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Why Stories With Black Protagonists Are Key to a Child's Anti-Racist Education

And 10 books to buy, borrow, or gift today.
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Hi, I’m Temi (you can follow me here)! I live in San Francisco with my husband and delightfully active six year-old son. I was born in Nigeria, grew up in London, and have called SF home for the past 13 years. I’ve been reading this blog for about ten to eleven of those years. After many years working in communications, I set up my own agency, Pembroke PR, six years ago (yes, when I was pregnant with our son). We focus on the luxury lifestyle sector with a strong focus on design.

I believe the starting point for change is to focus on your sphere of influence. For me that’s my family, friends, and my work. I have been involved with the female entrepreneur community for a few years, so I quickly realized that mine was a voice that resonated within that community. As intense and raw as the current humanitarian crisis centered on Black lives feels, the most important thing I can do right now is to use my voice. I recently spoke on a panel about raising anti-racist children, where I shared stories of when I have encountered racism, usually delivered as a casual, unwelcome intrusion of someone else’s privilege into my life. From the feedback I’ve received, my stories surprised many. Racism is a big bad word that’s often perceived as overt and violent, but racism is most often implicit, insidious, pervasive and systemic. And it often starts earlier than we would like to believe. The road to hell is paved with good intentions but to mean well is not enough. We must take action to do well.

It is great to see so much conversation around how to confront racial bias at home and with kids. Yes, the conversations will be uncomfortable. But think about how uncomfortable it would feel to raise the next Amy Cooper or Derek Chauvin. If you are not Black, the questions you should be asking are: How can I raise my child to be an ally to Black kids starting today and to raise my child to be an actively upstanding (not passively bystanding) ally to Black people in the future? What are the actions I can take to stop my child from inflicting their White privilege on another Black child? And how about me? My partner? My friends? My family? What actions am I taking to effect true sustained change? 

From the implicit bias to the explicit racism, you have the power as a parent, aunt, uncle, Godparent, friend, to stop that from happening. Talking about race is an essential, not an optional extra, part of parenting that parents of color, Black parents in particular, have shouldered alone for too long. It is time for White parents to pick up their share of the load. You must raise anti-racist children to be allies of Black children. Learn what it means to be anti-racist and then be useful and teach children, your families, your networks, what it means to be anti-racist.

I love to read. I think the world would be a better place if everyone read more books. The deep immersive experience of someone else’s life, someone else’s perspective, understanding what motivates them, and how they interact with the world. I started reading board books with my son when he was a baby and to my absolute delight, he’s loved books from the beginning. I think it’s been the best lifelong empathy workout anyone can stumble on, and the best part? It’s never too early or too late to start.

Reading is a way to help children make sense of the world they live in. It’s a great way to spark conversations and ideas between reader and child. With regards to the recent conversations around race, I realized while there were many lists circulating about social justice and the historic figures in racial history, nobody seemed to be talking much about fun books for kids. That’s when I realized how important it has always been for me, for my son, to read books with kids that have Black central characters, just being kids, doing kid things. Race has to be normalized. Black has to be normalized. You can't just have conversations about race when you're having "the conversation," that is not enough. Here are some of our favorites with Black protagonists. So go on... buy a book, borrow a book, gift a book:

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One day, I was in a bookstore in SF with my son and he was around 18 months at the time. On his own, he picked out a book with a Black baby on the cover. As my heart swelled with emotion, I noticed the author's name. Spike Lee! Legendary film director Spike Lee? Wrote a kids' book? I had no idea! It’s a very sweet and simple story of a baby girl and the antics she gets up to over the course of her day.

Buy it here. Also available here, if out of stock. 

1 copy

This was my son’s favorite song as a baby. Bob Marley is one of my all-time favorite artists and my husband started singing this to him after he was born. I was so happy to find this board book when my son was younger. The words are the lyrics to “Three Little Birds," adapted by Bob Marley’s daughter Cedella and the illustrations are so fun and playful. Those words are pure magic to sing/read to a child, “Don’t worry about a thing, 'cause everything little thing, is gonna be alright”.

Buy it here. Also available here, if out of stock. 

