Having conversations about race as a white mother with a white toddler who lives in a very white area was at first daunting. I didn’t know where to start and didn’t want to say the wrong thing.
But since we’ve been having them over the last few months, I can promise you that it’s been a wonderful and powerful experience. Yes, I’ve tripped over my words and not known how to answer all of Amalia’s questions but we’re having conversations that I never had as a kid and she’s incredibly receptive to them.
Because there is no stigma attached to these topics for a toddler, Amalia freely asks (many) questions and is not only open to learning more about different races and cultures but genuinely interested in it.
One of the ways that we start our discussions about race is through the books we read to her. Some of them are more directly about race and racial issues (The Antiracist Baby and the Rosa Parks book) and others are stories that feature Black characters as the heroes (The Snowy Day and Welcome to the Party).
My goal has been to fill her bookshelves with both types of books so that every time she reads about a Black person, it’s not only about their race. It feels important for her to see children of other races doing everyday things in her bedtime stories as well.
Here is a list of the antiracist books we’ve been reading lately.
Antiracist Toddler Books
We’re Different, We’re the Same
Each page of this Sesame Street Classic shares something different about people (our hair is different, our noses are different, our skin is different, our bodies are different, etc) followed by an image of all different types of hair, noses, skin, and bodies doing things as a group. It teaches kids that we can do all sorts of amazing things no matter what we look like on the outside.
This very sweet book is the story of a little girl who wants the perfect hairdo for a special day. Her dad tries different styles until he gets it just right. When he finishes, we learn that the special day is her mom coming home from a work trip! It doesn’t talk about race overtly but the characters are Black and it highlights the beauty of her natural hair.
The Snowy Day
I used to read this book as a kid and love reading it to Amalia now. It’s about a boy in Brooklyn, Peter, who wakes up on a winter day to discover snow for the first time. Peter is Black, and although the story doesn’t have anything to do with that, the hero of the story looks different than she does. You can also read more about how Ezra Jack Keats quietly broke color barriers with this book back in the ’60s when it was the first color picture book featuring a Black main character. While putting together this post, I also learned that the book was banned and has been heavily criticized in the past because it was written by a white man.
We love the Little People, Big Dreams series in our house. Amalia has Rosa Parks, Ella Fitzgerald, Frida Kahlo, and Coco Chanel. Rosa Parks has been in our nightly rotation for months now and she has questions every single time we read it. Why isn’t she allowed on the bus? Why does she have to move? How did she get out of jail? The answers she asks as a 3-year-old are amazing and I hope some of the lessons she learns from it stick.
Someone gave us Feminist Baby from this same series when Amalia was born. It has been one of her favorites from day one. We recently added Antiracist Baby which has, as you can imagine, lead to many many many questions and conversations. It gives 9 steps to “make equity a reality” like using your words to talk about race because “no one will see racism if we only stay silent” which is one of our favorite lines of the book.
Sulwe is written by Lupita Nyong’o and is the story of a little girl whose skin is darker than all of her friends and family. She prays for lighter skin, eats only light foods, tries to erase the darkness, and finally learns to love herself exactly as she is after taking a magical journey into the night sky. The first time I read it, Sulwe brought tears to my eyes. It’s a really beautiful book.
Welcome to the Party
This book by Gabrielle Union is about a new mom welcoming her sweet baby girl into the world. It ends with a party where the baby meets her family. It’s short and sweet and joyful and cute! And another one on our list that isn’t about race but is about a Black family.
Please let me know any other suggestions you have for antiracist toddler books. We’d love to grow our collection and continue to have meaningful conversations about race that resonate with a three-year-old.