Kids’ Books on Race and Civil Rights


Elaine Kauffman put together a great list of kids’ books on the topic of race and civil rights. You’ll want to see these!

PICTURE BOOKS ON RACE AND CIVIL RIGHTS

The Story Of Ruby Bridges

By Robert Coles • Illustrated by George Ford • Grade K-3

This is the true story of a child told in a way that children of the same age can really understand. This book celebrates six year old Ruby, who in 1960, faced angry crowds and empty classrooms as she became the first child to attend an all-white school after a court-ordered desegregation in New Orleans. Author Coles does a great job of making an historical event personal and showing how a child can overcome a difficult situation.

 

We March

Written and illustrated by Shane W. Evans • Ages 5 and up

This is a book about the 1963 march on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his famous speech. The spare text and brilliant illustrations make this a wonderful book for children as young as 3 years old. The light, first person narrative tells the story of a family getting ready to march in the historic event. Illustrations depict crowds of people from all walks of life and celebrate the excitement the event generated and the power of peaceful protest

 

Let the Children March

By Monica Clark-Robinson • Illustrated by Frank Morrison • Ages 6 and up

In 1963 Birmingham, Alabama, thousands of African American children volunteered to march for their civil rights after hearing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak. They protested the laws that kept black people separate from white people. Facing fear, hate, and danger, these children used their voices to change the world.

The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist
By Cynthia Levinson • Illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton • Grade level: 2-5

This picture book about Audrey Faye Hendricks, a 9-year-old girl who marched in Dr. Martin Luther King’s Children’s March and was jailed for a week, shows how one child overcame fear and joined in the fight for justice. In my original review, I wrote, “Levinson and Newton keep her story bright and snappy, emphasizing the girl’s eagerness to make a difference and her proud place in her community.”

A is for Activist
Written and illustrated by Innosanto Nagara • Grade level K-2

A board book that’s not just for babies! With a fun sense of humor, this alphabet book introduces kids to the idea that life may not be all about acquiring the latest Thomas Train. I was worried this book would be annoyingly didactic, but the rhymes and wit make this introduction to social justice a worthwhile read. The book teaches generosity, compassion, consideration for others. Use the book as a starting point for further discussions about the topics. Counting on Community is the companion book which turns a simple counting book into an inspiring call to action.

Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness

By Anastasia Higginbotham • Ages 8 and up

Okay, white folks, if you are really serious about teaching your kids to be anti-racist, this book is for you. It spells it out and treats kids with the respect they deserve. Kids see things, they know things and trying to hide the way power structures operate from them is insulting. If we want to foster an anti-bias attitude, we must first recognize our own biases. Higginbotham’s essential book helps kids understand the concept of privilege, how it affects them, and offers hope that they have the ability to change it.

You Matter

By Christian Robinson • Ages 4-8

Not so much a book about racism, Robinson’s book encourages children to value themselves. If kids value themselves, they are better set up to value others. Robinson’s delightful illustrations depict kids from all walks of life and his simple but powerful text is accessible by all.

 

Let’s Talk About Race

ByJulius Lester • Illustrated by Karen Barbour • Ages 5 and up

The title says it all. This book focuses on helping kids tell their own story and including their race as an integral, but only one part of their personal history. Lester begins by describing his own story and including, “Oh, and … I’m black.” His narrative then asks kids to think about how people are the same, as well as how they are different. This is a really useful anti-bias, anti-racist book for getting kids to talk directly about how feeling like they are a part of a certain community influences their personal story.

Come with Me
By Holly M. McGhee • Illustrated by Pascal Lamaitre • Ages 4 and up

This lovely picture book offers smaller children a gentle, encouraging, age-appropriate response to disturbing news reports. A little girl is saddened by something she sees on the news — the details are, wisely, never specified. Her parents help her to feel better by going out into the world without fear, being polite and respectful to strangers and shopping at stores with goods from all over the world. When she wonders, “What can I do to help?” She is told, “You can go on.” And so she does, bravely taking the dog out for a walk with a friend.

Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story about Racial Injustice

By Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard • Illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin • Ages 4-8

The book begins with “Something bad happened in our town. The news was on the TV, the radio, and the internet. The grown-ups didn’t think the kids knew about it.”

After discussing the police shooting of a local Black man with their families, Emma and Josh know how to treat a new student who looks and speaks differently than his classmates. Included is an extensive Note to Parents and Caregivers that provides general guidance about addressing racism with children, child-friendly vocabulary definitions, conversation guides, and a link to additional online resources for parents and teachers.

Each Kindness

By Jacqueline Woodson • Illustrated by E.B. Lewis • Ages 5 and up

New girl, Maya, finds herself alone at school. Her obvious poverty sets her apart and the other children reject her overtures of friendship, giving into their own biases. Another girl, Chloe, narrates the action and the way the other children reject Maya, including her own admission, “She’s not my friend.” One day, their teacher drops a stone into a bowl of water to demonstrate how powerful the ripples from a single act of kindness can be. “Even small things count,” she says. Chloe decides that the next day she will be kind to Maya, but Maya never returns to school and Chloe regrets that she never grabbed her chance to do the right thing, an important lesson. This book could so easily sink into the depressing and didactic, but Woodson’s beautiful text elevates the story into a moving reminder to show kindness every chance we get.

Ruth and the Green Book

By Calvin Alexander Ramsey • Illustrated by Floyd Cooper • Grades 1-5

From 1936-1964, “The Green Book” was a travel guide for African-Americans that included a listing of service stations that would serve them. Ruth and her family are en route from Chicago to Alabama to visit grandma. Ruth learns about Jim Crow laws for the first time and makes it her job to help navigate with the help of The Green Book. (A good chapter book to use in conjunction is the superb, The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963)