Use Children’s Literature to Teach about Racism & Social Justice

 

by Sara Croymans,   MEd,  Extension Educator,  University of Minnesota Extension and PI for MFLN Family Transitions

Extension Educator, Sara CroymansRecently, a friend shared that her 3-year-old daughter and another child called a young Black child in preschool a racial slur. This mother and her partner were mortified by their child’s actions, and couldn’t understand where these words came from. My friend addressed the problem with the childcare center and the Black child’s family. There were deep apologies and a commitment to work with their daughter on understanding the impact of her actions.

This brief scenario doesn’t represent the full impact of these harmful words on the young Black child and his family. The young boy’s family experienced second hand the racist remarks of another child, and had to have their own conversations and teaching moments with their son.

Racism, inclusion, and the need for social justice reform is a pervasive problem for families, institutions, communities, and the nation.

In recognition of this societal problem the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in April 2021 declared racism a serious public health threat (CDC, 2021). The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) went further by condemning all forms of racism due to its negative impacts on children. The AAP goes on to state that “vicarious” or secondhand racism, which is witnessed through social media, conversations with others, or media images, can harm children’s health (Heard-Garris & Douge, 2020).

What can military family service providers do to address the issue of racism with the youth in our programs? A good starting place is books written for children and youth of all ages on the topic. The AAP published an article for parents and providers, Using Books to Talk With Children About Race and Racism (Douge & Jindal, 2021). Books help children and youth to form and reflect on their own identity. They also help shape childrens’ attitudes and behaviors towards people who are different from them.

The Academy provides this great list of strategies for parents and caregivers as they select diverse and inclusive books for children:

      • Find books with characters who share the child’s race, ethnicity and their family’s cultural and religious beliefs, as well as characters who do not.
      • Select books that have a main character who is a person of color or books that provide a voice to those who rarely have one.
      • Locate books that tell stories that challenge myths and stereotypes or stories that normalize daily life among all racial identities.
      • Choose books that help children develop social action skills such as helping the elderly, having environmental awareness, or volunteering at a soup kitchen.
      • Pick books that help children recognize inequities in social structure. Select books that are written or illustrated by racial/ethnic minorities.
      • Choose age appropriate books (picture books for children age 5 and under, and chapter books for elementary aged children).
      • Seek out books that present characters facing real-life experiences or showcase experiences relevant to the child.

The Academy also suggests avoiding books that promote stereotypes. Refrain from selecting books that focus on any of the 5 F’s: food, fashion, folklore, festivals, and famous people. These stereotypes typically overgeneralize individuals or groups of people.

Reading books to children about race and racism provides an important opportunity for talking with children about these issues. Some providers and parents may feel uncomfortable or ill-prepared for having these conversations. Check out the tips provided by the American Psychological Association Racial and Ethnic Socialization (RES) Project on how to use books to have conversations, types of questions to ask while reading the books, and a list of questions children may ask.

Book Recommendations

Check out the American Academy of Pediatrics’ great book lists:

Review the curated book lists developed by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families:

Seek Additional Information

Are you looking for professional development opportunities to learn more? We invite you to access these blogs and webinars from MFLN:

In addition, check out these final resources:

This blog post was written by Sara Croymans, MEd, AFC, University of Minnesota Extension Educator, member of the MFLN Family Transitions team, military spouse and mother. Family Transitions provides education, resources and networking opportunities for professionals working with military families to build resilience and navigate life cycle transitions. Engage with the MFLN Family Transitions team on our website, Facebook, and Twitter.

References:

American Psychological Association. (2019, April). Reading and RES: Parent Tip Tool – Choosing and Using Books to Discuss Race and Ethnicity.  https://www.apa.org/res/parent-resources/reading?tab=3

Centers for Disease Control (CDC). (2021, April 8). Media Statement from CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky, MN, MPH, on Racism and Health. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2021/s0408-racism-health.html

Common Sense Media. (No Date). Books About Racism and Social Justice. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/emotional-wellness/Building-Resilience/Pages/Books-to-Build-Character-Teach-Important-Values.aspx

Common Sense Media. (No Date). Books That Promote Diversity and Inclusion. https://www.commonsensemedia.org/lists/books-that-promote-diversity-and-inclusion

Douge, J. & Jindal, M. (February 2, 2021). Using Books to Talk with Kids About Race and Racism. American Academy of Pediatrics. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/emotional-wellness/Building-Resilience/Pages/using-books-to-talk-with-kids-about-race-and-racism.aspx

Heard-Garris, N. & Douge, J. (January 1, 2020). Talking to Children about Racism: The Time is Now. American Academy of Pediatrics. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/emotional-wellness/Building-Resilience/Pages/Talking-to-Children-about-Racism.aspx

Navsaria, D. (2020, December). Recommended Reading: Books to Build Character & Teach Your Child Important Values. American Academy of Pediatrics. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/emotional-wellness/Building-Resilience/Pages/Books-to-Build-Character-Teach-Important-Values.aspx