As I looked over the list of books I read this year, I pulled out some favorites to highlight and recommend. These are books I read in 2020, not just books published last year, but most are recent. Happy Reading!
A couple of weeks ago, my brother and parent to the world’s two cutest munchkins asked me for recommendations of books specifically about race. He already understands that his (white) kids should have bookshelves that reflect the world’s diversity and tell stories about all kinds of kids living all kinds of lives, so I knew this question was about helping start some conversations with his little folks, who are three and not-yet-one.
This list is in two parts. First, books that are about race and skin color, with an overall theme of celebration and acceptance. These are what I suggested for my brother’s preschooler. Second, books that discuss racism that are geared towards slightly older readers. To be clear, I don’t think three year olds are too young to learn about racism and other kinds of prejudice. However, the specific books I’ve found so far aren’t written for them, in terms of their length, the word choice, and the tone. Of course, children’s books don’t ever have firm age boundaries, and all kids are different! So while these didn’t seem to match the three year old in my life, they might feel just right for yours!
At all ages, it’s key that we talk to kids about race. White families may not think of it, because the power of white supremacy is that we’re made to feel like whiteness is the norm. Part of white privilege is the privilege of going through our day without thinking about our skin color and how it impacts our lives or the lives of others. (I say “our” here because I am a white person). And part of the work of dismantling white supremacy is facing what’s long been invisible to many of us: in our society that is rooted in racism, whiteness comes with systemic privileges, and blackness and brownness come with systemic oppression. As James Baldwin said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
And facing it starts with our littlest faces. So when I think about my niece and nephew, I want them to begin to understand that they are white, that not everybody else is, and that every person is valuable and lovable. I want them to develop a sense of equity, justice, and standing up for what is right. As they grow, I want them to understand their privilege, and learn how to spend it to break down our racist systems. (By the way, there is great stuff in Tiffany M. Jewell’s This Book is Anti-Racist about spending privilege, and the term comes from Black feminist and racial justice activist Brittany Packnett https://rantsandrandomness.simplecast.com/episodes/brittany-packnett-cunningham-PRgbJxWE/transcript ) By planting those seeds now, the roots of racism will be much less likely to take hold, and the kids will grow strong in justice, equality, love, and liberation.
Now the books!
A few weeks ago, I wrote this post about middle grade and YA novels that center, honor, and celebrate Black lives, and I want to follow up with picture book recommendations on the same theme. These are stories that aren’t about struggle and oppression, but about life and joy, everyday delights and challenges. These are books that would be at home in the libraries of both kids of color and white kids, serving as mirrors and windows for our readers.
Of course, this is a limited list. There are so many more great books out there, and more coming out every day. Social media is a great resource for book news and recommendations. Here are some of the folx that I definitely suggest following:
(These are Instagram handles, but most have a presence on Facebook and Twitter, too.)
Also: Can we talk about the Kidlit These Days podcast?! I can’t say enough good things about it! Each episode has a timely theme, a featured guest, and a joyful booktalk section by the two awesome hosts, Matthew Winner and Nicole Young (Karina Yan Glaser in earlier episodes). Highly recommended for anyone who is trying to get good books into kids’ hands!
Now, onto the books!
Native American and Indigenous voices are often under- or misrepresented in history. Many older texts are written by non-Native authors, so we want to make sure that we’re looking for books written by Indigenous authors so that we’re reading authentic stories of Indigenous history and culture. We also want to seek out contemporary texts that show Native Americans living today, so that kids don’t only see them in the past tense. This is a list I pulled together for a summer graduate class (hence the formal citations!), but I think it can be a helpful resource, so I wanted to post it here, as well. These are all #OwnVoices books.
I love #bookaday!! And I'm so totally not finishing a book every day, but I'm reading a bunch (almost) every day. As we wind through August, I have a nagging bit of worry about how I'll translate it to the pace of the school year, because I don't only want to be reading seriously in the summer. But for the moment? Reading in the summer is so. Good. Here comes my second batch of books.
So, this summer I've jumped into the #BookADay challenge and I'm SO INTO IT. It's recharged my reading life in a way that I badly needed. In the busy clutch of the school year, I just fall away from reading, and fall into habits of mindlessly watching TV or scrolling endlessly online in the evening. But man, do I respond to a challenge, and do I love filling out a chart! (I assigned myself the same reading log I gave my kids for the homework, and my geeky self loves filling it out every day.) I decided to interpret #BookADay for myself as reading a book a day, if not finishing a book a day. That made me feel like it's an achievable goal. I've been on my pre-summer-school break for six days now, and I've finished three middle grade books, and I'm working on another, plus Happy Teachers Change the World (which is incredible, more on that later).
I'm all about this version of #BookADay. And. I also want to supercharge it with SO MANY PICTURE BOOKS, because it's fun, and because I want to win my own #BookADay, and because I want to go into next school year with a ton of new mentor texts options. So on one of my free afternoons this week, I took myself to my local independent bookstore, and pulled myself a stack of books. Spoiler alert, it was wonderful.
(And in case you're worried about my bookstore, after reading this stack, I bought three books for my nephew's birthday, plus Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova, since I started the series earlier in the week and fell in love with Brave. More on that to come, too.)
On to the picture books!
Writing about practicing literacy and freedom with my small humans.