We asked the folks at Lee and Low Books, the largest multicultural children's book publisher in the U.S., to recommend books that are great read-aloud stories AND tools for helping raise kids who are brave, thoughtful and informed about race. In other words, kids who embrace race! In response, Lee and Low's Literary Specialist, Katie Potter, created four lists of fantastic stories for kids, one for each of the four, broad goals for the work of the EmbraceRace community. Here are those lists (thanks, Katie!):
Books that inspire resilience in kids of color
Books that encourage kids of all colors to be inclusive and empathetic
Books that support kids to think critically about racial inequity
Books that animate kids (and their adults!) to be racial justice advocates for all kids (find below)
Children can discover characters and historical figures in this list who stand up for peace, equity, and justice for gender, socioeconomic status, race, or the environment, and suggest ways that children can enact change in their own communities. Print out or purchase the whole list from Lee & Low Books here.
As Fast As Words Could Fly
written by Pamela Tuck, illustrated by Eric Velasquez
Young Mason Steele takes pride in turning his father’s excited ramblings about the latest civil rights incidents into handwritten business letters. One day Pa comes home with a gift from his civil rights group: a typewriter. Thrilled with the present, Mason spends all his spare time teaching himself to type. Soon he knows where every letter on the keyboard is located.
When the civil rights group wins a school desegregation case, Mason learns that now he will be attending a formerly all-white high school. Despite his fears and injustice from the students and faculty, Mason perseveres. He does well in school—especially in his typing class. And when he competes in the county typing tournament, Mason decides to take a stand, using his skills to triumph over prejudice and break racial barriers.
Winner of Lee & Low’s New Voices Award, As Fast As Words Could Fly is an inspiring testament to the power of hard work, determination, and belief in yourself to overcome life’s challenges.
Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream
written by Crystal Hubbard, illustrated by Randy DuBurke
If there was anything in the world better than playing baseball, Marcenia Lyle didn't know what it was. As a young girl in the 1930s, she chased down fly balls and stole bases, and dreamed of one day playing professional ball.
With spirit, spunk, and a great passion for the sport, Marcenia struggled to overcome the objections of family, friends, and coaches, who felt a girl had no place in the field. When she finally won a position in a baseball summer camp sponsored by the St. Louis Cardinals, Marcenia was on her way to catching her dream.
Full of warmth and youthful energy, Catching the Moon is the story of the girl who grew up to become the first woman to play for an all-male professional baseball team. Readers everywhere will be inspired by her courage to dream and determination to succeed.
Game, Set, Match, Tennis Champion Arthur Ashe
written by Crystal Hubbard, illustrated by Kevin Belford
From the start, Arthur Ashe was an unlikely tennis player. As a young boy growing up in Richmond, Virginia, in the 1940s, he was small and skinny—and barred from most tennis courts because he was black. Still, Arthur was drawn to the game and began to play wherever he could.
With patience, hard work, and humility, Arthur pursued his dream. Defeating player after player, match after match, he blazed a path on the once all-white tennis courts, becoming the first African American man to win a Grand Slam tournament and the top-ranked tennis player in the world. Throughout his career, Arthur Ashe fought to overcome adversity, opening doors in his sport and promoting human rights.
Game, Set, Match, Champion Arthur Ashe is a heartfelt, action-packed tribute to one of the most compelling athletes and humanitarians of the twentieth century. An example of quiet grace and dignity on and off the tennis court, Arthur Ashe set a shining example for us all.
In Daddy’s Arms I Am Tall: African Americans Celebrating Fathers
written by various poets, illustrated by Javaka Steptoe
In this intergenerational collection of poetry by new and established African American writers, fatherhood is celebrated with honor, humor, and grace. Folami Abiade, Dinah Johnson, Carole Boston Weatherford, Dakari Hru, Michael Burgess, E. Ethelbert Miller, Lenard D. Moore, David Anderson, Angela Johnson, Sonia Sanchez, and Davida Adedjouma all contribute. Javaka Steptoe, who also offers a poem, employs an inventive range of media to bring each of the poems to life. In Daddy's Arms I Am Tall testifies to the powerful bond between father and child, recognizing family as our greatest gift, and identifying fathers as being among our most influential heroes.
Ira’s Shakespeare Dream
written by Glenda Armand, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
Ira Aldridge dreamed of being on stage one day performing the great works of William Shakespeare. He spent every chance he got at the local theaters, memorizing each actor’s lines for all of Shakespeare’s plays. Ira just knew he could be a great Shakespearean actor if only given the chance. But in the early 1800s, only white actors were allowed to perform Shakespeare. Ira’s only option was to perform musical numbers at the all-black theater in New York city.
