The 3 bEst MulticuLtural Children's Books
So I was seriously laying in bed the other night wondering that if I was only allowed to choose 3 books, which ones would I gift a child of African descent with? Hm.... that’s hard. There are so many good ones. But I came up with three power packed beautiful, stunning, life changing, most essentials books that are simply treasures that my kids and I wouldn’t give up for any deserted island! (:
Ok let's go a step back. Why do I even think there are certain books that any child of African descent should know? One answer: Identity. Children of African descent need to know certain facts in order to form, maintain and grow in a healthy self image. It’s been distorted for years and society is still sending mixed messages about their culture’s value. Therefore, to know his or her past is important for children to be able to step confidently into the future.
The statistics of African American youth have been staggering over the years. I don't want to go into details of ... any of that here. There are many good blogs on incarceration rates etc. but I do want to talk about well ... books. The stuff I always talk about. Here I want to focus on books that I believe are essential tools for you to build a healthy and authentic self image in those children of African descent that you love. They are conversation starters. They are books that depict the worth, dignity and rich heritage of being of African descent. Because, let's be real, there are sadly enough books out there that plastered a brown face on their front covers but their content makes the very contents of any person of colors’ stomach twist and turn. Sometime even the pictures of seemingly multicultural books are just insensitive and well... plain ugly.
So in this blog post I focus on five books that kids of African (
or non African) descent will love to read, feel uplifted and empowered to love by!
First one, and I wrote an entire post on her before is Anna Hibsicus. The series is wonderful. It's fun, fast paced yet relaxed, it has great plot and most of all it features charming little hero Anna Hibiscus. Anna Hibiscus and her family (including her Nigerian dad, her Canadian mom and her twin baby brothers Double and Trouble) manage to make us laugh EVERY time we read one of her books. Definitely: I feel-good book with almost unnoticeably deep and rich culture lessons on contemporary and traditional Africa here. The Anna Hibiscus books come in a cost effective set or as single book. Both are pretty affordable and SO worth the investment! I promise, you will want to keep reading them over and over.
So, this book is a must for children of African descent. I very much recommend reading Anna Hibiscus as introduction to modern day Africa and doing so BEFORE you go into any kind of talk about slavery and transatlantic slave trade. Why? I'm convinced that we need to start teaching African American history not after the enslavement timeline starts but when and where African American history began: in Africa.
Side note: That's also the reason why you will not find me using the term "Black" on this blog to identify people of African descent. I'm aware that it's a politically correct term but I'm personally also of the conviction that when using that term you narrow a people group down to outward appearance and wipe out an entire history that was connected with them, as well as a continent and her rich heritage. By using the term black one also runs the risk of erasing an entire history of African descent. By labeling simply as black we moreover run the risk of neglecting to tell the next generation where they came from. And that I believe is the most dangerous part. People need to know their history. Period.
It’s their history, bloodstained, tearfilled, heroic and everything in between that empowers people (including us) to move beyond who we used to be and grow. Knowing your entire history is key. Be it European, Asian, Native or African. People who do not know that they have a history that began before slavery or immigration or genocide stay confused. And people who do not know what that history looked like are narrowed down in how far they can go in this world. That's by the way why in our history lesson we start with Adam and Eve and go down chronologically through ancient history also intensively covering the richness of African history. My students, being of African descent, should not start or even only study history that does not include their heritage but include it all in its richness. And I‘m, by the way, fully convinced that any parent of color should take the opportunity to somehow include their ethnic history into their child’s education. Even if you don’t home educate, you can enrich your child's education and cultural identity immensely by simply putting before them resources such as suggested on this blog. You can read a book with them before bedtime or do one of the unit studies during spring break. Anything to start conversation on topics that are so relevant (and not just for children of color). And yes... that’s one of the reasons I’m writing this blog.... To give parents and teachers ideas, books, curricula that they can effortlessly incorporate in their teachings. To provide a forum where you can exchange ideas. (hint: post your thoughts in the comment box!)
