Eight years ago I looked up from my rocking chair to see 18 beautiful faces staring back at me. Those faces represented all shades of color and several different countries. I sat in awe of them for a few seconds. We had just finished reading Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles. I purposefully chose this text to start a conversation about how blessed we are to be able to play together. I had just witnessed a conflict on the playground and wanted to recenter us. I watched proudly as the conversation began and the students engaged with each other. Then all of a sudden, one of my brightest students said “But Mrs. Roush, sometimes people still don’t treat black people fair.” I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. She was absolutely right. How can I, as a white teacher, be sitting here having this conversation? Why does it take an 8 year old to make me pause to see this? Something is wrong. We have to change this.
If an 8 year old is able to articulate that our nation has not changed and we are still living in a world of injustice it is time to wake up. It is our job to listen and learn. We cannot begin to make change unless we seek to understand. We can begin this conversation with our youngest children. We can show them diversity, teach them about the history of our nation, and encourage them to speak up for change. It is time. It is past time.
I have shared some of my favorite books that have black main characters below. I encourage you to make them part of your child’s library and share them time and time again. I vow to listen and seek to understand. I will do my part to speak up when I can and help educate others. I hope you will join me. Happy reading!
The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson
This book by Jacqueline Woodson is absolutely perfect. The texts discusses times when we may feel we do not fit in. We follow along as the characters discover what makes them unique. The illustrations are beautiful, but the text will make your reader feel empowered and proud of their differences.
Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall
Jabari Jumps is one of my all time favorites. It is SO relatable for children. Jabari has aced his swim lessons and he is ready to tackle the high dive. His dad takes him to the pool and offers words of encouragement. As Jabari begins to make his way to the high dive his nerves begin to overtake him. This heartwarming story will have you rooting for Jabari and feeling his nervousness right alongside him.
Saturday by Oge Mora
Saturday’s are the BEST! This sweet mother-daughter duo look forward to them every week. Saturday is their day to do whatever they want. The mother has the perfect day planned, but as luck would have it nothing goes as planned. The daughter steps in and refuses to let a few hiccups ruin their perfect day.
The King of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes
Kindergarten is a big milestone in children’s lives. Watch out as “The King of Kindergarten” embarks on his journey off the school. This story is a must have for every child getting ready to start school.
I Am Enough by Grace Byers
This book is written as a lyrical which makes it an easy and engaging read. I Am Enough encourages readers to celebrate who they are and respect others for their differences. The illustrations and text are simple which makes it a great read for all ages!
Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry
Zuri is getting ready for a very special day and it is up to Daddy to fix her hair. Daddy tries his best, but it just isn’t right. They finally come up with a plan to make everything perfect. This sweet story celebrates the special bond between father and daughter.
CJ bursts out of the church doors and finds his Nana waiting for him. He watches his friends get into their cars and leave as he and Nana make their way to the bus stop. CJ doesn’t understand why they don’t have a car. He doesn’t want to wait at the bus stop anymore. He doesn’t want to ride with people he doesn’t know. As they ride, Nana encourages CJ to look for the beautiful in the neighborhoods they pass. The finally arrive at their stop, Market Street, where they volunteer to serve dinner at a soup kitchen. This book showcases the importance of perspective.
The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read by Rita Lorraine Hubbard
Mary Walker was born a slave. At age 15 she was freed. She learned to read at the age of 116! This story tells her amazing journey and how she came to the conclusion that you are never to old to learn. Mary Walker is truly inspiring!
Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts
Jeremy wants “those shoes.” You know… the pair everyone has… the coolest pair around! The only problem is that grandma doesn’t have the money for them. He desperately tries to fit into a small pair they found at the local thrift shop, but is in more pain than it is worth. Follow Jeremy as he discovers that the things he has are far better than the things he wants.
Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie
Thunder Boy Jr. is named after his dad. He loves his dad, but longs for a name that is all his. He wants a name that celebrates HIM and what HE has done…. something just for him. Will he find a name to call his own? Follow this sweet story as father and son try to pick the perfect name.