As kids are back in school and returning to their usual routines — distractions included — parents might be thinking about how to keep them engaged with books.
Ramon Stephens is a parent of color and executive director at The Conscious Kid, a nonprofit that helps families and educators foster anti-racist conversations through reading.
When he was looking for books to give to his own kids, there weren’t many options, he says.
“We weren’t able to find materials that they could see themselves in. And so we just started looking into just the overall numbers and statistics around content by authors of color, and content with characters of color,” he tells KCRW. “We found that there was actually a major gap, and especially content that actually specifically talks about issues of supporting identity.”
Stephens says the lack of representation can be traced to three literary fields: not enough authors of color, not enough diverse main characters, and the presence of characters from unrepresented backgrounds who still reinforce stereotypes. One recent study even shows that more books are written about animals than kids of color, he points out.
To remedy the situation, Stephens says he and other parents started to collect books that were filled with diverse characters and inspiring stories.
So far, Stephens says The Conscious Kid has distributed more than 120,000 books across the U.S. He adds that last year, the organization also partnered with schools to provide books to kids for free.
Here are books he recommends:
“Change Sings” by presidential inaugural poet Amanda Gorman
“It basically follows a young girl who leads a group of kids on this musical journey, where they're learning along the way that together they can have the power to make meaningful change. And it's really a call to action for kids to really see themselves and use their voice to promote the change that they want to see, and see that they can speak out as well.”
“Playing at the Border: A story about Yo-Yo Ma” by Joanna Ho
“It's a story about immigration, it's about using music to build bridges. What this story really highlights is when Yo-Yo Ma performed at the U.S.-Mexico border on April 13, 2019, as part of his tour to show that you can use music to build bridges rather than walls between different cultures. And it's really a book about unity, celebration of diverse cultures and coming together to support all communities.”
“Hair Twins” by Raakhee Mirchandani
This book features a Sikh father and daughter who celebrate their bond and cultural practices. Stephens says this book is especially impactful because it includes the Sikh community, which often goes underrepresented in mainstream culture.
“It really just celebrates and affirms identity and cultural practices that we don't often get to see in our mainstream publishing. And so yeah, we just hope to see [many] more books like this. It's really, really a heartwarming book.”
“My Two Border Towns” by David Bowles
The book follows a young boy who grows up along the U.S.-Mexico border, who travels with his father to drop off supplies for asylum seekers.
“The boy brings a bag of his favorite comics, notebooks, pencils, game cartridges, materials, food, things like that, that really helped demonstrate the importance of community care. It talks about the importance of seeing immigration as a strength and welcoming all communities with open arms.”
He adds, “It just shows all the different ways that we can help support communities that are either being marginalized, or not being supported. And it's a really great story about a father and his and his young son making change in the world and supporting all communities.”
Stephens recognizes that some people might think the subject matter in some of these books are being forced onto a child, similar to making them eat vegetables rather than dessert. But when framed in an enjoyable way, he argues, joy and engagement can be derived from the books.
“We know that when books provide things that we can actually use in our actual life, we know that people and the readers themselves are more engaged in that content because it does have an application. … Obviously there's a movement for parents and educators to push towards this curriculum. But really a lot of these folks were kids themselves who didn't get to see themselves in the literature and didn't get the opportunity to engage with it. And so when folks are able to see themselves, it's not really seen as ‘I have to eat something nasty,’ if that makes sense.”