the balcony. She offered to pay the difference in price but was refused: “You people have to sit in the upstairs section.” Viola refused to move. She was hauled off to jail, but her actions gave strength and inspiration to Canada’s black community. Vibrant illustrations and oral-style prose tell Viola’s story with sympathy and historical accuracy.

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17. When I Was Eight by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard ​

Amazon

Ages 6-8

Bestselling memoir Fatty Legs for younger readers. Based on the true story of Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, and complemented by stunning illustrations, When I Was Eight makes the bestselling Fatty Legs accessible to younger readers. Now they, too, can meet this remarkable girl who reminds us what power we hold when we can read.

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18. Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Stephen Alcorn

Amazon

Ages 6-9

Andrea Davis Pinkney's moving text and Stephen Alcorn's glorious portraits celebrate the lives of ten bold women who lit the path to freedom for generations. Includes biographies of Sojournor Truth, Biddy Mason, Harriet Tubman, Ida B.Wells-Barnett, Mary McLeod Bethune, Ella Josephine Baker, Dorothy Irene Height, Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Shirley Chisholm.

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19. Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh

Amazon

Ages 6-9

Almost 10 years before Brown vs. Board of Education, Sylvia Mendez and her parents helped end school segregation in California. An American citizen of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage who spoke and wrote perfect English, Mendez was denied enrollment to a “Whites only” school. Her parents took action by organizing the Hispanic community and filing a lawsuit in federal district court. Their success eventually brought an end to the era of segregated education in California.

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20. Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X

Amazon

Ages 6-10

Malcolm X grew to be one of America’s most influential figures. But first, he was a boy named Malcolm Little. Written by his daughter, this inspiring picture book biography celebrates a vision of freedom and justice. Together with acclaimed illustrator AG Ford, Ilyasah Shabazz gives us a unique glimpse into the childhood of her father, Malcolm X, with a lyrical story that carries a message that resonates still today—that we must all strive to live to our highest potential.

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21. Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Amazon

Ages 6-10

The story of one of America’s most revered figures is brought to life by the text of award-winning author Walter Dean Myers and the sweeping, lush illustrations of artist Floyd Cooper. This picture book biography draws on Frederick Douglass’s autobiographies and includes a timeline, making it an excellent source for reports.

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22. Unstoppable: How Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team Defeated Army by Art Coulson, illustrated by Nick Hardcastle

Amazon

Ages 6-10

In the autumn of 1912, the football team from Carlisle Indian Industrial School took the field at the U.S. Military Academy, home to the bigger, stronger, and better-equipped West Points Cadets. Sportswriters billed the game as a sort of rematch, pitting against each other the descendants of U.S. soldiers and American Indians who fought on the battlefield only 20 years earlier. But for lightning-fast Jim Thorpe and the other Carlisle players, that day's game was about skill, strategy, and determination. Known for unusual formations and innovative plays, the Carlisle squad was out to prove just one thing -- that it was the best football team in all the land.

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23. Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story by Paula Yoo, illustrated by Lin Wang

Amazon

Ages 6-11

Anna May Wong—the first Chinese American movie star—was a pioneer of the cinema. Her spirited determination in the face of discrimination is an inspiration to all who must overcome obstacles so that their dreams may come true.

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24. Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney​

Amazon

Ages 7-10

This picture book is a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the momentous Woolworth's lunch counter sit-in, when four college students staged a peaceful protest that became a defining moment in the struggle for racial equality and the growing civil rights movement.

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25. The Whispering Town by Jennifer Elvgren, illustrated by Fabio Santomauro

Amazon

Ages 7-11

The dramatic story of neighbors in a small Danish fishing village who, during the Holocaust, shelter a Jewish family waiting to be ferried to safety in Sweden. Based on a true story.

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26. Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Amazon

Ages 7-11

Ruth's story is fiction, but The Green Book and its role in helping a generation of African American travelers avoid some of the indignities of Jim Crow are historical fact.

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27. I Am Not A Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer, illustrated by Gillian Newland

Amazon

Ages 7-11

A spotlight on the injustice of Canada's residential school program based on Dupuis's grandmother's childhood experience.

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28. Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison

Amazon

Ages 8-11

Featuring 18 trailblazing black women in American history, Dream Big, Little One is the irresistible board book adaptation of Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History. Among these women, you'll find heroes, role models, and everyday women who did extraordinary things - bold women whose actions and beliefs contributed to making the world better for generations of girls and women to come.The leaders in this book may be little, but they all did something big and amazing, inspiring generations to come.

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29. Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Eric Velasquez

Amazon

Ages 9-12

In luminous paintings and arresting poems, two of children’s literature’s top African-American scholars track Arturo Schomburg’s quest to correct history.

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30. Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes

Amazon

Ages 9-12

Featuring vibrant mixed-media art full of intricate detail, Voice of Freedom celebrates Fannie Lou Hamer’s life and legacy with a message of hope, determination, and strength.

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