So, last thought on this, before we move to the second book(:
You and I are greatly advancing the children we lead if we don't just give them first class education and schools but include their personal ethnic identity and history. We will show full measure of love and responsibility to them if we don't leave out parts of the history that affected their grandparents and great grandparents. Even if it’s not pretty, it needs to be addressed. Being of German descent I need to teach my children about the gruesome chapter of Nazi Germany that my maternal side was part of just as much as about the transatlantic slave trade or the ancient kingdoms of West Africa that their paternal side was affected by. Likewise, I'm not doing my students a favor if I teach the great artist of Europe but leave out the African American master painters and sculptors that are not covered in most American school books. I'm not honoring their cultural context if I don't familiarize them with the great Latin American, Native American and Asian writers, artists and politicians that so shaped and are positively influencing the culture they live in. So, my and your job is to bring balance into their education.
I realize something is missing when a piece of culture is missing in our lives. For example, we are intentional about living life (=having friends of) with people of diverse ethnic backgrounds. Currently we are so blessed learning, walking, dreaming, praying, eating and playing with people of European, African, Latino, Asian decent. We absolutely love and value our friends. We know each one brings something to our live that makes us stronger, richer, kinder, wiser, humbler.... better. But for a while now I told my husband how much I hope to befriend someone ofNative American background. There's something missing in our lives. I can't really pin point my finger to it but something is missing when we don't engage with people of the very ethnicity on whose original land we are residing right now. So, please if you know (or are) someone of Native American descent and like us, would you mind being our friend? Ok, this is kind of awkward writing this into cyber space. (: But I'm seriously hoping to meet more people to walk with and learn from and to honor for their sacrifices and their cultural contributions.
So, back to the essential books for children of color or African descent.... (sorry, loooooong Side Track.... but I hope some of you are still reading:)
For older kids I absolutely recommend "Brown girl dreaming". This several award wining book is just beautifully poetic and authentically healing for young and old souls alike. Both you and your child will love this book and you can go as deep or shallow as you like as you talk about it.
The chapter book is unique in its approach and it's just one of those book, you can sit down with a cup of tea, relax and laugh and cry at the same time. It's one of those light read slash "this is deep..." books. It's dealing with serious issues retelling African American history in its entirety but does so with such a calm and beautifully gently voice. It’s recommended for ages 9 and up. But honestly, my 8 year old can safely read it. It does not go into any inappropriate details, doesn't even touch on issues that may arise question and the book doesn't have to. The author understands well how to paint an authentic picture of the hardships during the Jim Crow years by seeing history through the eyes of an innocent child. Definitely a must read for your kids. The author has some other wonderful books worth checking out too. I'll write about on of her wonderful picture books we have soon. If you sign up for free audible you can listen to it for free till our trial ends, along with this:
Caldecott Honor Book “Moses: When Harriet Tubman led her people to freedom”. We absolutely love our copy of this picture book. Having two girls I love that it depicts a girl hero. Also, personally believing in divine guidance being available for people this book is wonderfully encouraging: For one because it shows a strong female leader that made a difference in this world. Secondly, because it beautifully breathes life and hope and courage into my kids souls affirming that no matter how great the challenge God will help them as they step out bravely to further the cause of other people. This book is a gem! On top of it’s A+ way of handling the topic of slavery with a fine balance of sweet sensitivity and deep truth, it even written in poetic style. A masterpiece in my eyes... VIP spot in our library. ?
To listen to our top 3 for FREE, you can currently sign of for a FREE trial with audible here!
So these are currently are top three favorite if we have to narrow it down to three must haves! I’m planning to extend this list to two more, once I decide... So stay tuned till I make up my mind who else deserves VIP title on the deserted island! ?Let me know what your top threes are in the comments.
And Happy Reading!
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Ps: In case you don't have the amazon kindle and free app yet, these are great options for on the go. With the FREE kindle app you can read your favorite books on most devices (PCs, smartphones, tablets, etc.) and make waiting in the car times precious times to connect with your kids over a good book without having to remember to take it with you (: Check out the promotion of a FREE trial month and free kindle app they have right now!
California based Ghanaian-German educator, writer, bookworm and mama of three. A lover of all things nature, diversity & healthy.
"Education is nothing else than discovery.
And discovery full of diversity is beautiful."
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About the author
My name is Nancy. I'm a teacher, home educator, wife, mother, writer and accidental German-Ghanaian transplant to the U.S., in love with California and all things diversity.