Despite being discouraged by his teacher and father, Ira determinedly pursued his dream and set off to England, the land of Shakespeare. There, Ira honed his acting skills and eventually performed at the acclaimed Theatre Royal Haymarket. Through perseverance and determination, Ira became one of the most celebrated Shakespearean actors throughout Europe.
Illustrated by award-winning artist Floyd Cooper, Ira’s Shakespeare Dream is a captivating tribute to the inspiring life of Ira Aldridge, and to the renowned works of William Shakespeare.
John Lewis in the Lead: A Story of the Civil Rights Movement
written by Jim Haskins and Kathleen Benson, illustrated by Benny Andrews
How does an Alabama sharecropper's son grow up to help change his world? For John Lewis the journey began as a boy experiencing the injustice of segregation and the inspiring words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
After high school Lewis joined with Dr. King and other civil rights leaders who believed in fighting segregation peacefully. From Nashville, Tennessee, to Selma and Montgomery, Alabama, Lewis was in the forefront of the major civil rights protests of the 1960s. In the face of physical attacks, he perservered with dignity and a devotion to nonviolence, helping southern black people gain the right to vote. Lewis continued his commitment to human rights with words and action from his home base in the South, straight to the nation's capital. In 1986 John Lewis was elected to represent Georgia in the United States Congress, where he continues to serve today.
John Lewis in the Lead celebrates the life of a living legend of American history. Lewis's passionate belief in justice is a beacon for all who wish to make the country a better place to live.
Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas
written by Gwendolyn Hudson Hooks, illustrated by Colin Bootman
Vivien Thomas’s greatest dream was to attend college to study medicine. But after the stock market crashed in 1929, Vivien lost all his savings. Then he heard about a job opening at the Vanderbilt University medical school under the supervision of Dr. Alfred Blalock. Vivien knew that the all-white school would never admit him as a student, but he hoped working there meant he was getting closer to his dream.
As Dr. Blalock’s research assistant, Vivien learned surgical techniques. In 1943, Vivien was asked to help Dr. Helen Taussig find a cure for children with a specific heart defect. After months of experimenting, Vivien developed a procedure that was used for the first successful open-heart surgery on a child. Afterward, Dr. Blalock and Dr. Taussig announced their innovative new surgical technique, the Blalock-Taussig shunt. Vivien’s name did not appear in the report.
Overcoming racism and resistance from his colleagues, Vivien ushered in a new era of medicine—children’s heart surgery. This book is the compelling story of this incredible pioneer in medicine.
Seeds of Change: Planting a Path to Peace
written by Jen Johnson, illustrated by Sonia Sadler
As a young girl in Kenya, Wangari was taught to respect nature. She grew up loving the land, plants, and animals that surrounded her—from the giant mugumo trees her people, the Kikuyu, revered to the tiny tadpoles that swam in the river.
Although most Kenyan girls were not educated, Wangari, curious and hardworking, was allowed to go to school. There, her mind sprouted like a seed. She excelled at science and went on to study in the United States. After returning home, Wangari blazed a trail across Kenya, using her knowledge and compassion to promote the rights of her countrywomen and to help save the land, one tree at a time.
Seeds of Change: Planting a Path to Peace brings to life the empowering story of Wangari Maathai, the first African woman, and environmentalist, to win a Nobel Peace Prize. Engaging narrative and vibrant images paint a robust portrait of this inspiring champion of the land and of women’s rights.
Surfer of the Century: The Life of Duke Kahanamoku
written by Ellie Crowe, illustrated by Richard Waldrep
Growing up in Honolulu with the Pacific Ocean as his backyard, Duke Kahanamoku learned to swim and surf at a young age. By his early twenties, Duke's lightning-fast swimming won him a place on the 1912 United States Olympic team and a gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle race. Over the years Duke struggled with racism and financial troubles, but by the end of his twenty-year Olympic career, he was a six-time medal winner.
Although a swimming champion, Duke's passion was surfing. He traveled the world, introducing surfboarding to Australia and the east and west coasts of the United States. Considered the father of modern surfing, Duke spread his love of the ocean and Hawai’i wherever he went.
Throughout his life Duke Kahanamoku was beloved for his modesty, sportsmanship, and amazing skill in the water. Today he remains a legendary waterman and an inspiration to all to live life with aloha.
As the Literacy Specialist at Lee & Low Books, Katie is responsible for writing and developing the rigorous Teacher’s Guides and Educator Resources, in addition to working with university professors and nonprofit organizations on how to incorporate diverse, multicultural literature into curriculum and syllabi. She has also worked as an educational researcher, teacher, and literacy instructor.