A Children's author and Her Son Share Their Favorite Middle Grade Fantasy Fiction that Features Children of Color
My oldest is a voracious reader and consumer of content, so if it looks vaguely interesting, she reads it from cover to cover no matter how many pages are in between. My youngest is a different story. He was a much more reluctant reader, but just like his phase of eating only blueberries and soy milk (yes, that was a thing) now that he has realized how much he likes fantasy adventures, he won’t read anything but. With a few highly notable exceptions, fantasy has been overwhelmingly focused on white characters. That is slowly beginning to change in the young adult market with the success of books like Shadow Shaper, Akata Witch, The Belles, Children of Blood and Bone, and more, but my son is still very much against the YA aspects of those stories, so the middle-grade market is where we focus our searches.
The following is a list of modern titles that both my son and I have enjoyed. It is not an exhaustive list, but it is a good place to start if you like fantasy adventures and want to make sure that the main characters in those stories reflect the diversity of the world we live in. Note: Titles with an asterisk (*) are almost, but not quite YA.
Fantasy fiction has always been about more than cool abilities and alternate universes. Whether the heroes are seemingly regular kids, mermaids, cyborgs, witches or what-have-you, the stories are often propelled by issues of power and justice, and they often empower readers to expect and imagine possibilities that upend conventions. But why then does a genre known for upending conventions still insist on making the vast majority of its heroes and main characters white? Whether we’re talking Harry Potter or Frozen, the lack of inclusion (and not just racial) in a form often structured as a challenge to a fictionalized status quo is striking.
Watch the conversation Andrew and Melissa of EmbraceRace have with Marti Dumas and Zetta Elliott, two fantastic children’s book authors, about how inclusive fantasy fiction empowers all young readers. They argue that magic is ultimately about power, that ALL children need to know that they can make--and unmake--worlds, both real and imagined. Marti and Zetta also read from their books, suggest inclusive fantasy fiction titles for the kids in your life, and take EmbraceRace community questions. Watch the video or read on for a lightly edited transcript.
White nationalism is in the news and our kids are listening. In addition to the anxiety and anger provoked by the headlines, kids are also encountering this hateful ideology online, at school, in their peer groups and communities. Parents and youth workers need to know how to recognize signs of recruitment efforts, as well as the vulnerabilities that might leave a young person susceptible to recruitment.
On this episode of Talking Race & Kids, Andrew and Melissa speak with teacher Nora Flanagan and youth worker Christian Picciolini about how our children can be stronger upstanders if they see signs of hate, how they can resist increasingly insidious attempts to engage them in organized bigotry, and how every adult can help strengthen their communities against white nationalism. Watch the video, get the tip sheet, find the lightly edited transcript of the conversation below followed by the community Q & A and fuller guest bios.
Both sides of my family, the white one but especially the Southeast Asian one, are going to freak when they see that title. However, since my mom went to the great Gucci outlet in the sky a few years ago, there is no one here to throw a massage sandal at my head and verbally assault me for an hour in response. And my dad barely does email, let alone read blogs, so let’s continue.
The title of my story is the great unspoken truth for many of us North Americans “of color.” I have heard my mom say, “Send them back!” in various political and casual conversations concerning various ethnic groups — including her own.
With well over two million people in state and federal prisons, juvenile correctional facilities, local jails, detention facilities, and other spaces of confinement, the United States incarcerates people at a higher rate than any other country in the world - and it's not close. The harms done by mass incarceration extend to every domain of social life, not least to the bonds between children and their parents. Most often, these parents and kids are people of color.
Andrew and Melissa of EmbraceRace spoke to guests Amani Sawari and Beth Navon on August 27, 2019. Drawing on their extensive experience with the prison and juvenile justice systems, and with the parents and children in them, Amani and Beth offer sobering insights into the impact of prisons on family life - and some ideas about how we can help make things better.
Watch the video, check out all the resources in the tip sheet or continue below to read a lightly edited transcript and to learn more about guests Amani Sawari and Beth Navon.
