21 Kids' Books About Racism, By Age

The Light We Feel Inside encourages children to look to Black female changemakers of the past as guides for their biggest feelings.
The Light We Feel Inside encourages children to look to Black female changemakers of the past as guides for their biggest feelings.
6/2/20 - By Anna Fader

It can be hard to talk about uncomfortable things with children. Books are a great way to introduce different ideas and experiences and talk about them together. 

In the groundbreaking parenting book Nurtureshock, by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, the chapter, “Why White Parents Don’t Talk About Race” taught me something about myself. The section explains that white parents often think that by ignoring race we will teach our children that race is not important and everyone is equal. In fact, they write, research shows that this does not work. 

I have a feeling that if Bronson and Merryman were writing this today, they might go a step further and say that white parents must actively teach children that it’s not enough to see everyone as equal. We must also see how people are not treated equally and actively work to change this inequality in our society. The following list of books for children, from toddlers to teens, goes beyond celebrations of diversity; these acclaimed books educate children about racism in our society and open conversations about social justice. 


First Books About Race & Social Justice 

1. A Is for Activist 

by Innosanto Nagara
Because it’s never too early to teach kids about inclusion and diversity, this board book is the perfect baby shower gift. 

For the youngest readers, a picture book celebrating differences is a good place to start.

2. It’s Okay to Be Different 

by Todd Parr
Vibrant illustrations complement a simple message for the youngest kids: People come in different colors, shapes, and sizes, and that’s great.

3. The Colors of Us 

by Karen Katz
The central character in "The Colors of Us" learns to look beyond “brown” skin and celebrate the many different skin colors and people in our world.

Picture Books About Racism for Early Readers

4. Don’t Touch My Hair

by Sharee Miller
This book celebrates a young black girl's hair and teaches the reader to respect her personal space and style. 

5. A Kid's Book About Racism

by Jelani Memory
This book defines racism and its impact on the author and others with bold text and simple language. 

6. Lailah's Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story

by Reem Faruqi and Lea Lyon
This book tells the story of a girl who moves from Abu Dhabi to Atlanta and worries her celebration of Ramadan will not be accepted by her classmates. 

7. Let’s Talk about Race

by Julius Lester
Starting with the idea that every person is a story, this beautifully illustrated book shows that race is one part (but only one part) of identity.

8. Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness

by Anastasia Higginbotham
This powerful book looks white supremacy in the face and empowers children to do so also. 

9. The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family

by Ibtihaj Muhammad
The young author was the first Muslim American to wear the hijab while fencing in the Olympics. Hijab might be something white Americans struggle to understand, and this story helps children see it from another perspective. 

10. The Light She Feels Inside

by Gwendolyn Wallace

This beautiful book helps kids identify and understand their feelings, and how some days you glow with happiness, and other days you can glow with rage. Maya is learning that others feel the same glowing light, and what to do to work to a more beautiful future.

Kids will hear how activists before them have changed the world and show them they can do it, too.

10. Giant Steps to Change the World

by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee
Activism isn’t just for grown-ups. This picture book encourages kids to take their own steps toward change.

11. Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation

by Duncan Tonatiuh
The story of a Latinx family who helped to desegregate California schools 10 years before Brown v. Board of Education. 

12. Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice

by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard
This book helps children grapple with one of the most disturbing and troubling issues in our society today, police shootings of people of color, and helps them to identify and counter racial injustice.  

13. The Skin I’m In: A First Look at Racism

by Pat Thomas
This children's book offers practical ways for kids to understand—and begin to fight—racism.

Books About Racism for Middle Schoolers

14. Ten Miles Past Normal 

by Frances O’Roark Dowell
When Janie’s parents move to a goat farm in the country, she befriends some former civil rights workers who help her look at race differently.

15. African-American Activists

by Carol Ellis
An easy-to-read narrative with individual profiles of leaders from well-known politicians to hidden heroes.

This YA book follows Paris, a young biracial woman navigating a foster home and feeling out of place in a mostly white town.

16. The Road to Paris

by Nikki Grimes
Paris, who is biracial, she moves in with a new foster family in a mostly white town. Readers listen as she has to navigate a whole new world.

17. Young Water Protectors: A Story About Standing Rock

by Aslan and Kelly Tudor and Jason Eaglespeaker
Written by a 10-year-old boy from the Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas, this self-published book teaches about theft of land from native peoples and the damage done by oil pipelines. 

Books About Racism for Teens

18. All American Boys

by Jason Reynolds and Brandan Kiely
A brilliant novel about police brutality and racial tensions.

This novel addresses racism and gun violence when an unarmed black teen is shot by a white man.

19. How It Went Down

by Kekla Magoon
A black teen is shot by a white man in this nuanced novel, which broadens out to address gun violence, racism, and social inequality. 

20. Black Lives Matter

by Sue Bradford Edwards and Duchess Harris
A factual, highly readable work of nonfiction about the social movement Black Lives Matter, including the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, a teenager in Ferguson, Missouri.

21. Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You

by Jason Reynolds
This remix of the award-winning book Stamped From the Beginning explains how racism is embedded in the very fabric of our society. It is delivered in a conversational and engaging manner. A book that should be in every home.

This article was originally published in 2016 with contributions from Gwen Glazer, a librarian in the Readers Services unit of the New York Public Library., and has been updated. All images courtesy of the publishers.