‘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.


Aimée Felone

The GuardianTramp

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