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Where are the books about Black Kids in Nature?

We recently came across Ashley Fetters’ article, “Where Is the Black Blueberries for Sal?” (The Atlantic, May 2019), which addresses the dearth of Black characters within the very frequent exploration of the Great Outdoors in children's picture books. The article notes that there are, sadly, only a handful of books that defy this trend (all 4 titles mentioned appear in the list below). We were curious what else we might be able to turn up, if anything, from within our comprehensive collection of picture books featuring Black and Indigenous people and People of Color. So we took a look and thought we'd share.

Following The Atlantic's lead -- which illuminates the fact that both historically and today, in "real life" as well as in the dominant (i.e., white) cultural imagination, Black people are restricted to very particular outdoor scenes and spaces -- we purposely skipped books featuring urban landscapes and gardens (which have increased in number of late); farming, gardening, and/or historical books about enslaved Africans working on plantations (or fleeing into the wilderness); and any books in which the wild appeared as fantasy rather than reality.

We used keyword searches like, "hiking," "camping," "swimming," "fishing," etc., and filtered those results by our "Black/African/African American" and “Brown-Skinned and/or Race Unclear” racial categories. We also weeded out any books -- quite a few in fact -- in which Black characters appeared only as part of a diverse cast of characters rather than as protagonists (books that fall into our "Incidental" category).

Our goal was to unearth every book in which young Black protagonists actively explore the outdoors with no purpose other than to convene with nature.

Notably, of the 16 books we identified below, only four (A Beach Tail, Where's Rodney, Over and Under the Pond, and Gator, Gator, Gator!) are #ownvoices, and two have the same illustrator. Interestingly, 7 of these books feature multiracial families (with all but one child having a white parent or grandparent). Of the 9 titles that center Black families, only 3 portray Black parents who actively foster the relationship between their child and nature. In fact, in 2 of these titles, the Black child is introduced to the wild by a white adult or non-Black person of color, even though their Black parents appear in the narrative. In both, it's a Black parent who is either themselves reticent to be in nature, or who actively discourages the child from being outside.

So while there are young Black protagonists exploring the wild in all of these books -- it's not insignificant that non-Black (largely white) characters are most often depicted as the mediators of this encounter (a trend that is even more apparent in the "Incidental" books we weeded out).

The Atlantic article concludes by articulating the need, and desire, for more representations of Black kids and families "exploring the wonders of the natural world" in picture books. As publishers, creators, and advocates for diversity in children's books work toward this goal, we hope our collection can serve as a useful tool to capture not only who is currently represented, but also what messages these books send. Both are central to this important, and always multidirectional, work.

The books you see below range in quality, so this is not necessarily a "recommended" list -- but they do fit the criteria above. They are listed by publication date.

Our goal was to unearth every book in which young Black protagonists actively explore the outdoors with no purpose other than to convene with nature.

Gator, gator, gator!


by Daniel Bernstrom and Frann Preston-Gannon

"A fearless little girl takes off in search of a giant gator--but she's not going into that swamp alone! No way! She wants YOU, the reader, to come along. Off you go, peering through the lush landscapes, looking for that gator! But each time you think you see it? Oops! Just a fox. Or some ducks! Or a snake. Maybe you'll never find the gator, gator, gator...With stunning illustrations from Sendak Fellow Frann Preston-Gannon, readers experience the feeling of being on a real adventure deep in the swamp. Rhyming, repeating, and exhilarating, the text is a delightful read-aloud romp that will entertain and make everyone's heart skip a beat!" --|c(Source of summary not specified)

Any Child

Where’s Rodney?


by Carmen Bogan and Floyd Cooper

Rodney is that kid who just can't sit still. He's inside, but he wants to be outside. Outside is where Rodney always wants to be. Between school and home, there is a park. He knows all about that park. It's that triangle-shaped place with the yellow grass and two benches where grown-ups sit around all day. Besides, his momma said to stay away from that park. When Rodney finally gets a chance to go to a real park, with plenty of room to run and climb and shout, and to just be himself, he will never be the same.

Any Child Cross Group

Though the following book takes place in a suburban backyard, it's nevertheless a portrayal of a Black child camping out, so, we thought, worth including:

Ruby’s sleepover


by Kathryn White and Miriam Latimer

Ruby and her friend Mai are camping out in Mai's garden where giants, dragons, and pirates head toward their tent, but fortunately Ruby has some magical objects to keep the girls safe.

Cross Group

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