Do you want to read with tiny people and wonder which books to start with? The children’s section of your local public library is a great place to pick up new and classic titles until you fall in love with particular authors and illustrators. If you’re short on time, pick up the titles on display. Award winning books are also a place to start. 

~ Tips for choosing books ~

(Additional tips for white-identifying caregivers can be found at the end of this guide.)

These are the questions I ask when on the lookout for new books:

  • Does the story contain animal/vehicle/noisy sounds/rhymes or characters that would be engaging to read aloud? Is it something that I will enjoy reading and that kids will enjoy hearing?
  • Is the language age-appropriate?
# of wordsAgeType
0-2000-3Board books
200-5002-5Early picture books
500-8003-7Picture books
600-10004-8Older picture books
3,000-10,0005-10Chapter books
10,000-30,0007-12Middle grade books
(From BookFox)
  • Does the art interest me? If yes, does that illustrator have other books available? The same is true if I like a story – does the author have other books available?
  • How does this book encourage child development/what would it add to my collection?
  • Does the story align with my values?
    • Creating compassionately – Is it kind?
    • Playing intentionally – Does it encourage play?
    • Holding space – Does it help me set a container for more emotional subject matter?
    • Amplifying voices – Does it share voices that are not usually heard?
  • Who is represented in the book? Will this book help kids find themselves represented or to celebrate others who don’t walk through the world in the same way they do? (see also: Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors by Rudine Sims Bishop)
  • When looking at reviews — are reviews written by people who are represented in the book (BIPOC, LGBTQ, Disabled persons, etc.) or a sea of non-invested parties?

Once you’ve done your homework and been duly smitten, head over to your favorite indie bookstore and give those books a new home!

Note: Regardless of how good the story and art are, be sure to choose books that you enjoy. The more you like a book, the more likely you are to read it when asked repeatedly!

~ Tips for reading aloud ~

DO try to read the book before reading it with a child. If you don’t have a chance to pre-read and you find socially unconscious representations while reading aloud, it is totally ok to say “this isn’t the book for us,” close it, and move on to another book. If age appropriate, you can also have a conversation with the child about why you are choosing to set the book aside. “This [behaviour] isn’t kind…how do you think you would feel if…?” is a great way to start that conversation.

DON’T use character voices that misrepresent or stereotype the people on the page. Instead: read clearly and in your own voice OR find an audiobook or video reading by the book’s author or publisher’s representative. 

DO breathe. If a child asks a question about the book or people/events depicted to which you don’t know the answer, it’s okay to say, “That’s a good question. I don’t know the answer, but I’ll find out!” This models openness and a willingness to learn. Author’s notes are often a great place to find additional details and resources.

~ Additional tips for white-identifying caregivers ~

Choose Picture Books That Centre BIPOC Narratives

Mister Rogers said, “There isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.” And yet we know we are not hearing everyone’s story. In 2018, 50% of picture books featured white children as their main characters.

DiversityInChildrensBooks2018_f_8.5x11

Huyck, David and Sarah Park Dahlen. (2019 June 19). Diversity in Children’s Books 2018. sarahpark.com blog. Created in consultation with Edith Campbell, Molly Beth Griffin, K. T. Horning, Debbie Reese, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, and Madeline Tyner, with statistics compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison: http://ccbc.education.wisc.edu/books/pcstats.asp. Retrieved from https://readingspark.wordpress.com/2019/06/19/picture-this-diversity-in-childrens-books-2018-infographic/. Released for use under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0 license).

The data from 2019 isn’t much better and in some cases, representation has gone down.

If the majority of our picture books centre white kids and animals, where can we start to correct the imbalance and better reflect our world? There are so many picture books out there and they are not equal! Here are some tips on choosing picture books for socially conscious kids and weeding out books that aren’t up to the task.

  • Look for picture books by BIPOC authors and illustrators. See Resources & Booklists below.
  • Look for books endorsed by awarding bodies that honor books by BIPOC authors and illustrators: Burt Award for First Nations, Métis and Inuit Literature; The Coretta Scott King Book Awards; and The Pura Belpré Award.
  • Look at reviews and the sources recommending the book. Are the folks being represented in the book also recommending it or are the reviewing parties a sea of white folks?
  • History is important, but it is also necessary to read books that depict present day life. Dr. Debbie Reese says that if the author’s notes refer to Indigenous peoples as existing only in past tense, that’s reason enough to move on to a different book.
  • Ask yourself: “If the child in this book looked like me or my kid, would I be okay with how they are being referred to/portrayed/treated?” If yes, read on. If no, move on.

Resources & Booklists

  • African American Literature Book Club
    https://aalbc.com/books/children.php
    Top 150 Recommended African-American Children’s Books and many other booklists from the oldest online bookstore dedicated to African American literature.
  • American Indians in Children’s Literature, Dr. Debbie Reese
    https://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/p/best-books.html
    Dr. Reese provides helpful reviews and lists of the best books about Indigenous books released each year, as well as a list of books that are “not recommended” (books that reinforce stereotypes, employ cultural appropriation, and/or spread false information).
  • The Conscious Kid
    https://www.theconsciouskid.org/blog
    Thoughtful blog articles about racism in children’s books, as well as lists of books by BIPOC authors/illustrators. Book subscriptions are also available.
  • Diverse Book Finder
    https://diversebookfinder.org
    Between their circulating collection (through Interlibrary Loan), collection analysis tool, and innumerable links, these folx cover a lot of ground.
  • Embrace Race
    https://www.embracerace.org/resources/20-picture-books-for-2020
    A great list of children’s books to support conversations on race, racism and resistance. Embrace Race also a bevy of articles and action guides for talking to kids.
  • I have also compiled a booklist of my favorite books by BIPOC authors and others that centre BIPOC characters, but I suggest looking first to the folx above. They’ve been doing this longer and have lived experience.

IG Accounts I Follow With A Focus on Kid Lit & Education

The tips for caregivers racialized as white were developed for A Shared Table, 2020.