Children’s Books that Promote Racial Equity

February 5, 2021

Learning to read not only allows children to gain skills in literacy, but they also gain access to learning about the world around them- from their favorite animals and outer space to the complex social justice issues and everything in between.

"Reading is a crucial skill that we use daily to gain knowledge, understand information, and communicate ideas. In our society, literacy is access. This key life skill opens the door to progress, power, privilege, and opportunity across a lifetime" (National Institute for Literacy, 2009).

If you ask someone about their favorite childhood storybook, they might choose one their favorite teacher read to them over and over again or a book that was special to their family. The classic children's books, such as The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister and Alexander and Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst and illustrated by Ray Cruz, teach important lessons of appreciating differences and persisting to reach goals.

However, while children learn important lessons and enjoy these books, reading books with only animal or white characters does not allow children of color to see themselves on the pages. Reading books with children of different backgrounds and ethnicities, especially those of the students in your class, is important for developing a positive racial and ethnic identity.

There are a few ways to incorporate books into your pre-K classroom that support a positive racial and ethnic identity in all of your students.

The first is to read and study books that talk about race and ethnicity in a way young children can relate. For example:

  • Books about Black, Asian, Native American, Hispanic, Latino, African and other leaders of color - teaches children from a young age about the great accomplishments of people that look like them.
  • Books about different cultural traditions - noticing and appreciating clothing, food, languages, art, and family structures that differ between families can help students feel represented in their classroom and help them see that just because their peers may celebrate different holidays, one thing they all have in common is family traditions that are special to them.
  • Books about American history written by authors of color - Black history and Native American history, for example, are American histories. Reading about the history of Black Americans from the perspective of a Black author is a way to amplify Black voices in our communities and to ensure all stories of American history are told.
Here are some examples of books that fall under this category:

Another way to foster racial and ethnic inclusivity in classrooms or at home is to read books with diverse main characters. Books directly about racial and ethnic identity, histories of a single race or ethnicity, and biographies of diverse heroes all over the world are informative, inspiring and important. However, it is equally important for children to have access to books about sports, friendship, cooking, exploring, and music with main characters that look like them.

Here are some examples of books in this category:

Wherever you are in the process of collecting diverse children's books, we hope this is a helpful resource for recognizing the importance of not only telling the histories of different races, ethnicities and backgrounds, but also of telling stories about adventure, imagination, and life lessons with diverse characters.

For more resources on racial equity in early childhood, visit our Racial Equity page here.