Books As Bridges: Using Children’s Books to Talk About Race

Posted by on May 5, 2016 in For Educators, Race & Culture, XYZ Feature | Comments Off on Books As Bridges: Using Children’s Books to Talk About Race

imageOn April 30, I presented my workshop, “Books As Bridges: Using Children’s Books to Talk About Race,” for the Massachusetts School Library Association conference in Amherst.

Here is the title and resource list I’ve developed for the workshop. Many of the titles are older ones that I’ve used for years; they are intended as prototypes so that librarians, teachers and parents can apply these categories to other, more recent titles as well.




Using Children’s Books to Talk About Race: A Bibliography
developed by Krista Aronson and Anne Sibley O’Brien

1.  Celebration of differences (CD)
Simply naming and appreciating difference is an essential foundation for conversations about race. Children are already making these observations; talking about them gives children permission and language to voice them. The goal of these interactions is not so much to teach as to create an open forum for children to say whatever they see. Supportive adults then have the opportunity to assist children in developing positive racial associations of both themselves and people different from them.

2. EveryChild (EC)

All children deserve to see themselves as the main character, the star of the show, the hero, the center of the world. EveryChild books feature children of color as protagonists in universal stories that don’t focus on race or cultural content.

3. Cross-group (CG)

In psychological research studies, books portraying positive interactions across racial difference have been shown to reduce prejudice. These books show cross-racial friendships which can strengthen children’s developing appreciation of and sense of connection to people who look different from them.

4. Identity (I)
Portrayals of particular racial group experiences, with cultural references in vocabulary, images and story lines.

5. Race & Racism (R)
Stories of prejudice, mistreatment and discrimination are an essential part of any reality-based education about race, but not as the only or the first story. Too often, when well-intentioned adults want to introduce concepts of race to children, they start with books about the civil rights movement. This is problematic in several ways: Children learn to associate discussions of race with discomfort, conflict, and possibly guilt, and African-Americans may be seen only in the light of a difficult history. In other words, children may absorb the idea of race as a problem and people of color as victims.
However, when presented by a relaxed and practiced facilitator in the context of a broader, ongoing conversation, these stories can be powerful catalysts for provocative conversations, memorable learning, and the development of empathy. Again, the focus of discussion should be on eliciting children’s thoughts and feelings and on developing their critical thinking skills.

Here are some examples of titles in each category (grade levels are suggestions only):

preschool – Gr. 2
All the Colors of the Earth by Sheila Hamanaka  – CD  (Multiracial)
Amazing Faces compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins – CD, CG (Multiracial)
Bee-bim Bop! by Linda Sue Park – I
Bein’ With You This Way by W. Nikola-Lisa  – CD  (Multiracial)
Come On, Rain by Karen Hesse – CG  (Black/Asian/White)
The Day of Ahmed’s Secret by Florence Parry Heide & Judith Heide Gilliland – I
From Where I Stand by Cheryl Hudson – EC (Black/Multiracial)
Jamaica and Brianna by Juanita Havill  – CG  (Black/Asian)
Please, Puppy, Please by Spike Lee – EC (Black)
Shades of People by Shelley Rotner  –  CD  (Multiracial)
Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto – I

Gr. 1 – 4
Baseball Saved Us – R (Japanese-American)
Big Mama’s by Donald Crews – I
The Bracelet by Yoshiko Uchida – R, CG  (Japanese-American)
Chicken Sunday by Patricia Polacco – CG  (White/Black/Jewish) Jacqueline Woodson
The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County by Janice M. Harrington – I
Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles –  R, CG  (White/Black)
Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violinist by Chieri Uegaki – I
Kunu’s Basket by Lee DeCora Francis – I
The Other Side  by Jacqueline Woodson – R, CG  (Black/White)
Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey – R  (Black)

Gr. 3 – 7
The Basket Counts Matt Christopher –  R, CG  (Black/White)
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson – I
Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson  – CG, R  (Black/White)
The Friendship by Mildred Taylor  –  R  (Black/White)
Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata – I
The Other Half of My Heart  by Sundee Frazier – CG, R (Black/White/Biracial twins)
Witness by Karen Hesse  –  R, CG  (White/Black/Jewish)

Other Resources:

“A World Full of Color” – searchable database of children’s books featuring people of color, not about race, compiled by Elizabeth Blumele

“I’m Your Neighbor” Books – searchable database of “new arrival” children’s literature

“How Cross-Racial Scenes in Picture Books Build Acceptance” by Krista Aronson & Anne Sibley O’Brien, School Library Journal – 2014 Diversity issue

The Picture Book Project: A Bates College Collection Portraying People of Color
Currently being developed; website with searchable catalog and academic articles will be accessible by January 2017

Teaching for Change:

“Recommended Teaching Resources”

“Ten Quick Ways to Analyze Children’s Books for Racism and Sexism”