Anti-racist book recommendations have made the social media rounds all summer following anti-Black police brutality in the U.S. and Canada. For many who share these lists, they’re done in the hopes that widespread re-education on race will lead to social change, long after current conversations about inequality and reforming existing systems of oppression fade from the news cycle. With many kids and teens heading back-to-school in September, reading lists have once again popped up as possible learning tools.
While books like So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo and White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo are geared towards adults, there are plenty of anti-racist books for kids and teens that families can read together. After all, there’s no such thing as being too young to be anti-racist: Babies as young as three months learn that race exists, and young children pick up on patterns affecting different racialized people in their lives.
Books are just the start
As The Atlantic’s Saida Grundy noted, using reading as a replacement for policy-making can be harmful when what’s learned is never applied in real life. “In the form of hollow public statements and company-sponsored conversations, consciousness-raising is often toothless,” Grundy wrote.
Kids lit is no exception in this regard. Parents should consider using books as stepping stones for talking to their children about race. Children can also be encouraged to apply what they’ve learned to their own circumstances and households; whether that be frank explanations between family members on what phrases aren’t OK to say or using books to talk about issues they may see in the news.
Children will likely feel moved by the words they read to help make the world a better place, which shouldn’t be stifled. If adults in the home are engaged with anti-racist causes, such as attending protests or contacting lawmakers, books can also help get kids involved in family-friendly ways.
Canadian bookstore owners and authors have seen massive spikes in race-related book sales this summer, leading many activists to encourage shoppers to buy from Black-owned businesses and support Black, Indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC) in the publishing industry, as their stories come from lived experience.
Here are our top picks for anti-racist books, broken down by age groups. For ease-of-access, we’ve include links to buy books and read their further details from national sellers like Indigo; the website IndieBound can help parents find their closest independent bookstore.
Before filling your home’s bookshelves, it’s worth gauging their reading and comfort levels; some kids may be better suited to books that are either more basic or advanced.
Little readers (ages eight and under)
Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi
“Antiracist Baby is bred, not born,” begins Antiracist Baby by author Ibram X. Kendi and illustrator Ashley Lukashevsky. The baby book has been hugely popular among families since its release earlier this year, for presenting big concepts in playful, loving ways.
Buy it here for $11.99
Intersectionallies: we make room for all by Carolyn Choi, LaToya Council, and Chelsea Johnson
Intersectionallies: we make room for all is another favourite. It explains the intersectionality framework, which was created by Black theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw (who also wrote the foreword for this book). Readers can expect to learn about how intersecting identities, such as race and gender, may affect how people navigate the world — and how they may benefit or be oppressed by others.
An e-book version is available for free for a limited time.
Buy it here for $25.44
Thirteen Ways of Looking At A Black Boy by Tony Medina
As important as educational texts are works that push back against stereotypes. Recognized by the New York Times and several accolades, Thirteen Ways of Looking At A Black Boy by revered poet Tony Medina and several illustrators celebrates the multiple dimensions of Black boyhood, dimensions that aren’t often given love in pop culture.
Buy it here for $23.91
Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano
Many of the questions may ask following police brutality are echoed in Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice. Written for kids under eight, it looks at how a Black family and a white family help their children understand a racist tragedy.
Buy it here for $24.50
Kid readers (ages 12 and under)
Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness by Anastasia Higginbotham
White families may appreciate Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness for helping children understand their personal privilege and how their choices can either contribute or dismantle white supremacy.
Buy it here for $21.95
Speaking Our Truth: A Journey of Reconciliation by Monique Gray Smith
Speaking Our Truth interviews many Indigenous youth, residential school survivors, and elders for this non-fiction book on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, with much of its messaging focusing on empowering young readers.
“I think children and young people can lead the way by telling Canada what they expect of us; by telling elected leaders what they expect from them; by telling teachers what they expect to be taught,” Smith wrote.
Buy it here for $29.95
A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée
A fictional account of what youth activism look like could be helpful for middle-schoolers. A Good Kind of Trouble realistically details the good and bad reactions a 12-year-old Black girl may encounter when she stands up for change and supports Black Lives Matter (BLM).
Buy it here for $29.79
What Lane by Torrey Maldonado
Similarly influenced by BLM, Torrey Maldonado’s What Lane covers how a mixed middle-schooler navigates his world and the different treatment he gets depending on how he’s perceived.
Buy it here for $22.99
Righting Canada’s Wrongs by assorted authors
Looking to dive into a series? Righting Canada’s Wrongs pushes back against the myth of Canadian niceness with several non-fiction entries on historic racial discrimination.
From the Chinese head tax asserted by the federal government to the demolishment of Nova Scotia’s Africville, authors from racialized communities unearth topics that were traditionally ignored in Canadian history classes.
Buy the series here
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You “remixes” the original book by Ibram X. Kendi for younger readers as a crash course on the history of racism and how it influences the world today.
Buy it here for $20
This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work by Tiffany Jewell
One of the biggest-selling books of the genre is This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work. As the title suggests, author Tiffany Jewell and illustrator Aurélia Durand breaks down concepts into 20 chapters, each with their own activity meant to encourage critical thinking.
Some educators have used it to teach in classrooms, as the interactive elements can help them contextualize local issues or news stories.
Buy it here for $10.39
Me And White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad
Mature, white readers looking to further their understanding of whiteness could learn a lot from the workbook Me And White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad and its companion journal, which got its start as a daily social media challenge filled with self-reflections.
Buy it here for $24.75
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