Books are a marvelous way to introduce big, complex ideas to young children. More importantly, though, books can help parents spark discussions about topics that might feel difficult to introduce. The following kids’ books help parents start those lifelong conversations about race, justice, and equality in a way that’s age-appropriate, compassionate, and inspiring. 

Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o, illustrated by Vashti Harrison

Sulwe tells the story of a little girl who was “born the color of midnight.” She feels like she is treated differently than her family and friends, but when a star visits her and shares an epic tale of how day and night came to be, Sulwe learns a big lesson about feeling beautiful inside and out. This book was named a 2020 Coretta Scott King Honor Book for its gorgeous illustrations and won a NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Children’s Literary Work. 

Look What Brown Can Do! by T Marie Harris, illustrated by Neda Ivanova

This modern children’s book celebrates Black history and starts an ongoing conversation about all of the achievements that people with brown skin have accomplished. Through it, kids learn that skin color has nothing to do with a person’s potential. 

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrate by Rafael López

This #1 New York Times bestselling book has captured the hearts and minds of thousands of kids. The book teaches preschool-aged kids how to be confident with who they are as they explore the world around them and meet new people who may be different from them. It can be scary to be a kid who doesn’t look like the other kids— or who eats, dresses, or worships differently than the other kids— but that’s part of what makes each us so special.  

Something Happened in Our Town by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin

Intended for kids as young as 4 years old, this incredibly important story follows one black family and one white family as they talk about a police shooting in their hometown. This book helps parents to answer questions from kids about what racism is, how to identify it, and what to do about it. 

That’s Not Fair! Emma Tenayuca’s Struggle for Justice by Carmen Tafolla and Sharyll Tenayuca, illustrated by Terry Ybáñez

Through beautiful storytelling and illustrations, this book shares the journey of a young Mexican American girl named Emma, living and working in harsh conditions in San Antonio in the 1920’s. She sees racial injustice happening around her so she begins the hard work of activism and eventually, at the age of 21, leads 12,000 through what would become a landmark historical event in the long struggle for racial justice. 

The Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson

This Caldecott and Coretta Scott King honoree tells the story of CJ and his grandma, who ride the bus across town every Sunday. When CJ begins to wonder why they take the bus while other kids have cars, his grandmother helps him see the beauty in the bustling city around them.  

Dumpling Soup by Jama Kim Rattigan

Dumpling Soup is a lovely story about a little girl who gets to help her family make dumplings to celebrate New Year’s but she’s worried that no one will like her oddly shaped dumplings. Told with love and compassion, this story blends languages, foods, and customs from different cultures all while set in the idyllic Hawaiian islands.

Alma and the Beast by Esmé Shapiro 

Reminiscent of the whimsical worlds of Alice and Wonderland and the Lorax, Alma and the Beast tells a charming tale about two friends who could not be more different. Through empathy and kindness, Alma, a hairy forest dwelling creature, meets a button-nosed beast and together they form a friendship as they work together to get the lost beast home.

A Is for Activist, by Innosanto Nagara

Through illustrations and rhymes, kids as young as 2 begin to learn about concepts like civil rights, environmental justice, and allyship. 

Let’s Talk About Race, by Julius Lester, illustrated by Karen Barbour

Award-winning children’s book author Julius Lester shares his own story as an entry point to discuss what makes each person special, and how race is part of that story.

A Kids Book About Racism, by Jelani Memory

Written for kids 5 and up, this book gets right to the point, explaining racism—what it is, how it hurts, what it looks like—in terms that children can easily understand.

Missing Daddy, by Mariame Kobo, illustrated by Bria Royal

While approaching a topic as hefty as mass incarceration may feel daunting, this book helps make it personal by sharing the story of a little girl who misses her father while he serves time in prison.

Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness, by Anastasia Higginbotham

For white parents who are at a loss for words when it comes time to explain racism, this book offers a way to broach the subject with honesty. 

Skin Again by bell hooks, illustrated by Chris Raschka

Written by legendary thought-leader and activist bell hooks, Skin Again encourages kids to look beyond the surface and to open their hearts to others of all skin colors.   

Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Desegregation, by Duncan Tonatiuah

Before Brown v. Board of Education desegregated schools across the country, Sylvia Mendez and her family paved the way by organizing against school segregation in California. This illustrated book documents her real-life fight for justice in a way that kids can understand. 

The Other Side, by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis

In a segregated town, a black girl and a white girl strike up a friendship from across a fence. This gorgeously illustrated book tells their story. 

We March, by Shane W. Evans

This book brings to life the March on Washington with eye-catching illustrations. It’s a wonderful way to introduce young readers to the historic event. 

Whose Toes Are Those?, by Jabari Asim, illustrated by Leuyen Pham

This interactive board book celebrates one little one’s beautiful brown skin with sweet illustrations and rhymes. 

Lovely, by Jess Hong

This book pays tribute to the many differences that make each of us so lovely and unique. 

Where Are You From?, by Yamile Saied Méndez, illustrated by Jaime Kim

When a little girl is asked over and over, “Where are you from?,” she looks to her abuelo for help. What readers get from his answer is a lyrical message on identity and self-acceptance. 

Sesame Street’s We're Different, We're the Same by Bobbi Kates, illustrated by Joe Mathieu

Everybody’s trusted furry friends from Sesame have a message of racial harmony in this book that has been a popular tool for teaching racial equality since 1992. Using kid-friendly language and examples, it becomes plain to kids that just because we each look different from one another, we still deserve to be respected and treated fairly.

The Conscious Kid’s Book Subscriptions

Because discussions about race, equality, and justice should be ongoing (and there’s room on our bookshelves for lots of diverse books), consider a Conscious Kid book subscription. The organization curates diverse kids’ books by age and will send a new one to you each month.

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