60+ Resources for Talking to Kids About Racism
When readers expressed the wish that they knew more resources for talking with children about race and racism, I knew just who to ask to write a resource list. My dear friend Lorien is a contributor here and also the person I would go to for advice on discussing social justice. She’s compiled some of the books, music and videos she and her husband use with their kids to discuss racism. I hope you find them helpful! ~Alissa
Resources for talking with Kids About Race and Racism
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by: Lorien Van Ness
Talking about race and racism definitely ranks as one of the more difficult topics I’ve had to broach with my kids. While my training as an early childhood educator had given me plenty of experience talking with kids about diversity, I had been given literally no training in talking with kids about racism.
Before having children of my own, I believed that teaching diversity was enough, that I could simply help children value diversity and in doing so avoid having to discuss racism. While we can and should continue to teach and live the principle of valuing diversity, that alone is not enough; unfortunately we are all exposed to racism even though we ourselves do not agree with such beliefs – even young children are not exempt from its effects.
As Beverly Tatum, an expert on race relations and president of Spelman College puts it, “… like smog in the air. We don’t breathe it because we like it. We don’t breathe it because we think it’s good for us. We breathe it because it’s the only air that’s available.”
People have different comfort zones for when to introduce discussions about racism; everyone’s family is different and I’m firm believer that you know your family best. That being said, I would urge you to think about how you want to discuss racism now, even if you feel that your children are too young. It is such a complex, heavy issue that it can be difficult to know where to start.
For us it has worked well to slowly keep adding to their understanding, we talk about racism from early on in the same way we talk about other sensitive topics – answering questions as they arise and addressing misinformation frankly and honestly, while at the same time exposing them to age appropriate materials and discussions that promote diversity and combat racism.
Books, Activities and Media to Help you Talk with Kids About Race and Racism
For very young children (0-3):
Use books and movies that feature characters of various ethnicities to help build a broad worldview. Some of our favorite books are:
- Baby Born by Anastasia Suen
- Clap Hands and other books in the Oxenbury Board Book Series By Helen Oxenbury
- More, More, More, Said the Baby by Vera B. Williams
- Splash and other books in the Baby Faces series by Roberta Grobel Intrater
- My Granny Went to Market by Stella Blackstone
- One World, One Day by Barbara Kerley
- Whoever You Are by Mem Fox
- Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers
For preschoolers (2-5)
Continue to help preschoolers develop a broad world view and give them context for the larger world; this is important whether you live in a homogeneous community or a heterogeneous community.
Help children examine concepts of fairness and encourage empathy by asking your child how they think different characters feel during conflicts in books and movies.
Don’t be alarmed if your child begins to notice and point out differences in the people around her; take a deep breath and lean into the moment. If your child asks about someone’s skin tone you can respond positively and matter of factly how wonderful it is that we are all so different, you might even ask your child to hold out their arm against yours to demonstrate the variety in your own family.
- The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
- The Doorbell Rang by Pat Hutchins
- Grandfathers Journey by Allen Say
- Carlos and the Squash Plant by Jan Romero Stevens
- The Sneetches by Dr. Suess
- Different Just Like Me by Lori Mitchell
- We’re Different We’re the Same by Bobbi Kates
Also consider reading myths from a variety of cultures such as Coyote Stories for Children by Susan Strauss, Princesses From Around the World by Katell Goyer, Tales from India and other books from the Oxford Myths and Legends series.
Crack eggs together for scrambled eggs, cake or meatloaf. Use brown and white eggs and discuss how even though they are different colors on the outside they are the same on the inside. Or for a sweeter example eat candy coated chocolates together- they are different colors but taste the same; bite some in half for a peek at the each colors insides.
Elementary Aged Children (5-12)
It is during this stage that having open discussions about race, diversity and racism becomes crucial. Elementary age children begin to broaden their horizons and participate in more and more social opportunities independently of their families. Discussing these topics openly without an air of taboo will help your child see you as a trusted source of information on the topic – a truth holder and authority with whom they can check the messages they may be receiving from other sources.
