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Racial Justice in Picture Books: Countering Anti-Blackness

Illustrations by Theodore Taylor III, Gordon C. James, Jennifer Zivoin, Luisa Uribe, Shane Evans, Noa Denton, and Bryan Collier

As we continue to remember, mourn, and work for change, how do we have conversations with children about racial justice? How do we interrupt the pervasiveness of anti-blackness in our nation, to protect Black and Brown children and to support all children to grow up free from this harm?

These picture books by Black authors and illustrators (Something Happened in Our Town has three authors, one African American, two white) offer multiple starting points. Several focus on the goodness, beauty, wonder, and infinite value of Black children, with only background reference to injustice. Others directly address police violence and ways to help children process and respond. Whatever the developmental stages, experience, and personalities of the children you engage with, you can find a starting place among these marvelous books.

I Am Every Good Thing

2020

by Derrick D. Barnes and Gordon C. James

"An upbeat, empowering, important picture book from the team that created the award-winning Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut. The confident Black narrator of this book is proud of everything that makes him who he is. He’s got big plans, and no doubt he’ll see them through—as he’s creative, adventurous, smart, funny, and a good friend. Sometimes he falls, but he always gets back up. And other times he’s afraid, because he’s so often misunderstood and called what he is not. So slow down and really look and listen, when somebody tells you—and shows you—who they are. There are superheroes in our midst!" -- publisher

Beautiful Life

A Place Inside of Me

2020

by Zetta Elliott and Noa Denmon

"From award-winning author Zetta Elliott and rising star illustrator Noa Denmon comes a beautiful #OwnVoices poetic picture book about a brown child discovering and accepting their emotional landscape. In this powerful, affirming poem by award-winning author Zetta Elliott, a Black child explores his shifting emotions throughout the year. Summertime is filled with joy—skateboarding and playing basketball—until his community is deeply wounded by a police shooting. As fall turns to winter and then spring, fear grows into anger, then pride and peace. In her stunning debut, illustrator Noa Denmon articulates the depth and nuances of a child’s experiences following a police shooting—through grief and protests, healing and community—with washes of color as vibrant as his words. Here is a groundbreaking narrative that can help all readers—children and adults alike—talk about the feelings hiding deep inside each of us." -- publisher

Beautiful Life Oppression & Resilience

"Addressing Racial Injustice with Young Children," an EmbraceRace interview with the authors of Something Happened in Our Town, includes guidance for discussions and a number of resources.

Woke: A Young Poet’s Call to Justice

2020

by Elizabeth Acevedo, Mahogany L. Browne, Olivia Gatwood, Jason Reynolds and Theodore III Taylor

"A collection of poems to inspire kids to stay woke and become a new generation of activists. Historically poets have been on the forefront of social movements. Woke is a collection of poems by women of color that reflects the joy and passion in the fight for social justice, tackling topics from discrimination to empathy, and acceptance to speaking out. With Theodore Taylor’s bright, emotional art and writting from Mahogany Browne, Elizabeth Acevedo and Olivia Gatwood, kids will be inspired to create their own art and poems to express how they see justice and injustice." -- publisher

Oppression & Resilience Race/Culture Concepts

Your Name Is a Song

2020

by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow

"Frustrated by a day full of teachers and classmates mispronouncing her beautiful name, a little girl tells her mother she never wants to come back to school. In response, the girl's mother teaches her about the musicality of African, Asian, Black-American, Latinx, and Middle Eastern names on their lyrical walk home through the city. Empowered by this newfound understanding, the young girl is ready to return the next day to share her knowledge with her class. Your Name is a Song is a celebration to remind all of us about the beauty, history, and magic behind names. Your Name is a Song includes back matter perfect for parents, educators, caregivers, and young readers who want to learn more about the names featured in the story. The "Glossary of Names" lists each name’s meaning, origin, and pronunciation. Additionally, readers can use a listed link to access an online video of the author pronouncing all the names in the book." -- publisher

Beautiful Life Cross Group Race/Culture Concepts

Coming Soon:

All Because You Matter

by Tami Charles, illustrated by Bryan Collier

This powerful, rhythmic lullaby reassures readers that their matter and their worth is never diminished, no matter the circumstance: through the joy and wonder of their first steps and first laughs, through the hardship of adolescent struggles, and the pain and heartbreak of current events, they always have, and always will, matter. Accompanied by illustrations by renowned artist Bryan Collier, a four-time Caldecott Honor recipient and a nine-time Coretta Scott King Award winner or honoree, All Because You Matter empowers readers with pride, joy, and comfort, reminding them of their roots and strengthening them for the days to come.

Hands Up!

by Breanna J. McDaniel, illustrated by Shane W. Evans

A young black girl lifts her baby hands up to greet the sun, reaches her hands up for a book on a high shelf, and raises her hands up in praise at a church service. She stretches her hands up high like a plane's wings and whizzes down a hill so fast on her bike with her hands way up. As she grows, she lives through everyday moments of joy, love, and sadness. And when she gets a little older, she joins together with her family and her community in a protest march, where they lift their hands up together in resistance and strength.

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In addition, this activity book is designed to support grownups in talking with children about Black Lives Matter:

What We Believe: A Black Lives Matter Principles Activity Book

by Lalena Garcia, illustrated by Caryn Davidson

When the Black Lives Matter movement began in 2013, the three founders--Alicia Garza, Patrisse Khan-Cullors, and Opal Tometi--anchored its work in a list of guiding principles, developed through conversation with other activists. These principles commit the movement to empathy, loving engagement, and just action among its participants; affirm the importance of Black women, families, elders, and LGBTQ folk; and celebrate the strength and diversity of Black people in their communities and around the globe. Now young people can explore these powerful principles in What We Believe: A Black Lives Matter Principles Activity Book. Created by two teachers with more than thirty-five years of educational experience between them, the book presents the guiding principles in down-to-earth, child-friendly language, with each principle accompanied by writing prompts, space for children or adults to create their own reflections, and a coloring page. Supporting materials guide adults in sharing the principles with children and encourage kids to dream big and take action within their communities. An essential resource for anyone discussing racial equity with young people, What We Believe offers a beautiful and inspiring lens on the most important social justice movement of our time.

EmbraceRace has created a page of resources, "Supporting Kids through Racialized Violence," to support you in these discussions.

Many of the cover images on this site are from Google Books.
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