Selected children's books provide optimism for Black readers

The Library offers a variety of children's book resources to help you talk to your child about race in an affirming way.

This blog was written as part of Charlotte Mecklenburg Library's Black Lives Matter program initiative. Learn  more about the program and corresponding events here.

To understand what Black children understand about race, we must consider a few factors. According to Dr. Erin Winkler, associate professor of African & African Diaspoa Studies at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, those factors would include the child's gender, skin tone, family, peers, media, school, and environment. In her book Learning Race, Learning Place, Dr. Winkler details her findings and dissects those confusing signals about race. That said, the Library also has a multitude of books written for children to explain and offer an avenue to identify those same thoughts within themselves. Writer Jewell Parker Rhodes is one such author doing this work through her children’s books.

In an interview with the educational website Reading Rocket, Rhodes talks of the possibilities children obtain from books. As Rhodes discusses her work, she makes it clear what she wants to share with her audience. "Well, books have been healing my soul,” Rhodes says. “I think that children of color and non-color can see a place for themselves in my books is healing them and reminding them that they are very special because they have power and can be the change, and that I as an adult believe in them. And so, that opens up all kinds of wondrous possibilities."

Following growing national and local support of the Black Lives Matter movement, particularly in 2020, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library responded with the creation of its Black Lives Matter program initiative to hold important discussions and provide resources about racism and social justice to the community. In addition to Library sponsored programs, recommended reading lists concerning race and racism have been created for customers to address a variety of topics. Encompassing all age ranges including children, there are nine featured children’s titles referenced in these lists including two of Rhodes' children’s books. There are even suggested titles from other libraries to help continue the conversation.

Check out the following children’s titles arranged by recommended age and start the discussion with your child today:

We Love You, Rosie! by Cynthia Rylant

A young brother and sister love their playful dachshund, Rosie. The brown-skinned children discover the concept of opposites as they follow their pet into several hijinks. Ages 3-7.  

In Your Hands by Carole Boston Weatherford

A mother shares a prayer for her newborn black son to be safe as he grows in a world where hostility can come because of his race. Ages 4-8.

Let's Talk About Race by Julius Lester

Writer Julius Lester talks about his life story with his family, hobbies, favorite foods, and more and, finally, that he is black. The reader is asked to identify their race, and the discussion goes into the significance of their own life story and how race is just one element. From there, Lester addresses the sameness and connectedness which people share. Ages 6-10.

Courage by Barbara Binns

Thirteen-year-old T'Shawn has a prestigious but expensive new obligation as a new member of a local private club's diving team. The project is a financial strain for his widowed mother. A scholarship helps T'Shawn continue but as his older brother, Lamont, returns home after a prison stint, he comes to resent him as he suspects Lamont still has criminal connections. Ages 8-12.

Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes

An elite prep school for middle schooler biracial Donte is a tough fit while his brother Trey is managing comfortably. The difference in color with darker Donte singled out among the predominately white student body and harassed. One frequent bully, Allan, motivates Donte to challenge and beat him at his own game in the sport of fencing. Ages 8-12.

We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices by Various Authors

Thirty illustrated essays, poems, letters, and stories from more than 50 children's book creators discuss prejudice and racism for their diverse children reader populace. The book is targeted to reassure, calm and inspire children. Ages 8-12.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

During the 1960s and 70s, Jacqueline Woodson shares in poetry her experiences and feelings when growing up in South Carolina and later New York City. The changing locations and times of shifting from segregation's end to the Black Power movement's growth have Jacqueline unsettled but discovering her talent to write. Ages 8-12.

A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramee

The first year of middle school for twelve-year-old Shayla is a dramatic step into her growth and identity. Her two closest friends, Julia, who's Asian-American, and Isabella, who's Latina, have become less so this school year, and Shayla's sister urges her to seek out black friends. Shayla is unconvinced, but her interest and growing commitment to the Black Lives Matter movement cause strife at school from multiple directions. Ages 8-12.

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

The shooting death of a 12-year-old black boy holding a toy gun by the police is a tragedy that's tough to bear, but the story doesn't end in a single death. In this novel, the soul of the killed Jerome Rogers, meets the ghost of Emmitt Till, murdered in 1955 from racist hate. From Emmitt, Jerome meets other "ghost boys" with their similar stories and how they fight history from repeating itself. Jerome learns he can do the same from his life's end and finds an unlikely human ally. Ages 10 and up.

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This blog was written by Lawrence Turner a librarian at South County Regional.