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This story is about an adorable young girl called Winifred Schnitzel. My son loves schnitzel so that made him love her even more. The story is about Winifred and her bedtime escapades to rid her room of monsters before bedtime. It is a silly, funny story, with cute illustrations and rhyming text.

Buy it here

1 copy 3

This is one of my favorite kids books around now. Ada Twist is a little genius that turns her entire world upside down in her quest to research everything and anything, as is the nature of a young scientist's mind. She’s a delightfully curious young girl with a million and one questions for everything. We both have loved the rhyming text and also I love her mum's boho style and the classic Eames chair in their living room.

Buy it here

1 copy 4

This is a great book to encourage kids to be brave and to understand that it can take a few attempts to work up to one big brave move. In this story, Jabari is working up the courage to dive. My son loves to swim so this felt very relatable to him. The way the story is told also helps parents see how to frame encouragement in a way that empowers your child. My son has been making jokes about doing double backflips at random times for ages, and I just realized it came from this book!

Buy it here.

1 copy 5

Do you remember the first time you saw snow? I don’t, but I do remember the first time my son saw snow. It was an experience of complete joy for him. This book contains such a sweet and gentle story about the magical wonder of the first experience of snow. The joy of discovering what you can and can’t do with snow, the way Peter tries to keep a little snow to savor the day, and the beautiful illustrations. It’s a classic for a reason—so many other ideas and thoughts are woven into the story, set against the backdrop of a snowy day.

Buy it here

1 copy 6

We are raising our son as a global citizen, to truly understand that he can meet anyone where they are with race, language, beliefs, ethnicity and culture. When you’re so aware of “other” there's a lot less room for fear and hate. With travel, you have the experience of understanding that there is more that binds us in human commonality than separates us in our differences. Books are an amazing way to see the world and broaden horizons.

This book is a favorite and I know we’ll keep coming back to it again and again. It tells the stories of a day in the lives of seven kids from around the world: Peru, Uganda, Italy, Russia, India, Iran and Japan. We learn the differences and similarities in where the kids live, how they live, where they sleep, how they get to school, what school looks like, what they eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and so much more. We’ve both learned so much about the seven countries and their respective cultures and it’s also sparked  conversations about differences, similarities, and the disparities of privilege.

Buy it here

1 copy 12

My son loves skateboarding so he’s enjoyed these chapter books. It’s a series but can be read as stand-alone books too. When I asked him which of the series was his favorite, he said the first one (Dog Days) as it has “more action.” It also describes the value of responsibility, discipline, and honesty in a way that is very accessible for a six year-old mind.

Buy it here. Other books by Karen English available here

1 copy 13

This is a very recent discovery that we both loved. We’ve all heard of kids collecting things—curious things like rocks and sticks—but a kid who collects words? How brilliant is that? It’s a sweet and simple story and inspired my son to try and “collect” words too. It is a great introduction to lots of bigger words for young children – "effervescent" was our favorite and there’s an untold amount of fun to be had dropping that word into conversation at random times. My son recently learned about poems as part of his homeschool curriculum and the way poems are described made it so easy for him to understand non-rhyming poetry. I really liked the way the story shows the way simple phrases like Thank You, I’m Sorry and You Matter have so much power.

Buy it here. Also available here, if out of stock. 

1 copy 14

Ugo and Sim Sim are stories about the everyday life of a brother and sister living in Lagos, Nigeria. Ugo is a friendly boy who is curious about everything. Sim Sim is his cute and outgoing younger sister with Down syndrome. The story takes us through their daily challenges as they learn about life. The book helps children understand everything from what Down syndrome is to bad hair days, with themes of power cuts, being independent, bullying, learning to share, Nigerian culture, and more.

Only available online here

P.S., You can read the post Temi wrote for MOTHER Mag on anti-racist parenting here!

Editors' Note: Most links go to Ashay At The Bay, a Black-owned children’s bookstore in the Bay Area specializing in African American and multi-cultural books. If out of stock, we've provided an additional link to the book on Bookshop, that benefits the Black woman-owned bookstore, Semicolon

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