Race, Police and Justice: Reading Recommendations for Children
May 28, 2020
There are some great new children’s books that address race, policing and justice. Let’s start first with some affirming picture books that emphasize the message: Your life matters.
I Am Enough by Grace Byers, illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo
Shares a story of loving who you are, respecting others and being kind to one another with illustrations girls from different ethnic backgrounds. The publisher’s website has samples of the book, a book trailer and tips for parents.
A child reflects on the meaning of being Black in this moving and powerful anthem about a people, a culture, a history and a legacy that lives on. The publisher’s website and the author’s website both have a preview video and enriching materials that go with the book.
Hands Up! by Breanna J. McDaniel, illustrated by Shane W. Evans
A girl lifts her hands up in a series of everyday moments before finally raising her hands in resistance at a protest march. The author’s website has links to an interview and an article about her inspiration for the book, which includes a peek at the interior illustrations.
When devastating news rattles a young girl’s community, she tries her hardest to respond to it as compassionately and positively as possible. With the help of her family, her actions reach the people around her in a big way. The author has made a read-aloud available online.
In Your Hands
by Carole Boston Weatherford; illustrated by Brian Pinkney
An African American mother describes her dreams for her newborn son, her hopes for his future and her prayers for his safety. You can see a preview of the book on the publisher’s website.
We Are One
by Ysaye M. Barnwell; illustrated by Brian Pinkney
This book is an illustrated version of a song performed by Sweet Honey In the Rock, accompanied by a CD. You can also find an audio file on the author and singer’s website.
by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Charles R. Smith, Jr.
The inspirational words of this celebrated writer’s poem are brought to life through a collection of brilliant sepia-colored photographs throughout capturing the diverse features, hearts and souls of African American children and adults. You can watch the artist discuss his book, or listen to artist Ashley Bryan recite the poem (starting at 2 minutes into the video).
Longing for summertime adventures outside of their small Indiana community, two boys are enthralled by a cool newcomer who enlists their help in a series of escalating trade cons that rapidly put them in over their heads. (Reviews of the book note that the brothers’ dad is protective of them and wants them to stay at home for safety.)
When six students are chosen to participate in a weekly talk with no adults allowed, they discover that when they’re together, it’s safe to share the hopes and fears they have to hide from the rest of the world.
The reviewer for Kirkus noted, “… Amari learns from his dad that he can no longer play with toy guns because he is a boy of color.” When I saw the title, I thought of a performance I heard of the song Would You Harbor Me, and I wonder if the author has a personal connection to the song?
These next two chapter books address interactions with the police more directly, and they have both been in high demand.
Eleven-year-old piano prodigy Isabella, whose black father and white mother struggle to share custody, never feels whole. As racial tensions affect her school, her parents both become engaged, and she and her stepbrother are stopped by police.
After seventh-grader Jerome is shot by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real threat, he observes the aftermath of his death and meets the ghosts of other fallen black boys, including historical figure Emmett Till. This title is also available as an audiobook and as an eBook through Axis 360.
There are also two chapter books in which an African American boy looks up to his dad, who is a police detective. However, I don’t see them currently available as eBooks or in the Pinnacle system. The Spray-Paint Mystery and The Case of the Missing Trophy by Angela Shelf Medearis are good choices for younger mystery fans.
While most recent juvenile fiction that touches on police has African American children as the main characters, Sunnyside Plaza is an exception.
While helping police officers Esther and Lon investigate a suspicious death at her group home, nineteen-year-old Sal Miyake, who has an intellectual disability, gains insights into herself and makes new friends.
There are also chapter books that feature African Americans seeking justice, sometimes through the Black Lives Matter movement.
Receiving an unexpected letter on her 12th birthday from the incarcerated father she has never met, a courageous young baker prepares for a cooking-show competition while scrambling to determine her father’s innocence. An eBook is also available through hoopla.
It’s hard to say without reading the book, but it looks like Clean Getawayby Nic Stone might have similar themes.
After attending a powerful protest, Shayla starts wearing an armband to school to support the Black Lives Matter movement. But when the school gives her an ultimatum, she is forced to choose between her education and her identity. This title is also available from Axis 360 and hoopla.
Most of the library’s nonfiction books addressing the Black Lives Matter movement are for teens or adults, but there are some recent titles for children.
This book spotlights vibrant, inspiring black women whose accomplishments have changed the world for the better. The three founders of Black Lives Matter are featured, along with 39 other women from the past and the present.
Biracial sixth-grader Stephen questions the limitations society puts on him after he learns about the Black Lives Matter movement and he begins to notice how strangers treat him when he hangs out with his white friends.