2020 has been a year of conversations. It has been a year of learning, and in many ways, unlearning. We retaught ourselves and our children to wash our hands, cover our mouths when we cough or sneeze, and to treat everyone equally.
Some of the toughest conversations this year have revolved around race and diversity. I’ve been taking mental notes on how each generation has reacted to the events of 2020, and truly believe our childhood affects our adult vernacular and world view.
When I began teaching from home in March, I quickly ordered a box full of children’s books to use during my recorded read alouds. I wanted to make sure my selection was diverse in topics (like space, art, writing, and history) and in subjects (such as Dr. Seuss, Lin Manuel Miranda, Joan Procter, and Neil DeGrasse Tyson). Here are some of my favorite diverse children’s book selections from that box.
Blue Sky White Stars
by Sarvinder Naberhaus
Blue Sky White Stars is a stunning picture book that takes an in depth look at the American Flag: color by color, line by line, crease by crease, and star by star. This book teaches young readers colors, comparison and contrast through imagery and sentence structure, as well as getting a closer look at our American history. This book is especially topically relevant with pages depicting the Civil Rights March, as well as showing the diversity among Americans.
All the Way to America
by Dan Yaccarino
All the Way to America: the Story of a Big Italian Family and A Little Shovel is the immigration story of Dan Yaccarino’s family. This picture book discusses how generation by generation, Yaccarino’s family left Italy and moved to America. This is a touching story about family, traditions, and hard work, and may be a great way to open up discussions about how your family may have immigrated to America too.
Brick by Brick
Charles R. Smith Jr.
Brick by Brick is a story I had never heard before, about how Black slaves, free immigrants, and free Black’s, built the first White House. This picture book is written in verse, which adds a truly soulful element to this true story. The words and images together are powerful and emotional. I used this text with my students as a way to open up conversations about slavery. This text can also be used as an example of how history tries to erase the many different ways Black hands built America.
What Do You Do With a Voice Like That?
by Chris Barton illustrated by
What Do You Do With a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan is a wonderful picture book that will inspire readers of all ages. This book follows Barbara Jordan’s life from her time in school as a child, attending college to attain a law degree, to entering the political sphere in her home state of Texas and moving on to the U.S. Senate. Readers will gain new confidence through Barbara Jordan’s actions, and her own self-esteem. It also needs to be mentioned that these illustrations are extremely creative, vibrant, and telling their own story right along side the text. This book is masterfully done.
by Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer, illustrated by Frank Morrison
Starstruck: The Cosmic Journey of Neil DeGrasse Tyson is an incredible story about an incredible man. It teaches readers to keep learning, to have a thirst for life, that age doesn’t define limitations, and that you don’t have to settle for just one passion. This book also discusses how Neil DeGrasse Tyson had the police called multiple times as a child, when he would be up on his roof with his telescope, because they saw a black boy with what looked to be a rifle. This isn’t the only mention of racism, or how he overcame those obstacles, and it’s a great lesson for readers to learn how to turn those interactions into positive experiences. This story has truly stuck with me since reading it, and it is as refreshing as it is inspirational.
Ntozake Shange, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Coretta Scott is a stunning picture book written in prose. The story does a great job at capturing a new side to Coretta Scott and her husband, Martin Luther King Jr. I was worried the book would be overshadowed by her husband, but it did a great job at keeping the focus and attention on her. If you’re just beginning to discuss race, or the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement with your children, this is a great place to start. While this book includes snapshots of pivotal events, it’s a great jumping off point for further discussions.
There you have it, friends. These are just a few picture books that I think would be great resources for parents, or additions to school and classroom libraries.
I hope you are all having a wonderful day, and staying safe. Happy reading!
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