Make It

A Parenting Expert Shares 56 Books to Teach Your Kids About Race, Compassion and Social Justice—for All Young Age Levels

Klaus Vedfelt | Getty Images

Kids need to see themselves reflected in what they read. Books add to their understanding of how they view themselves. It also helps them explore the world, and how they want to interact with it.

As a parenting coach who teaches how to raise compassionate, anti-racist and justice-minded kids, I encourage parents to choose books for their kids that can spark important conversations.

To get started, I've compiled a list of books for different age levels that deal with seven key social justice themes: belonging, anti-racism, reflection, open dialogue, compassion, social justice engagement and self-advocacy.

1. Books on belonging

Newborn to preschool (newborn to age 4)

  • "So Much" by Trish Cooke
    There's nothing more beautiful than knowing you are unconditionally loved. This book, about a beloved baby, celebrates that feeling.
  • "Chocolate Me" by Taye Diggs
    When he is teased for having dark skin and curly hair, this main character's mother helps him see that his differences are what make him unique.

Kindergarten to second grade (ages 5 to 7)

  • "Sulwe" by Lupita Nyong'o
    A beautiful Black girl wishes her skin color was different. Eventually, she realizes that belonging isn't about fitting in with everyone else, but about loving who you are.
  • "All Because You Matter" by Tami Charles
    This lyrical picture book reminds all Black and brown children that they matter.

Third to fifth grade (ages 8 to 10)

  • "Amina's Voice" by Hena Khan
    This book tells the story of a Pakistani American girl who is stuck between two worlds. In her journey to balance assimilating in America and remaining true to her Pakistani culture, she finds her voice in a way that brings her community together.
  • "The Arabic Quilt" by Aya Khalil
    Kanzi's family just moved from Egypt to America, and she wants to fit in. But when her classmates see her mother dressed in her hijab, they tease her about being different. Kanzi's grandmother's quilt, which gives her comfort after school, becomes the very thing that teaches the children about inclusion and kindness.

Sixth to eighth grade (ages 11 to 13)

  • "Harbor Me" by Jacqueline Woodson
    Six students meet in the "ARTT" (A Room to Talk) room weekly, which slowly becomes a safe space for them to open up and be vulnerable with each other.
  • "New Kid" by Jerry Craft
    Jordon's parents send him to a fancy prep school instead of his neighborhood school. As one of the few kids of color, Jordon's struggles to fit in and to remain connected to his friends back home.

2. Books on anti-racism

Newborn to preschool (newborn to age 4)

  • "Skin Like Mine" by LaTashia M. Perry
    This book celebrates the diversity in skin color among young children.
  • "Antiracist Baby" by Ibram X. Kendi
    In "Antiracist Baby," historian and anti-racist activist Ibram X. Kendi shows us that even the youngest kids can combat racism. It's up to us, as parents, to teach them how.

Kindergarten to second grade (ages 5 to 7)

Age group: Third to fifth grade (ages 8 to 10)

Sixth to eighth grade (ages 11 to 13)

  • "Ghost Boys" by Jewell Parker Rhodes
    Jerome Rogers, a Black 12-year-old, is shot and killed by a policeman while outside playing with a toy gun. As a ghost, he is able to look down on earth and see the impact his death has had on the community.
  • "Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You" by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
    This book unpacks the history of racism, and can be used as a tool for young adults to begin their anti-racist journey.

3. Books on reflection

Newborn to preschool (newborn to age 4)

  • "Skin Again" by Bell Hooks
    Feminist and social activist Gloria Jean Watkins, who was better known by her pen name Bell Hooks, invites young readers to go beyond the color of people's skin and learn their stories and experiences. That's how you really get to know someone.
  • "Shades of Black: A Celebration of Our Children" by Sandra L. Pinkney
    This book is a celebration of the joy and beauty of living in Black and brown skin.

Kindergarten to second grade (ages 5 to 7)

  • "The Day You Begin" by Jacqueline Woodson
    This book reminds us that there's power in storytelling. When we have the courage to tell our story, we build the capacity for reflection and belonging.
  • "Black Is a Rainbow Color" by Angela Joy
    A young girl reflects on what it means to be Black, and all the beautiful things that she represents in the world around her.

