It’s time to stop treating Black and Brown kids as ‘second-class citizens in reality and fantasy’

It’s time to stop treating Black and Brown kids as ‘second-class citizens in reality and fantasy’

The children’s book author and former NFL star Martellus Bennett recently offered his very strong take on Black characters in children’s books and shows to The Atlantic, explaining the motivation behind the books he has written and illustrated about a character named after his daughter: He wants Black kids to see themselves and their possibilities in fiction as much as white kids do. 

“Black people are treated as second-class citizens in reality and fantasy,” he told Howard Bryant. “I want to build worlds where kids and families of color can come and know that they own it, they belong there, and it’s a magical place.” 

Black children should have the chance to see that—as Bennett has made his mission in books like Hey A.J., It’s Bedtime! But white kids should also see that it’s possible for great stories to center around Black or Brown kids, that whiteness isn’t the only story worth telling. All kids should understand that and believe in its possibility, not as the subject of a lecture, but as the core of vibrant, joyful stories. 

I’m trying to keep a running list of such books as I find them, of good stories with diverse characters—like Ezra Jack Keats’ classic The Snowy Day—not books lecturing little kids on the importance of diversity. (If you want the latter, you are no doubt enthusiastic about A is for Activist. I am not.) I know there are lots more to be found, and I hope you’ll find them. I hope I will, too.

Here are some, geared to my own preschooler’s age:

How to Find a Foxby Nilah Magruder

Priya Dreams of Marigolds & Masala, by Meenal Patel

Harlem Grown, by Tony Hillery, illustrated by Jessie Hartland

Rocket Says Look Up! by Nathan Bryon, illustrated by Dapo Adeola

The Airport Book, by Lisa Brown

Leo Can Swim, by Anna McQuinn

More, mostly from a previous post on this subject:

Red is a Dragon, by Roseanne Thong

What Should I Make, by Nandini Nayar

Lola Plants a Garden, by Anna McQuinn

Julián is a Mermaidby Jessica Love

Please Baby Please, by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Everywhere Babiesby Susan Meyers, illustrated by Marla Frazee

All the World, by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee

Because, by Mo Willems, illustrated by Amber Ren

Books for older kids:

The Undefeated, by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Dactyl Hill SquadFreedom Fire, and Thunder Run, by Daniel José Older

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin

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