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April 2, 2024

Building bridges: An antiracist children's booklist inspired by Ibram X. Kendi

“How do we talk to our children about racism? How are kids at different ages experiencing race? How are racist structures impacting children? How can we inspire our children to avoid our mistakes, to be better, to make the world better?” 

These are a few of the questions that Ibram X. Kendi, one of the world’s foremost historians and leading antiracist scholars, found himself avoiding in anticipation of the birth of his first child. Like many parents, parents-to-be, and caregivers, Kendi felt the initial reflex to avoid discussions of race with children out of fear of tainting their innocence or stealing away their joy.

Research, from the National Institutes of Health, shows us that children notice race at an early age, that kids “also observe and can understand injustices among people” (Lingras). However, the research also tells us that “not all caregivers discuss race, identity, and racism” (Lingras). More so, some avoid the topics altogether. 

This silence allows for stereotypes, biases, and racism to be reinforced. Thus, Kendi realized that to protect his child’s innocence and joy, he would need to raise her to be an antiracist, to actively have these conversations with her, and to lean into his own discomfort. 

antiracist children's books on a bookshelf

So, where do you start? Children’s literature can serve as a powerful tool for initiating discussions on race in age-appropriate ways by presenting diverse characters and narratives that reflect the real world. Through engaging stories and relatable characters, children can explore different perspectives, develop empathy, and gain an understanding of the complexities of race and identity. 

By incorporating antiracist children’s literature into their reading routines, caregivers and educators can create safe spaces for dialogue, where children can ask questions, share their thoughts, and learn to challenge stereotypes. These stories not only foster a sense of belonging and inclusion but also empower children to become agents of change in creating a more equitable society.

Antiracist children’s books

The following are examples of children’s literature that Kendi highlights in his book, How to Raise an Antiracist, that can all be used to initiate these conversations with the children in your life (all of which can be found here, on the Reading Partners’ Bookshop)

In conclusion, discussing race with children is crucial for fostering a more inclusive and equitable society. Literature serves as a gateway to initiate these conversations, providing children with valuable opportunities to explore diverse perspectives and challenge prejudices. 

By incorporating antiracist children’s literature into their reading experiences, parents, caregivers, and educators can empower children to embrace diversity, cultivate empathy, and become advocates for social justice from an early age. Together, through open dialogue and the power of storytelling, we can strive to build a future where every child feels seen, heard, and valued.

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