Third to fifth grade (ages 8 to 10)

  • "The 1619 Project: Born on the Water" by Nikole Hannah-Jones
    When a child comes home from school with a family tree homework assignment, grandma sits everyone down to reflect on the family's history.
  • "The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind" by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
    After being forced to drop out of school because his family could no longer afford the fees, 14-year-old Kamkwamba finds a way to educate himself and save his village.

Sixth to eighth grade (ages 11 to 13)

  • "Becoming: Adapted for Younger Readers" by Michelle Obama
    Michelle Obama's best-selling memoir about belonging, work ethic, fortitude and family is now available for younger readers to enjoy.
  • "Blended" by Sharon M. Draper
    Isabella is biracial girl who is always questioned about her racial identity. In addition, her parents are going through a divorce, and she must split her time between their homes. In being forced to reflect on both of her identities, Isabella learns who she really is.

4. Books on open dialogue

Newborn to preschool (newborn to age 4)

  • "Brown Sugar Babe" by Charlotte Watson Sherman
    When a little girl doesn't like her skin color, her mother reminds her of all the beauty there is in being brown.
  • "The Color of Us" by Karen Katz
    Seven-year-old Lena is going to paint a picture of herself using her brown paint. As she takes a walk with her mother in the neighborhood, she realizes that brown comes in many beautiful shades.

Kindergarten to second grade (ages 5 to 7)

  • "The Other Side" by Jacqueline Woodson
    Clover, an African American girl, and Anna, a white girl, live in a segregated town. Clover's mom always reminds her to never climb over the fence that separates their backyards. Clover and Anna find a way to become friends in this segregated town while still following the grown-ups' rules.
  • "Let's Talk About Race" by Julius Lester
    This books teaches that we all have a story and that while sometimes stories are true, sometimes we believe stories about others that aren't true. When you peel back the layers of all these stories, you can find the truth.

Third to fifth grade (ages 8 to 10)

  • "A Shelter in Our Car" by Monica Gunning
    Zettie and her mother come to America looking for a better life when Zettie's father dies. They temporarily live in their car while her mother struggles to find a job. This book reminds us to stay hopeful during hard times.
  • "Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Boy" by Emmanuel Acho
    This book focuses on creating an open dialogue about systemic racism for young readers.

Sixth to eighth grade (ages 11 to 13)

  • "Black Boy Joy: 17 Stories Celebrating Black Boyhood" edited by Kwame Mbalia
    This collection of stories by Black male and nonbinary authors is a beautiful look into Black boyhood. Each short story from the authors' lives represents the wholeness and pride of being in Black skin.
  • "Long Way Down" by Jason Reynolds
    After Will witnesses his older brother, Shawn, murdered, he wants revenge. He grabs Shawn's gun and hops on the elevator. The elevator stops on each floor on the way down. Each floor reveals layers of Will's life that led to the moment of Shawn's death.

5. Books on compassion

Newborn to preschool (newborn to age 4)

  • "Shady Baby" by Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade
    Shady Baby knows fashion and fun, but she also knows how to spread compassion and kindness.
  • "I Am Every Good Thing" by Derrick D. Barnes
    This is the perfect book to teach self-compassion, self-kindness and self-confidence to young readers.

Kindergarten to second grade (ages 5 to 7)

  • "Sharing a Smile" by Nicki Kramar
    Sophia turns her fears into acts of kindness. She is amazed as she watches the ripple effects that her kindness has in her neighborhood.
  • "Each Kindness" by Jacqueline Woodson
    This relatable story of not belonging and of missing an opportunity to offer compassion when someone needed it leaves the reader thinking about ways they can spread more kindness.

Third to fifth grade (ages 8 to 10)

  • "What Is Given From the Heart" by Patricia C. McKissack
    James and his mother don't have much, but when he hears that the Temples family lost everything in a fire, he wants to find a way to help.
  • "Thank You, Omu" by Oge Mora
    The entire neighborhood can smell Omu's delicious stew. She generously gives a bowlful to everyone who knocks on her door, only to realize there's no stew left for herself.