In 1943 in Manhattan, NY, a 46-year old African- and Native-American man who was a renowned band director and jazz composer marries a 19-year old naive European-American woman of Jewish Ukrainian descent, who wants to sing professionally. I’m the second of five children.
At age four, I overhear Mommy telling her Mom she won’t leave Daddy and me in order to come back home with my whiter looking brother. Every year of our growing up, Mommy takes the whitest looking child to find new housing, and our unwanted family moves in the middle of the night. We’re in new schools, too.
The Conversation: A growing number of children across the U.S. and Canada born to Indigenous parents are not being enrolled as “tribal members” because they are not eligible under blood quantum requirements, generally defined as the share of their ancestors documented as full-blood Natives. Lacking the documentation of their membership in a state or federally recognized Indian tribe, this generation of “Paperless Indians” are also not eligible for a wide range of tribal government services – from health care, housing, and jobs to hunting and fishing rights, religious protections and much more. Widespread non-enrollment of Indigenous children contributes to a widespread identity crisis among native youth, among whom suicide is the leading cause of death, and raises the question of whether independent, sovereign Indigenous nations will survive into the next seven generations or be completely dissolved and assimilated into American society.
Thanks to Souta Calling Last and Tyler Walls of Indigenous Vision for joining the EmbraceRace community for this conversation. In addition to watching the video and reading the lightly edited (for understanding) transcript, you should also checkout their tip sheet - Building inclusive communities and strong Indigenous youth - which outlines steps you can take to support Indigenous youth and tribes today. Other resources and bios also follow.
Watch EmbraceRace's conversation with a mom and son pair who, respectively, cofounded and is an alum of the Los Angeles based group Kids 4 Freedom & Justice, created to be a "space for kids of color of all genders to learn and share practices of liberation, wholeness and foster their fierceness in a cohort of their peers." Co-founder Kim Tabari and her son, Azaan, a K4FJ alum, join the EmbraceRace community to share their insights about the opportunities and challenges of preparing youth of color to be changemakers in a world that often works to limit their possibilities.
The lightly edited transcript of their conversation follows.
How do you choose children’s books about Native peoples? Because most of us were socialized and educated to think of Native peoples in narrow and biased ways, we typically don't recognize how deeply flawed many of the books we choose are. Too many children's books present Native peoples exclusively as historical figures, for example, ignoring the presence and realities of the 500+ federally recognized Native Nations in the United States today. Too many present American Indians as "people of color," which they may or may not be, dismissing their defining attribute as people of sovereign nations. Watch this Talking Kids and Race conversation with special guest, American Indians in Children's Literature founder Dr. Debbie Reese. Andrew and Melissa of EmbraceRace interview Debbie and then she takes questions from EmbraceRacers in attendance. Dr. Reese offers an opportunity to move beyond what you've been taught to a place where you're able to identify great books about Native peoples, the original people of the lands currently known as the United States of America.
Find the transcript (lightly edited for length and understanding), related resources and more about Debbie Reese below. Don't forget to check out about past and upcoming monthly Talking Race & Kids online conversations, too.
On April 23rd, EmbraceRacers gathered online for our first-ever Talking Race & Kids Open Forum. Hosts and EmbraceRace co-founders, Melissa Giraud and Andrew Grant-Thomas, shared what they’re seeing and experiencing on the frontlines of race and raising kids and invited participants (you!) to do the same. Hear those stories, insights, triumphs, disappointments and more in this hour-long video. See an edited transcript below followed by resources.
Andrew Grant-Thomas: Welcome folks. Really glad you're here and I'm excited about this. We’ve been doing these webinars for over two years now, and this is the first time we're really talking with each other and with you to the extent that we hope to do it today. So, this is the way it'll go.
We are going to start out by talking a little bit about the road we've traveled so far. It's been three years – we started EmbraceRace in earnest in April of 2016. So, we thought this would be a good time to take stock, reflect a little bit, tell you where we've come from and maybe a little bit about where we are going.