Point out stereotypes and racial bias in media and books such as villains and comic relief characters having accents and behaviors attributed to people of Hispanic, Asian, Middle Eastern or African descent. If you haven’t noticed this before yourself, consider re-watching movies such as The Jungle Book, The Aristocats, Lion King, or Star Wars The Phantom Menace. It doesn’t mean your child can’t watch movies or read books with stereotypes, they can be a powerful means of starting or continuing conversation about racism as long as you engage with them on the subject.
When reading older books with racist language, rather than editing as you read, use it as a teachable moment. That being said, don’t be afraid to put some movies, shows, or even books off limits. One example in our household are the really old Felix the Cat cartoons; we just felt that there was too much stereotyping and blatant racism for us to combat with conversation.
The resources in this section deal with race, racism, discrimination, and racial violence in a much more explicit way than the resources mentioned in the previous sections and are meant to be discussed and pondered with an adult who can provide context and additional commentary.
- Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki
- Tea with Milk By Allen Say
- Follow the Drinking Gourd by Jeanette Winter
- The Story Of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles
- If You Lived When There Was Slavery In America by Anne Kamma
- Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles
- Rosa by Nikki Giovanni
- Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez by Kathleen Krull
- Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh
- by Eve Bunting
- Cheyenne Again by Eve Bunting
- Voices in the Park by DK Publishing and Anthony Browne
- Malala Yousafzai: Warrior with Words by Karen Leggett Abouraya
- One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
- Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
- The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
- Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
- Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis
- Streams to the River, River to the Sea by Scott O’Dell
- The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare
- Smoky Night
- Reading Rainbow (we often find these at our library.) Season 1 Episode 24, Season 11, Episode 6, Season 21, Episode 5
- To Kill a Mockingbird
- The Civil War: a Film by Ken Burns
- Ken Burns: The West
- Not For Ourselves Alone
- Which Games Are Culturally Insensitive?? | Game/Show | PBS Digital Studios
- 6 Activities Exploring Prejudice and Discrimination
- Using Crayons to talk about Diversity and Racism
While talking about race and racism may feel uncomfortable and overwhelming, you don’t have to explain or cover “it all” right now. Just starting the conversation and keeping it going is a step in the right direction, as is pointed out in this article by Melinda Wenner Moyer, and this article on Research-Based Advice on Teaching Children Not to Be Racist.
A helpful resource for parents is Everyday Acts Against Racism: Raising Children in a Multiracial World Edited by Maureen Reddy. This collection of writings by mothers and teachers about their own experiences with racism and discussing racism is formatted in a way that lends itself to picking up and setting down through the many interruptions of parenting and it’s compelling enough to keep you picking it back up!
I’ve also created a Talking About Racism Pinterest Board with additional resources for parents and teachers.
What resources do you use in your family or classroom for talking about race and racism? Where do you struggle in talking about racism? Leave a comment – I’d love to chat. ~Lorien
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Do you have the above, “Talking with Kids About Race & Racism” resource list, in a PDF format that could be easily printed?
I am part of a committee organizing a 3-month exhibit on racism – including art, lectures, workshops, a 10-session film-based dialogue series on race, etc. Much effort is being given to creating printed materials and resource lists (e.g. books, films, podcasts) that individuals visiting the gallery can take home. Having this in booklet form, as the resource for those who engage with children, would be awesome!
What I also find interesting is the way we treat other white people who are not “our shade of white”. I predominantly think about the Eastern Europeans, Russians and similar nationalities that live in the US. While they do not experience the same racism treatment as the people of color, there is definitely something to be studied there, as well.
Another excellent resource is provided by Southern Poverty Law Center through the Teaching Tolerance project. These educational materials are provided at no charge to classroom teachers, school counselors, school administrators, employees of nonprofit youth service organizations, and others. See tolerance.org. You may want to share this information with your local school district.
Great idea to share them with local school districts, thanks Kathy.
A useful resource list, thanks. I want to add my voice to those above who ask for input from non-white perspectives.
