Every educator concerned with teaching about differences and empathy and acceptance, asks ‘What can I do? What should I do?’ For me, children’s literature has been central to literacy and learning and enrich understanding equity, tolerance and belonging. In this particular time citizens, young and old are trying to make sense of systemic racism, educators and parents might not know where to start in order to help students make sense of what is currently happening in the world. My answer is simple :  Start with a good book!  It is my contention that children’s literature is a meaningful way to opening up conversations in order to build a deeper understanding of social justice, equity, and diversity, now more so than ever with the issue of BLACK LIVES MATTER.

A picture book, novel, or poem can help students to…

  1. Make connections to the text, perhaps having students reveal their own stories
  2. Raise questions about topics and issues of concern
  3. Have meaningful discussions and work towards finding answers
  4. Learn about the identity of others and come to better reflect on their own identities and values
  5. Experience narratives a that serve as case studies for relationships, values and struggles that appear in fiction and can be applied to real-world contexts



THE UNDEFEATED by Kwame Alexander; illus. Kadir Nelson (poem)

A love letter to black life in the United States. 2020 Caldecott Medal and Newbery Honor,  Coretta Scott King awards.

“It highlights the unspeakable trauma of slavery, the faith and fire of the civil rights movement, and the grit, passion and perseverance of some of the world’s greatest heroes.” (product description)

This is for the unforgettable

The swift and sweet ones

Who hurdled history

And opened up a world of possible

RACE CARS: A book about whiteness by Jenny Devenny

This is a picture book about white privilege designed to inspire tough conversations about race and privilege. Devenny tells the story of 2 best friends, a white car and black car that have  different experiences and face different rules (“Bridge is for white cars only. All other cars must go around the river.”)  while entering the same race. Advice is given about talking about race with kids and discussion questions are provided to help frame the discussion.  I wonder what questions the kids will have?

NOT MY IDEA: A book about whiteness by Anastasia Higginbottom

When he watches TV, a white child witnesses coverage of a white police officer shooting a brown person whose hands were tied up.  He turns to his mother and asks “Why?” and assures the child that he is safe. An activities section urges kids to grwo justicee and seek out and listen to the truth about racism and white supremacy.

THE OTHER SIDE by Jacquline Woodson; illus. E.B. Lewis

The story of a fence that separates the black side of town from the White side of twon. When Cl0ver sees a White girl from ‘the other side’ sitting on the fiencek she grows more curious about why the fence is there and how its division can be conquered.



GHOST BOYS (fiction: Ages 10-13) by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Ghost Boys by [Jewell Parker Rhodes]


A powerful novel about a black boy killed by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real threat.   As a ghost, this twelve-year old observes the devastation that’s been unleashed on his family and community in the aftermath of what they see as an unjust killing. The narrative draws connections through history as the boy meets other black boys including Emmett Till in heaven.

ALL AMERICAN BOYS by Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds (YA)

Art imitates life in this novel, told in alternating voices examines a specific case of police brutality from the perspectives of two teenagers: Rashad  is suspected of shoplifting and assaulting a white woman and is savagely beaten by a white policeman and Quinn who witnesses the incident but initially pretends he didn’t.

THE NEW KID by Jerry Kraft (graphic biography)

Jordan Banks, 7th grader, wants nothing more than to go to an art school so he can pursue his dreams of beconming a comic artists.  His parents, however, enrol their son in  a private school known for its academics but Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade.  2020 Newbery winning novel about poverty, alienation and racism.

HOW IT WENT DOWN by Kekla Magoon (YA)

Tariq Johnston, a black teenager, is shot down by Jack Franklin who is white. In the aftermath of his supposedly gang murder, the people in the community has something to think, feel and say.  Accounts vary but somewhere lies the truth.  This is a story of a neighbourhood struggling to make sense of the tragedy and learning to cope. Magoon has chosen a cast of eighteen characters to address the controversial issues from different perspectives. In the notes at the end of the book, Magoon writes about the novel: “The book offers a chance for young people to discuss issues of race, community, violence, death, authority, voice perspective and truth with the safe space of fiction.   I hope that this novel and other YA literature can be used to start conversations between teens and adults about the prevalence of these shooting incidents, and how we as a nation can begin to respond and heal from these tragedies, and hopefully learn how to prevent similar things from happening in the future. How It Went Down was published in 2014,

MONSTER by Walter Dean Myers (YA)

A single decision can change our whole lives. Steve Harmon is sitting in a juvenile detention centre awaiting the trial of a crime that he was accused of being part of. The story unfolds as journal entries and a screenplay of Harmon’s own imagination.

DEAR MARTIN by Nic Stone (YA)

Justyce is a strong-minded teenager who goest to a white prep school where he is the only black student.An incident finds Justyce accosted by a white police officer. The diary that the boy keeps, where he writes a letter to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reveals Justyce’s story, his dreams of escaping the bad neighbourhood to have a bright future, and escaping the bad neighbourhood he lives in. His diary reveals the story about an unarmed young back boy  named Shemar Carson who was shot by a white police officer in Nevada.

THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas (YA)

 Starr Carter witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend at the hands of a police officer and questions whether she should go to the police, fearing that they will not pursue legal action against the officer and justice will not be served


WOKE: A young poet’s call to justice by Hahogany L. Browne with Elizabeth Acevedo and Olivia

Gatwood; ullus. Theadore Taylor III

WE RISE, WE RESIST WE RAISE OUR VOICES  (essays, letters, poems and stories edited by  Wade

Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson

REMEMBER THE BRIDGE: Poems of a People by Carol Boston Weatherford


 A FEW RED DROPS: The Chicago Race Riots of 1919 By Claire Hartfield

On July 27, 1919, a teenage African-American boy was killed aftera. white man threw a stone that hit him. A protest riot resulted in 38 people dying and 537 people wounded.

THIS BOOK IS ANTI-RACIST: 20 lessons on how to wake up, take action, and do the work by Tiffany Jewell

Question are raised: Who are you? What is racism? Where does it come from? Why does it exist? What can you do to disrupt it? to help readers understand the history of racism and how they can use their ant-racist lens and voice to liberation,


Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-Winning Stamped from the Beginning

STAMPED: Racism, Antiracism and You by Jason Reynolds (YA)

Reynolds presents a journey of race from past to present, helping us to think about race, why we feel what we feel but moreover, helps readers to identify and stamp out racist thoughts in their daily lives.  Available as an audiobook. This is a reimagining of Dr. Ibram X Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning.


There is a wide range of books that feature black characters that open windows, mirrors and doors to understanding their lives. When we choose to share these titles with students, we are serving them with characters who may or not be different from themselves.  Any novel by Kwame Alexander, Jason Reynolds, Walter Dean Myers, Christopher Paul Curtis or Jacqueline Woodson help student meet black fictional heroes.

Kwame Alexander

The Crossover (Booked, Rebound)

The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot and Score in this Game Called Life


Christopher Paul Curtis

Bud Not Buddy

Elijah of Buxton

The Watsons Go to Burningham , 1963

Walter Dean Myers

Autobiography of a Dead Brother



Jason Reynolds

As Brave As You

Look Both Ways

Track series (Ghost, Patina, Sunny, Lu)

Jaqueline Woodson

After Tupac and D Foster

Brown Girl Dreaming

Harbor Me

If You Come Softly (sequel: Behind You)