Last week, when I wrote about how it bothers me there aren’t more black/brown kids in lead roles in children’s television and movies, I mentioned that we make a point of having books in our home that show African-American children as central characters. One reader asked what some of my favorites are, and I thought Oooo, that would make a fun post! This way I can invite you all to share your favorites, too! We love books in our house and so I jump at chance to talk about the ones we enjoy and discover new ones.
Plus, I decided this would be the perfect lead in that give-away I promised a few weeks back! Woop-woop! What better give-away than great kid books? Okay, maybe cold hard cash…but I don’t have those sort of resources here, so I hope you all will be happy with a chance to win some of the books below. I’ll share the give-away tomorrow.
We have a good collection at home of books that talk about diversity and appreciating differences, but I think it is also essential for black kids (and all kids for that matter!) to have books that show black kids doing the same things they do – being friends, exploring, learning, caring, and so on. These are books that let kids see themselves reflected in the pages, which is very affirming. If every book that depicts black characters is about being black, it suggests that their identity is all about the color of their skin or that their experiences are relevant except as they relate to being black.
So, without further ado, here are some of our favorite books with black characters, that are not about being black. Oh wait, a little ado….before I go on I need to tell you: This post contains affiliate links. That means if you make a purchase after clicking on a link below, I may earn a wee commission. But please know that all opinions are entirely my own, and my primary goal is simply to share resources, not to make money off you guys!
Goggles by Ezra Jack Keats. Keats is best known for his classic, The Snowy Day, which was one of my own favorites as a girl. But he also has several other books that revolve around Peter (the boy from The Snowy Day), his family, and his friends. Goggles is one of those books and focuses on the adventures of Peters and his best bud, Archie. I have fond memories of a 2-year-old Zippy wearing a pair of Hubby’s old
goggles and reenacting scenes from this book. Both boys love this book,
especially when I replace the names Archie and Peter with Bee and
Zippy. I love how Keats’ stories depict kids being kids, urban life, friendship, and a great diversity of characters. Whistle for Willie and Pet Show! are also great choices. (I feel like I should add that Goggles has some mild aggression in it, since some parents may not be comfortable with that.)
Please, Puppy, Please by Spike Lee & Tonya Lewis Lee. The best part of this book and the Lees’ other kids book, Please, Baby, Please, are the illustrations, which are done by Kadir Nelson. He is an a-mazing illustrator! He is so good that we started searching for books that he illustrated. Who searches books by illustrator? The other nice thing about both of the Lees’ books are that they are very simple, so they are great reads for young children and quick at bedtime.(Y’all know you are looking for some quickies at bedtime!)
Thunder Rose by Jerdine Nolen. Illustrated by guess who? Our fave, Kadir Nelson! Thunder Rose is an amazingly precocious little girl with supernatural abilities. As a baby she makes a ball out of lightning and drinks milk straight from the cow; as a girl, she calms a tornado by singing. Zippy gets such a kick out of her antics, and I love that this is a book about a girl that is totally tough and self-assured. No princess here. The language is a bit more sophisticated and there’s lots of text, so it’s definitely more for elementary-age kids. I found myself having to explain some of the story to Zippy the first few times we read it. I think it’s a book he’ll grow into.
Come On, Rain! by Karen Hesse. The narrator of this book is African-American, but the story features a diverse group of girls and their moms living in a city neighborhood. When the rain finally provides relief from a stifling hot summer day, the moms join their daughters dancing in the rain. Great art work and wonderful writing: “We meet in the alleyway. All the insects have gone still. Trees sway under a swollen sky, the wind grows bolder and bolder.” This book may be responsible for my boys begging to play outside every time it rains.
The Secret Shortcut by Mark Teague. This book actually features two heroes and depicts a great interracial friendship between Wendell and Floyd, who are best friends. It is full of imagination and adventure as the two boys run into all sorts of wild obstacles trying to get to school on time. Teague also has a great Halloween book (One Halloween Night) featuring the boys and their friend Mona. Zippy loves that one so much that I hide it with the rest of our Halloween stuff so I’m not stuck reading it in July! It’s a special treat when we pull it out in October.
These are just a few of our favorites. I am sure there are many more great books out there. So….