Antiracism education can start from a young age.

I grew up in Germany, and for the most part, that meant that I was the only Black kid far and wide for the majority of my childhood. I remember being in elementary school and my classmates telling me which roles I could—or more often couldn’t—be in the school play, the princesses I couldn’t be because of my skin color.

I don’t think my classmates were actively raised to be racist. They articulated what they intrinsically believed society had told them was the status quo. Growing up in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, it was a time where many in the US and across the West perpetuated this notion that we lived in a post-racial society. Talking to white kids about race wasn’t necessary because children were supposedly born without bias. If we just taught them to be nice, kind humans, surely racism would go away, right?

But studies show that children start “nonverbally categorizing people by race and gender” as early as six months old, possibly sooner.” Researchers have also found that “three- to five-year-olds not only categorize people by race, but express bias based on race.” Children believe what society tells them, and when books and television show them that whiteness is the standard of beauty or the measure of success and goodness, that’s what they believe.

If we are truly committed to becoming an antiracist society and want to raise a generation that will do better, antiracism education has to start from a very young age.

If we are truly committed to becoming an antiracist society and want to raise a generation that will do better, antiracism education has to start from a very young age. We can no longer afford to let children be exposed to the narrative of a superior race.

Where do we start? We start by diversifying their environment. We read them books with Black and Brown heroes, and we put on TV shows with diverse casting. Most importantly, parents and teachers should have conversations to that end. There are some incredible resources out there, starting with @theconsciouskid. This account is dedicated to parenting and education through a critical race lens.

To help you get started, here are a handful of children’s books with Black and Brown heroes. But don’t stop there; diversify your adult bookshelves too with these books on antiracism

1. Sulwe

Author | Lupita Nyong’o
Illustrator | Vashti Harrison
Age Range | 5–7

Sulwe wants nothing more than lighter skin like everyone else in her family. In answer to her wish, she goes on a magical trip. But instead of getting what she asked for, she learns that her brightness shines as magically on her beautiful dark skin as on anyone else’s. Written by Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o and beautifully illustrated by Vashti Harrison, Sulwe is about colorism, self-esteem, and learning that true beauty comes in many forms—and ultimately from within.

Price | $17.99, or less secondhand

2. Tobias The Dream Adventurer

Author | Destynee Onwochei
Illustrator | Margarita Viray
Age Range | 3–9

Tobias is an adventurer helping his friend Nalah become a mountain guide like her father. Tobias The Dream Adventurer encourages children to dream big and is based on author Destynee Onwochei’s real-life experiences. It even includes facts about Tanzania and uses introductory Swahili vocabulary to expose kids to a new language. With international shipping available, it’s perfect for parents all over the world.

Price | £6.99

3. Carmela Full of Wishes

Author | Matt de la Peña
Illustrator | Christian Robinson
Age Range | 3–5

Carmela Full of Wishes is a story about a young girl who wakes up on her birthday already having her first wish fulfilled: getting to join her older brother in completing family errands in their neighborhood—a place that seems simple but is really a vibrant place brimming with possibilities. Carmela’s adventure continues when she comes across a beautiful dandelion and her brother tells her she has to make a wish before she blows it away.

Price | $17.99, or less secondhand

4. Rocket Says Look Up!

Author | Nathan Bryon
Illustrator | Dapo Adeola
Age Range | 3–7

Rocket Says Look Up! is the perfect bedtime story. Rocket wants to be an astronaut and she’s inviting her whole community to look up for the comet that’s coming tonight. In this brilliant picture book by author Nathan Bryon and illustrator Dapo Adeola, children everywhere can be inspired to dream big, live curiously, and embrace their communities.

Price | $17.98, or less secondhand

5. Antiracist Baby

Author | Ibram X. Kendi
Illustrator | Ashley Lukashevsky
Age Range | 3 months+

This picture book by National Book Award-winning author Ibram X. Kendi belongs on every kid’s bookshelf. With simple tips, bold art, and accessible language, Antiracist Baby offers parents a resource for having antiracism conversations with kids from an early age.

Price | $8.99, or less secondhand

6. Hair Love 

Author | Matthew A. Cherry
Illustrator | Vashti Harrison
Age Range | 4–8

Hair Love is a celebration of daddies and daughters everywhere! In this beautifully book by Matthew A. Cherry and Vashti Harrison, Zuri explores all the different ways her hair is wonderful and has her daddy help with its gorgeous styles. It’s a great children’s book for Black girls and an excellent resource for talking with all children about how people are different but equally beautiful.

Price | $17.99, or less secondhand

7. We Are Grateful

Author | Traci Sorell
Illustrator | Frane Lessac
Age Range | 3–9

We Are Grateful is a heartwarming story about the Cherokee community and their word for gratitude: otsaliheliga (oh-jah-LEE-hay-lee-gah. Written by author Traci Sorell, who lives with her family in the Cherokee nation, this story illustrates how gratitude is at the core of the Cherokee Nation and it’s something we can all learn to practice.

Price | $17.99, or less secondhand

8. Always Anjali

Author | Sheetal Sheth
Illustrator | Jessica Blank
Age Range | 3–9

Anjali, a South Asian American girl, is excited about the bike she received for her birthday. But she can’t find a license plate with her name on it. To make matters worse, the kids at school tease her because of it. Can Anjali learn to embrace her name and be proud of it? Always Anjali is an inspiring tale from author, actor, and activist Sheetal Sheth. You can pre-order the second book in Anjali’s story as well, available in Fall 2021.

Price | $19.95, or less secondhand

Which children’s books are a favorite in your household? 📚 Share their titles in the comments below!

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Jess Mally is a London-based writer, speaker, creative, and producer. She is also the co-founder of BELOVD agency and the host of The Third Way podcast. With a passion for social change, mental health, the arts, and spirituality, she hopes to use any and all means available to her to tell stories that shape a better world. Follow her work on Instagram.