Hi Alyce, I continue to think that perhaps, for the fact that I am white myself, I am not the best place for a non-white perspective. Thanks for stopping by.
I honor you for owning that, Alissa. As a white person, I’m not the best place either. And, I’m learning who some of the non-white resources are out there so I can refer to them when needed, to lift up voices that aren’t often heard. Some names I know are Dr. Howard C. Stevenson, Dr. Glenn Singleton, Dr. Eddie Moore, Jr., and Dr. Pedro Neguera.
I often think of a poster at my gym, which reads, “I didn’t say this would be easy. I said it would be worth it.” Thanks for your openness to difficult comments.
Thanks for sending along some resources too!
I appreciate the highlighting of books and games. I’m a white parent to a white toddler. I think we do build a foundation for having these discussions even at my son’s very young age. He’s connecting to people as well as characters in picture books and dolls and figures and incorporating them into his world of play. So we intentionally choose books and dolls that display different races. It’s often hard to find books about children who aren’t automatically illustrated as white, but I think more options are slowly starting to emerge. My son’s favorite is >One Word From Sophia.Lizzie Bright and the Buckminister Boy<
I do agree with other commenters that these conversations likely look different in families who aren't white. It's a totally different thing to have to teach and prepare your child for a world that will be hostile towards them because of the color of their skin. This is something we who are white don't understand. Even now I think about curriculum I wrote ten years ago that referred to police officers as helpers. At this point I don't think we can always assume that to be a truth, but then I had a certain level of ignorance and was only approaching my work from my own perspective. I imagine your inviting an African American parent, Hispanic parent, Asian American parent, Native American parent, etc. to write guest posts on the topic would really be an eye opening endeavor and provide a fuller picture of a very difficult topic that people of all ages struggle to talk about in a non-hostile manner.
Great resource list, thank you! As a white adoptive mom of a little black girl, I always search for resources like this. I have recently created a list of books about mixed race families that your readers might find helpful, too: https://coloursofus.com/picture-books-about-mixed-race-families/. I agree with some of the above comments about the need for a non-white perspective. As white people we must be aware of the fact that however hard we try to understand racism and to raise our children non-racist, we will never fully grasp how it feels to be on the receiving end of the racism that is so deeply engrained in white societies (especially the more subtle racism that is much more difficult to spot and address than blatant acts of racism). Lists like yours or mine can only ever be a starting point, and I appreciate them for exactly that.
Thanks so much for adding you link here and for your addition to the discussion on racism.
What a great post! Just linked to it in a blog post I wrote about resources for talking to kids about race. https://churchnextblog.wordpress.com/2016/03/17/resources-for-talking-to-kids-about-racism/
Thanks Liz, looks like you put together a nice collection of resources there.
This is a fabulous list! Thank you so much for putting it together. I think a lot of parents get overwhelmed with where to begin, and you’ve offered a very concrete and “manageable” starting place.
Thanks Ellie, I’m grateful to have Lorien’s writing here too. I’ve read a number of your posts on Musing Momma, such as https://www.musingmomma.com/2016/01/will-talking-with-kids-about-race-make-them-racist.html and would love for my readers here to know that is a fantastic resource for learning more about talking to kids about race.
Glad you stopped by!
I appreciate that so much, Alissa! Thank you!
The Real Hercules
Thank you so much for this list of resources! Our church, the UCC in Fullerton, California, has initiated what we are referring to as Sacred Conversations to educate the children of our congregation about racism by way of educating ourselves. Please pray that we teach our children the right things to do and say and show them that racism, as pervasive as it is as Jett puts it, is simply wrong. I can only wish they can be examples to their schoolmates and friends.
I assume that the author of this article is white, and I really want to roll my eyes and say “Oh spare me!” Talking with kids about racism is not difficult, it’s imperative. It’s an ongoing conversation! Teachable moments abound! Racism is EVERYWHERE to be recognized and discussed! But if you’re going to talk with your kids about racism, you have to first educate yourself to recognize its pervasiveness, to see that racism is not just an aspect of U.S. culture, but is inseparable from the whole. It is the beating, living heart of this culture, and is overtly and covertly woven into every aspect of U.S. culture. And it’s in that self-education where the difficulty most likely lies. Anyway, thanks for the list of books.
