Dear Ann Cannon • If there’s anything I’ve learned during the past few months, it’s that a lot of us aren’t doing a very good job when it comes to talking to our kids about diversity and race. As a young white mother, I definitely include myself in that category. I know that you have an interest in books for young readers. Can you make some recommendations?
— Wants to Be Part of the Solution
Dear Wants to Be Part of the Solution • Thank you for this excellent and timely question. I turned it over to my friends who work as booksellers at The King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City. Here are some of their responses.
Becky Hall • An oldie but goodie is the picture book “The Other Side” by Jacqueline Woodson. It’s kids being kids, accepting each other without racist indoctrination. Another Woodson book I love is “Each Kindness.” It’s tender and its message is clear for kids. “Let’s Talk About Race” by Julius Lester is another one that kids get. At one point he says something like, if we unzipped our skin, we’d all look the same inside. Then there is “The Undefeated” by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson. It’s a beautiful poem. The illustrations are exquisite and the back matter is informative.
Vivian Evans • On the first day of school I read “We Don’t Eat our Classmates” by Ryan T. Higgins and “The Day You Begin” by Jacqueline Woodson. Both books deal with diversity and acceptance. I teach middle school, and the kids laugh out loud and then think quietly. I ask them what the message is of each book, and then we discuss how everyone in our class is important. I have a sign in the room that says, ”In a world where you can be anything, be kind.” We then discuss how everyone in the room is important and do activities to find similarities. I also like “What If We Were All the Same: A Children’s Book About Ethnic Diversity and Inclusion” by C.M. Harris.
Jennifer Adams • “The Case for Loving” by Selina Alko is a beautiful picture book about the fight for interracial marriage. I think kids will be astounded that this used to be illegal in our country and will help them see we’ve come a long way even as we have a long way to go.
Michaela Riding • I love “Can I Touch Your Hair?” by Irene Latham and Charles Waters. It takes me back to exactly what it was like being a kid. Also, how when you are learning you need to be willing to make mistakes, to be embarrassed — this book celebrates that learner mentality. It’s anti-shame. It showcases the journey, not being perfect right away.
Sally Larkin • I love the middle grade novel “Esperanza Rising” by Pam Munoz Ryan because it puts a real face on the struggles of migrants and tells their story with compassion.
Celia Horowitz • The young adult novel “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas is one of my favorites. I think that the value in it is that it does an excellent job of putting the reader in the shoes of the character. It helped me become more empathetic, not to mention how well it is written.
Meanwhile, Mackenzi Lee recommends a range of titles from picture books to young adult novels, including the following: “Dear Martin” and “Clean Getaway” by Nic Stone, “Ghost Boys” by Jewel Park Rhodes, “Sulwe” by Lupita Nyong’o, “Hair Love” by Matthew Cherry, “Saturday” by Oge Mora, “Stamped” by Jason Reynolds, and “Hands up” by Breanna McDaniel.
Finally, I want to give a shout out to “New Kid,” by Jerry Craft, the first graphic novel to be awarded the Newbery Medal. “New Kid” tells the story of 12-year-old Jordan Banks, an artistic African-American boy from Washington Heights in New York City, who works to find a place for himself in his new private school, while maintaining friendships with the kids in his neighborhood.
There are many more worthy titles, of course, but at least this is a start!