Sixth to eighth grade (ages 11 to 13)

  • "Out of My Mind" by Sharon M. Draper
    Eleven-year-old Melody has cerebral palsy. How can she get her teachers, doctors and classmates to see her for who she really is? This story teaches children not to judge a person by physical appearance or ability.
  • "Me (Moth)" by Amber McBride
    Moth has to live with her aunt after losing her family in an accident. Feeling alone and misunderstood, until she befriends Sani, a boy who is also in search of wholeness and compassion.

6. Books on social justice engagement

Newborn to preschool (newborn to age 4)

  • "Get Up, Stand Up" by Bob Marley and Cedella Marley
    This is a wonderful primer to teach your children to stand up for themselves and for others.
  • "Woke Baby" by Mahogany L. Browne
    This book is a beautiful celebration of toddlerhood and the potential of raising a child who can make change.

Kindergarten to second grade (ages 5 to 7)

  • "Say Something!" by Peter H. Reynolds
    This empowering picture book explores the importance of using your voice to make a difference. Each of us, each and every day, has the opportunity to use our words and take actions to make a differ-ence.
  • "The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist" by Cynthia Levinson
    This books helps children learn about Audrey Faye Hendricks, the youngest activist at a civil rights protest in Birmingham, Alabama.

Third to fifth grade (ages 8 to 10)

Sixth to eighth grade (ages 11 to 13)

  • "A Good Kind of Trouble" by Lisa Moore Ramée
    Shayla is a rule follower. She feels comfortable with boundaries. But when her sister, Hana, is active in the Black Lives Matter protests, Shayla realizes that sometimes it's important to break the rules.
  • "One Crazy Summer" by Rita Williams-Garcia
    Eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters find themselves spending the summer in California with a mother that chose a life with the Black Panthers instead of them.

7. Books on self-advocacy

Newborn to preschool (newborn to age 4)

  • "Hair Love" by Matthew A. Cherry
    A Black daddy learns to style his Black daughter's gorgeous curly hair, teaching self-confidence and self-love.
  • "I Am Enough" by Grace Byers
    We all want to raise children who are self-confident and who know that they are worthy. This is a great book to begin the journey of self-acceptance and self-love.

Kindergarten to second grade (ages 5 to 7)

  • "Penny and the Magic Puffballs" by Alonda Williams
    Penny doesn't like her natural, curly hair. But in this adventurous series, Penny learns to use what makes her different, her magical puffballs, as a source of her inner magic.
  • "Change Sings" by Amanda Gorman
    The first picture book from youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman focuses on the importance of using your voice.

Third to fifth grade (ages 8 to 10)

  • "The Undefeated" by Kwame Alexander
    This poem represents the perseverance and fortitude of African American heroes throughout history. 
  • "Weird!: A Story About Dealing with Bullying in Schools" by Erin Frankel
    Young Luisa is called "weird" by her classmate Sam when she is just being herself. We watch what happens as Luisa is supported by her peers to stand up to Sam

Sixth to eighth grade (ages 11 to 13)

  • "Brown Girl Dreaming" by Jacqueline Woodson
    In powerful autobiographic prose, Woodson describes her childhood and growing up Black in America, offering young readers the opportunity to see what it means to fight for justice and equality.
  • "Watch Us Rise" by Renée Watson and Ellen Hagan
    Jasmine and Chelsea start a Women's Rights Club in their progressive high school, and fight back against their trolls and their principal.

Dr. Traci Baxley is a professor, parenting coach and author of "Social Justice Parenting: How to Raise Compassionate Anti-Racist Justice Minded Kids in an Unjust World." An educator for over 30 years with degrees in child development, elementary education and curriculum, she specializes in diversity and inclusion, anti-bias curriculum, and social justice education. Follow her on @socialjusticparenting.

Don't miss:

Sign up now: Get smarter about your money and career with our weekly newsletter

Copyright CNBCs - CNBC
Contact Us