‘No reader is too young to start’: anti-racist books for all children and teens

It’s never too early to learn that racism is wrong and we should be doing something about it. These books will help show our kids how, writes publisher and bookseller Aimée Felone

The weight of the world seems heavier than ever right now. The incomprehensible killing of George Floyd has shone a bright light, yet again, on the pervasive racism faced daily by the black community. As we struggle to find the words to express our collective grief and pain, I’m reminded of Angela Davis’s call to action: “In a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.” As a publisher and bookshop owner I willingly take great responsibility for creating a space that is accessible to all. A space that shines a light on stories that seek to be inclusive and anti-racist. 

A spread from A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara
A spread from A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara. Photograph: Triangle Square

No reader is too young to start their journey, and A Is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara proves that. In a tiny board book that is meant for small hands and young minds, Nagara provides an alphabetised guide through what makes an activist. Bright, engaging illustrations sit alongside rhymes that have purpose. For parents who want to raise a socially aware, progressive child from day one, this ABC book is the perfect start. 

Growing up as a young black girl in south London, I have fond memories of my mum cultivating my love of reading, through trips to the local library and hours spent in bookshops to pick that one special book that would make it home with me. Mum was patient and took great pains to make sure I knew that I could be whatever I set my mind to. In this way Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Caroline Binch, is no different. Grace, too, has a family that tell her she can be anything, absolutely loves reading and enjoys dressing up as her favourite book characters at home. So when a boy at school tells her she can’t be Peter Pan because she’s black, we witness one of Grace’s first encounters with racism. We also see the conversation that so many black families have with their children, one that attempts to explain and prepare them for the prejudices they’ll encounter. What I love about Amazing Grace is that it not only shows us that Grace can (of course) be Peter Pan, but makes us question where and when racist thoughts begin and who teaches us them.

Through history there has been a systematic and deliberate approach to the promotion of racist ideas. Working through such a history can be overwhelming, and knowing where to turn to for legitimate accounts can be hard. Jason Reynolds is a master when it comes to speaking to young people, he doesn’t sugar coat the truth or ever talk down to his reader, instead meeting them where they are. Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You is the perfect place to direct our children. A “remix” of Ibram X Kendi’s Stamped (which all older readers need to pick up), the book takes us on a journey from 1415 and the world’s first racist, to the present day, showing how racist ideology in the US has got us to where we are and what we can do to actively stamp out these deep-rooted ideas.

What if? … Masali Baduza and Jack Rowan in the 2020 adaptation of Noughts & Crosses.
What if? … Masali Baduza and Jack Rowan in the 2020 adaptation of Noughts & Crosses. Photograph: Ilze Kitshoff/BBC/Mammoth Screen

It’s easy to imagine a dystopian future where race is inverted and power balances changed, but that doesn’t solve anything. Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses is a classic forbidden love story made even more dangerous by the segregated society that its main characters Sephy and Callum live in. Blackman’s series has often been incorrectly described as dystopic because there is a black ruling class and a white underclass; if that world is dystopian then, surely, we too are living in a dystopia. A world where the ruling class do all they can to control a set of people in society, where micro-aggressions, cultural appropriation and threat to life are the norm. Reading Noughts and Crosses will wake you up to the reality many experience and make you wonder: “What if?”

If you’ve read through this article empathetically nodding and have already enjoyed the great works these writers have produced, I leave you with This Book Is Anti-Racist. This is one for you, your neighbour, the children in your lives and especially that “only slightly” racist colleague. Here Tiffany Jewell puts together 20 lessons on how to wake up, take action and do the work to deconstruct what racism is and how to be actively anti-racist. There are even free resources aimed at young children in the classroom that are available to download – truly, no excuse. 

It is our responsibility to be active in the face of injustice. Use these books to start conversations, hold yourself accountable and educate a new generation. Reading isn’t the only answer but it’s the start, above all else. Black Lives Matter.

Contributor

Aimée Felone

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Fewer than 2% of British children's authors are people of colour
Only 1.96% of authors and illustrators between 2007 and 2017 were British people of colour, compared to 13% of the population

Alison Flood

15, Apr, 2019 @3:00 PM

Article image
Waterstones prize winner Elle McNicoll: ‘I never saw autistic girls in books’
The author was repeatedly told that no one wanted to read fun books with disabled heroes. Now she has won the £5,000 Waterstones children’s book prize for her debut, A Kind of Spark

Alison Flood

01, Jul, 2021 @5:01 AM

Article image
‘Utterly joyful’ Look Up! wins Waterstones children's book of the year
Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeola’s picture book about a science-mad young black girl trying to distract her brother from his phone takes £5,000 award

Alison Flood

29, Jul, 2020 @11:01 PM

Article image
Children's books eight times as likely to feature animal main characters as BAME people
According to UK study, just 5% of children’s books have black, Asian or minority ethnic protagonists – a small improvement from 1% in 2017

Alison Flood

11, Nov, 2020 @9:36 AM

Article image
New British books prize for BAME authors unveils inaugural longlist
The Jhalak prize lines up 12 titles – taking in fiction, history, politics and YA fantasy – showcasing ‘the strength, range and promise’ of UK writers of colour

Danuta Kean

05, Jan, 2017 @10:59 AM

Article image
A third of UK children do not see themselves reflected in books, finds survey
Responses from 60,000 young readers show 33% feel unrepresented, with an even worse picture among poorer and minority ethnic readers

Alison Flood

02, Dec, 2020 @2:55 PM

Article image
Not just for children: 100 great picture books
Martin Salisbury’s stunning collection of the greatest picture books from around the world is a revelation for all ages

Kate Kellaway

06, Apr, 2015 @6:00 AM

Article image
'Highly concerning': picture books bias worsens as female characters stay silent
Guardian research shows that the top 100 illustrated children’s books last year showed growing marginalisation of female and minority ethnic characters

Donna Ferguson

13, Jun, 2019 @5:00 AM

Article image
Jeremiah Emmanuel: 'I hope my book gives people the courage to dream'
A member of youth parliament at 11, deputy young mayor at 13, Brixton-raised youth activist Jeremiah Emmanuel is now being published by Stormzy

Kieran Yates

20, Aug, 2020 @12:41 PM

Article image
Sales soar 2,000% for Little Princess picture book on handwashing
Parents keen to encourage children into good hygiene practices during the coronavirus outbreak turn to Tony Ross’s anarchic creation for help

Alison Flood

23, Mar, 2020 @12:31 PM