Because the news has been so grim, I’ve seen several picture book recommendations for young children pop up on the web. This is a great idea. Let’s talk to our kids about tolerance, about understanding and respecting differences, at a young age. All differences. All tolerance. Let’s really talk about race with our kids. And what better way to get the conversation rolling than through books?
The picture book suggestions in this post at Cool Mom Picks are great, including several titles about Malala Yousafzai. I want to offer some alternative suggestions that, I believe, deal more directly with race relations in a straightforward, but loving way. My list includes one historical book, and two slightly older titles that I haven't seen in other posts, but given the tension in communities all over the nation, I think all of these titles are relevant and beautifully written.
Global Babies - The Global Fund for Children (board book)
The Global Fund books are lovely board books featuring close-up, full color photos of babies from around the world. Babies enjoy looking at other baby faces, so why not introduce your infants to faces that are unique and different from hers?
The Sandwich Swap - Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan Al Abdullah, with Kelly Dipucchio
I only recently learned that Queen Rania of Jordan wrote this book (along with the help of Kelly Dipucchio, master picture book writer). To be honest, I didn’t look at the author when I read it; I just gravitated towards the story of two very different friends who judge each other’s sandwiches — one, peanut butter; the other, hummus. It’s such a great strategy for discussing race, heritage, differences, tastes, and friendship.
My Two Blankets - Irena Kobold and Freya Blackwood
Similar to The Sandwich Swap, My Two Blankets is about interracial and cross-national friendship. The difference is that the main character of My Two Blankets is a refugee escaping a worn-torn country and coming to a peaceful land where the children do not look like her or dress like her. Her blanket is all that is familiar. Friendship changes that. This picture book is stunningly illustrated with sweeping persimmon and gold watercolors.
The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage - Selina Alko
Not many people remember the Lovings. Mildred and Richard Perry Loving were the first interracial couple who challenged the right to marry, in 1967. This is the story of the Lovings and their three children who were legally married in Washington, D.C., but upon moving to Virginia were arrested for breaking state law against interracial marriage. What a great true story to demonstrate how love wins over hate and discrimination.
We Came To America - Faith Ringgold
I fell in love with Faith Ringgold when I first read Tar Beach, her 1991 semi-autobiographical story of a family in Harlem who enjoy togetherness on the roof of their apartment building. Ringgold’s bright and colorful illustrations come directly from the story quilts she designs. In We Came To America, Ringgold is dedicated to children who have immigrated to America, celebrating the diversity of race, religion, families, and stories. With sparse narration, the picture book is perfect for children 2-6, but can resonate with any reader, young and old.
Grace for President - Kelly Dipucchio
I love Grace for President. This is an older title, published in 2012, but I love how race and gender are never an issue in the conflict. They are facts about the characters, but it doesn’t devolve into an us versus them plot. The title character, Grace, asks her teacher why there has never been a woman president of the United States, and then decides to run for president in a mock election. Grace is African-American and her opponent is a white boy. When the race is tied and one person must decide the end result, it’s lovely to see another white boy weigh the options and decide on the best person for the job: Grace.
The Other Side - Jacqueline Woodson
This is the oldest title that I want to promote, but I haven’t seen it on other lists. Published in 2001 by award-winning author and all-around awesome person Jacqueline Woodson, the book follows Clover, a young African-American girl, who wonders why Annie, a white girl, sits on a fence every day. Why is the fence there? Why do the girls need to be on opposite sides? This is a gorgeously illustrated story about friendship that crosses imaginary boundaries.