Jett, I think you get to the heart of the issue actually, that if we don’t start talking, which sometimes includes making book lists, then some people won’t even recognize that racism surrounds us. The author of this list is a person whom (I can’t talk for her) but I would say agrees with you; I asked her to create a list that would help people who need help getting started, just get started.
Jett, it’s not just a list of books. The list includes films, activities and shows, as well. The whole point of this is to give people who are looking to start a conversation a jumping off point. You say it’s important to self-educate, and isn’t that what the post promotes?
Why would you roll your eyes at people looking for an entry point to this discussion? Would you rather we keep ignoring it and NOT teaching our children?
Racism is indeed everywhere if you know enough to look for it. But many people do not and still want to make an effort to teach their children to recognize it and effect change. Or perhaps they don’t know how to start the discussion with young children but want to have an open dialogue at home.
To the person using the username Groceries,
I’m glad you asked the questions you wanted to ask, as I think learning is most likely to happen when questions are asked and not stifled.
I won’t attempt to answer for Jett, but I will say that if Jett is a person of color, asking Jett to explain the reason for rolling eyes is I think an example of what Robin DiAngelo has called “White Fragility.” As a white person I highly recommend her articles on the subject, from which I’ve learned a lot about my own resistance to comments like Jett’s. Also excellent is Robin’s book, “What Does It Mean to Be White?”
Most people of color have had to self-educate about racism and whiteness from a very young age, literally just to survive in this white-dominated culture. I’ve heard from black friends that it’s hard for them to hear white people talk about self-education being difficult, when they really haven’t had a choice about it and wish white people would get on with it so things can finally change. I hope that makes sense, I encourage you to check out Robin DiAngelo’s work.
I published a children’s book titled, “You Are Beautiful” that addresses diversity, racism and multi-culturalism for children. The book was written for parents and educators who seek a way to introduce the topic to their next discussion. Activities are provided with this book on my website. School teachers, parents and librarians are encourage to purchase a copy for their facility. Available online at https://www.mindworksbooks.com/#!you-are-beautiful/cqzf
Robyn – thank you for linking to your book!
So many great resources out there. It’s past time to be having these conversations at home and at school. Thanks for this!
And thank you for this wonderful resource!
You’re so welcome, and thanks for adding your link!
Five years ago, for Black History Month, I wrote reviews of about thirty picture books which feature African-American characters. As the white mom of a Black son, it has always been important to me to fill our lives with stories of Black communities, both those dealing with race issues and those in which race is not the main point.
Like Julie, I would love to hear from parents of color.
Wonderful list of resources for white people from white people. An African American or non-white opinion, point-of-view, experience, set of suggestions is conspicuously absent.
Mimi and Julie – are you wishing for a post written by someone who isn’t white? Or that more of the books were written by people who aren’t white? Or…? I’d love more explanation of what you wish you were seeing in this article.
Julie, I’m grateful for your comment. I wonder if you or other commenters on this page might possibly be able to suggest any resources of another kind. I’m on a committee with black parents who would like to learn from their kids about the discrimination their kids are experiencing in our elementary school district. Specifically, we’re looking for advice on questions a parent or teenaged sibling might use to ask a child about it. I’ve been doing Google searches for the past few days and haven’t found very much so far. Thanks for any thoughts.
Thanks for this thorough resource! Hope you will also check out Raising Race Conscious Children (raceconscious.org) that includes real-life stories and strategies for parents and educators to speak explicitly about race around these resources!
I got a wonderful comment from a reader suggesting that people look for these titles at their local library and that they ask their library to create a special Racism Awareness section or display. I really like this idea and hope that many people will do this it could be a great way to impact your community and help combat racism! Please do continue to check the Pinterest page Talking About Racism linked in the post as I will be adding the many wonderful suggestions I am getting from people as they respond to this post.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”