By Maryssa Hartsgrove RYT, Certified Kidsana Kids Yoga Teacher, Children's Therapeutic Yoga for Children with Trauma Teacher & EEC Certified Educator
With the recent events that have taken place I thought it would be helpful to make a special reading list of books to help start the conversation with little ones about race, inequality, and inclusion at home. As a mother and teacher I have used the following reading materials to help with navigating through more difficult conversation with my own child and class.
Representation is a solid place to start when looking to positively influence your child's view on race. Check in with your child's library and see who are the main character's of the books they own? Who are the victims, and what message are they sending? It is important that they are able to connect with all different people from an equally empowered position.
Supply your child with connections for both fictional and non-fiction Black role models. A great place to start can be with areas they are interested in. My daughter is in love with princesses and outer space, so this was an easy place for us to start.
However, not every book needs to to have people, or humans in it to get the conversation going. Brontorina, by James Howe is a great book to discuss inequality, or unfair treatment with, while Horton Hears a Who, by Dr. Seuss can be a nice way to discuss being an ally and standing up for those who need your support.
Choosing books with main characters around their age can help children put themselves in the shoes of others and connect with different walks of life. This also allows them the chance to explore how they would feel in different scenarios through another's lens, or how the characters navigate similar circumstances to your own child. IslandBorn, by Junot Díaz introduces a young girl who left her home country when she was too small to remember. When my daughter first saw this book she loved that the little girl on the front "looked like me". It probably took a year before she knew the book's real name, always referring to it as "The Little Jordyn Book". Mixed Me, by Taye Diggs explores the story of a small biracial boy and served as a tool for conversations about racial identity as a child of more than one race. The book has a wonderful breakdown of ideas put into digestible references for our young readers. (Another worthwhile read is Chocolate Me, also by Taye Diggs!)
Though a bit more direct in their purpose, these books serve as great references for little ones. All of them offer such wonderful visual references for your child to explore alone, or together. Especially, when reading Racism and Intolerance, by Louise Spilsbury you can truly see the message unfold by the expressions on the faces of those on each page. I am Peace, by Susan Verde follows a child unperturbed by external forces and strongly rooted in themself serving as both a lovely introduction to mindfulness and developing a positive sense of self. Lifetimes, by Bryan Mellonie focuses on a difficult topic for most grown people to touch upon let alone or young ones, death. With the pandemic happening right now my heart goes out to any of those whose family are being directly affected by this virus. This book takes an almost poetic approach to explaining life and death in a way that is both comforting and fulfilling.
The final books on the list are not for the kiddos, but the grown ups instead. As we are all always learning, especially so when it comes to the ever evolving topic racism. As a parent, or someone working with children I would definitely suggest picking up both My Brown Baby, by Denene Millner, and Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum. These two I have found most helpful and are very well written and researched providing connections to other resources on the topic as well.
As a parent it is our duty to guide these conversations and not allow them to be put on the shelf for another day. There is no person unaffected by this issue as the nasty roots of racism are so embedded in our country's history. Taking the time to be mindful of the reading materials you provide for your child and the messages they receive is just a small step. As PH.D Beverly Daniel Tatum would say, "You are either actively against racism or passively for it, there is no in between."
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu - May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.
When possible please support your local independant bookstores! All reading list links above link to Wellesley Books at 82 Central St, Wellesley, MA