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Handling Racism: Read Books

Our mission at News-O-Matic goes well beyond sharing daily news for kids. We seek to inspire the next generation to grow into empathetic, responsible global citizens with respect for people of all backgrounds. That means having honest conversations — however difficult — about race in America.  “Read Books” is the fifth article in our “Handling Racism” series, a resource that teachers and parents can use to facilitate these conversations with kids.

There are a lot of actions to take in the fight against racism. People can march through streets in protest. They can call their local leaders and demand change. Or they can donate money to activists. There’s another way to help that is simple yet effective. It’s as easy as cracking open a book.

Reading can help change the world in many ways. It’s a great way to learn about the issue of racism and the history of injustice. It’s important for people to educate themselves about these real-life topics. Both nonfiction and fiction books can help. A 2013 study showed that reading certain types of fiction helped readers better understand the thoughts and feelings of others. Those are signs of empathy.

For reading to make an impact, people have to actively find the right books. This is happening now. Protesters across the United States — and the world — are calling for equality. People are getting the message and looking to educate themselves. Bookstores and websites are selling out of many books on racism. And many parents are working to make sure their kids have books with characters of all colors.

EmbraceRace is a group that works to support children of color and teach all kids about issues of race. It shared a list of book recommendations for young readers. Two literacy groups — The Conscious Kid and American Indians in Children’s Literature — helped with the suggestions. Here are a few they shared:

Something Happened in Our Town — Fiction, Ages 4-8 by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard

This picture book is about two families. In the town they live in, police shoot a black man. Just like kids in real life, the kids in the book have questions. And the story aims to help answer them.

Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America — Nonfiction, Ages 4-8 by Carole Boston Weatherford

Gordon Parks was a photographer. He used his pictures to show the lives of real people. Parks was also the first black director to take charge of a major Hollywood film. This book is about his work.

Separate is Never Equal — Nonfiction, Ages 6-9 by Duncan Tonatiuh

Sylvia Mendez was just 8 years old when she wasn’t allowed to go to a white school. Her family went to court and eventually helped end school segregation in California. Her true story is told in this book!

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History — Nonfiction, Ages 8-11 by Vashti Harrison

This book features 40 black women who made history. It’s got pilots, scientists, government leaders, and more.

Cicely Lewis also had some recommended reads for News-O-Matic readers. She’s the School Librarian of the Year, and she’s known for starting a program called Read Woke. That challenge gets students to read more books with non-white characters. Many of Lewis’ students are black or Hispanic, so they can see more characters that look like them in these books. Lewis added that it also helps students “to learn about others.” Here are some of her book suggestions:

Hair Love — Fiction, Ages 4-8 by Matthew A. Cherry

This book tells a simple yet powerful story of a dad doing his daughter’s hair. It’s based on a short film!

Black Brother, Black Brother — Fiction, Ages 8-12 by Jewell Parker Rhodes

This is another story about family. It shows how two brothers are treated differently based on the tone of their skin. Donte, age 12, is often bullied, but he finds a way forward through the sport of fencing.

Clean Getaway — Fiction, Ages 8-12 by Nic Stone

An 11-year-old boy takes a surprising road trip with his grandmother in this book. He learns about the history of race in America along the way.

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You — Nonfiction, Ages 12 and up by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds

This book faces the issue of racism head-on. It looks at where racist ideas came from and where we are now. And it gives ideas for how we can work toward an antiracist future.

Of course, the work doesn’t stop at reading. It’s important to really think about what the stories tell us. The more we learn about other people, the more we see that we’re really not so different after all. And the world may be a better place if we can carry those lessons from the page to our lives.


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