Truths to Reckon With Before You Seek Out ‘Diverse’ Children’s Books

A photo of a mom reading a book to her child sitting in her lap.
Photo: Catherine Delahaye/Getty Images

Over the past week, I’ve heard from countless white parents like me who are ready to talk to their kids about racism. This suggests that many have been avoiding the discussion for far too long.

I am an educator and loud advocate for racially conscious reading. I believe that books are a great place to start in helping kids learn about our biases, internalized beliefs, and role in inequitable systems. But it’s not enough to buy books with some “diverse” faces on the cover and call your work done. If you’re ready to talk to your kids about racism, whether they’re two or 20, you need to first assess what you have already taught your children about race and people of color. Here’s how to do that work.

Reflect on your own biases

If you need to diversify your library because you have just a small handful of books featuring children of color — or none at all — you have, intentionally or not, already sent your child a message about which stories and storytellers are valuable and worth listening to. There are tons of books about children of color, so if nearly none have landed on your shelves, your patterns may warrant some personal reflection about the reasons behind your choices. Recognizing a need to change and sharing that lesson with your child isn’t about shame — instead, it shows them the importance of ongoing reflection and growth. You’re modeling vulnerability.

Ask yourself if you’re using ‘diverse’ to mean more than just ‘nonwhite’

Diverse means a group with multiple identities represented. Identify what’s missing in your library and explicitly name what you are looking for, and be ready to use real language about race with your child. “I am looking for children’s books with black and brown protagonists.” “Yes, this character is African American, and they have brown skin.” When we say “diverse” instead of naming racial identities, we teach our children that race is a bad word.

Don’t include stories about people of color only through the lens of racism

Provide your kids with stories about people of color experiencing joy and universal life events. Read books about people of color doing brave, smart, incredible things throughout history. If we as white people discuss communities of color only in the context of racism, we solidify a deficit mindset, fail to honor and celebrate the richness of cultures other than our own, and ignore beautiful universalities between people.

Engage in your own learning

Many people have provided white people with tools for learning. Check some of them out. It’s hard to reflect on your biases and role in inequity if you genuinely have no idea that you might hold internalized ideas about people of color and are unknowingly contributing to inequity. As for books for your child, local independent bookstores are amazing resources. If you want to give South Minneapolis some love, look to Moon Palace Books. If you want to champion a bookstore owned by a woman of color, check out Semicolon Bookstore and Gallery in Chicago. If you’re not in a location that has an easily accessible independent bookstore, Google “books about kids of color” or “books about racism” and you will find many. Even that friend of yours who knows a lot about books for children has a list that’s finite, so join in and find some more. Then share them with fellow parents.

Even if it’s taken much too long to get here, the time to get moving (and reading) is now.

Queen of the momselfie. Champion of the written word. Official member of the Sad Girls Club. Published by Huffington Post, Shakesville, and Herstry.

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