How do you talk to young readers about the racism in the world and their own country? The Canadian Children’s Book Centre has compiled a reading list of books that are a good start to conversations about racism, discrimination and #BlackLivesMatter. Here’s a few from the list. For more, visit bookcentre.ca.
Boonoonoonous Hair! by Olive Senior, illustrated by Laura James (Tradewind Books, 2019) Ages 4–7
It’s time to plait Jamilla’s hair but she’s hidden the comb. Jamilla doesn’t like her hair, she wants hair like other girls…long, easy to manage without plaits or pins. But Jamilla’s moms shows her how beautiful her hair is—electric, kinetic, bombastic and fantastic! Jamilla can have different styles every day of the week, from puffs and plaits to cornrows and braids!
Lila and the Crow by Gabrielle Grimard (Annick Press, 2016) Ages 5–8
Lila is new to town and can’t wait to make friends. But at school, a boy mocks her dark hair, skin and eyes. He calls her Crow. Lila is ashamed of being different and every day she tries to disguise herself, until a magical encounter with a crow shows her that her beauty lies in the differences she tries to hide.
The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family by Ibtihaj Muhammad and S.K. Ali, illustrated by Hatam Aly (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2019) Ages 4–8
Faizah has a new backpack and light-up shoes, ready for the first day of school! It’s the start of a brand-new year and, best of all, it’s her older sister Asiya’s first day of hijab. But not everyone sees hijab as beautiful, and in the face of hurtful, confusing words, Faizah will find new ways to be strong.
Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged by Jody Nyasha Warner, illustrated by Richard Rudnicki (Groundwood Books, 2010) Ages 5–9
In Nova Scotia, in 1946, an usher in a movie theatre told Viola Desmond to move from her main floor seat up to the balcony. She refused to budge. Viola knew she was being asked to move because she was black. After all, she was the only black person downstairs. All the other black people were up in the balcony. In no time at all, the police arrived and took Viola to jail. The next day she was charged and fined, but she vowed to continue her struggle against such unfair rules. She refused to accept that being black meant she couldn’t sit where she wanted.
When I Was Eight by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard (Annick Press, 2013) Ages 6–9
Olemaun is eight and knows a lot of things. But she does not know how to read. Ignoring her father’s warnings, she travels far from her Arctic home to the outsiders’ school to learn.
The nuns at the school call her Margaret. They cut off her long hair and force her to do menial chores, but she remains undaunted. Her tenacity draws the attention of a black-cloaked nun who tries to break her spirit at every turn. But the young girl is more determined than ever to learn how to read.
Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship by Irene Latham and Charles Waters, illustrated by Sean Squalls and Selina Alko (Carolrhoda Books, 2018) Ages 8–12
How can Irene and Charles work together on their fifth-grade poetry project when they don’t know each other? Irene Latham, who is white, and Charles Waters, who is black, use this fictional set-up to delve into different experiences of race in a relatable way. This remarkable collaboration invites readers to join the dialogue by putting their own words to their experiences.
Fatty Legs by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, illustrated by Liz Amini-Holmes (Annick Press, 2013) Ages 6–9
Eight-year-old Margaret Pokiak has set her sights on learning to read, even though it means leaving her village in the high Arctic. Faced with unceasing pressure, her father finally agrees to let her make the five-day journey to attend school, but he warns Margaret of the terrors of residential schools.
At school Margaret soon encounters the Raven, a black-cloaked nun with a hooked nose and bony fingers that resemble claws. She immediately dislikes the strong-willed young Margaret. Intending to humiliate her, the heartless Raven gives gray stockings to all the girls—all except Margaret, who gets red ones. In an instant Margaret is the laughingstock of the entire school.
In the face of such cruelty, Margaret refuses to be intimidated and bravely gets rid of the stockings. Although a sympathetic nun stands up for Margaret, in the end it is this brave young girl who gives the Raven a lesson in the power of human dignity.
The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis (Scholastic Canada, 2018) Ages 1–14
After his father dies, 12-year-old Charlie finds himself owing money to the most fearsome man in Possum Moan, South Carolina. He agrees to clear the debt by helping track down some stolen property. When he comes face-to-face with the “property” and discovers their true identities, he is torn between his conscience and his survival instinct.
Speaking Our Truth: A Journey of Reconciliation by Monique Gray Smith (Orca Book Publishers, 2017) Ages 10+
Canada’s relationship with its Indigenous people has suffered as a result of both the residential school system and the lack of understanding of the historical and current impact of those schools. Guided by acclaimed Indigenous author Monique Gray Smith, readers will learn about the lives of survivors and learn from the allies who are putting the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission into action.