Children love to see images of themselves in the books that are read to them and in the books they read.
While representation has rarely been a problem for white families with young kids, it hasn’t always been so easy for parents of black, Latino, Asian and other nonwhite children to find their skin colors and cultures represented in the pages of children’s books.
As our Sesame Street friends join CNN on Saturday at 10 a.m. to talk to kids and their parents about racism, the nationwide protests and embracing diversity, we reached out to Jambo Books co-founder Mijha Godfrey to ask her for recommendations for smart and fun books featuring black characters for the 4 and under set.
Godfrey said that children pick up their values from their families and the stories that are read to them. Her company, which launched in May 2018, believes that it’s important for children to read stories about children that look like them and children who do not look like them.
Only one of her picks focuses on social justice issues outright. “Although we talk about race and history a lot in our household, for books I prefer to show little kids the glorious normalcy of being a person of color before I introduce them to the ugly reality they were born into,” she said.
“It’s a ‘show them how it should be’ before ‘telling them how it is’ approach,” said Godfrey.
Here are some of Godfrey’s favorites, along with her reviews.
Blackness and the black experience
“Shades of Black” by Sandra Pinkney: This board book explicitly celebrates the joys of being brown and gives a nod to all the many beautiful shades of brown that grace black people.
“Marvelous Me” by Lisa Marie Bullard: A young black boy looks in the mirror and sees himself in all his splendor staring back. We love how this book turns the paradigm of belittling black boys on its head.
“I Like Myself!” by Karen Beaumont: A child of color lists all of the wonderful things she likes about herself in this board book. When my daughter saw this book as a toddler she said, “She looks like me!” and that’s how I really caught the bug for creating Jambo Book Club.
Black characters and self-esteem
These titles normalize black children in all environments, including STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).
“Good Morning, Superman” by Michael Dahl: A black boy goes through his day as Superman with powerful juxtapositions of him and the cartoon Superman. His little sister makes a cameo appearance as Supergirl.
“I Am So Brave!” by Stephen Krensky: We all know fearless toddlers. In “I Am So Brave,” we get to know a little black boy who conquers the playground, petting a dog and more.
“I Know A Lot!” by Stephen Krensky: A companion board book to “I Am So Brave,” in “I Know A Lot,” we meet a young black girl who is learning every day and loving displaying her new knowledge.
“The King of Kindergarten” by Derrick Barnes (September): A black boy conquers his fears and kindergarten all in one sweet book. We will be sending this book to our subscribers in September.
“When God Made You” by Matthew Paul Turner: This is a beautifully illustrated book with a Christian theme. The sentiment of being wonderfully made is universal and the use of a Black girl as the protagonist is a powerful statement against the messages black children receive every day.
“Future Engineer” by Lori Alexander: Alexander’s “Future Baby” board book series puts kids of color in awesome STEM careers like engineers, astronauts and more.
“Baby Loves Gravity!” by Ruth Spiro: Ruth Spiro and Irene Chan team up in this “Baby Loves Science” series to explain complicated scientific topics for the 0 to 2-year-old set and all the protagonists are kids of color.
“Homemade Love” by bell hooks: Mostly known for her incisive writing for adults, bell hooks beautifully reminds us that love and honesty can make the broken things whole again.
“Full, Full, Full of Love” by Trish Cooke: This book is a perfect rebuttal to the mayhem of 2020: relaxing in the warm embrace of a loved one.
“First Time: Sleepover” by Jess Stockham: A black toddler and his mom go to sleep over at a white friend or family member’s home. Black people and white people hang out together! Revolutionary!
“Jazz Baby” by Lisa Wheeler: This classic always sells out when we attend a festival. The rhythmic joy of the text and fluid movement of the vivid illustrations make “Jazz Baby” a huge hit with our members.
“More More More Said the Baby” by Vera B. Williams: Williams’ classic book shows three different toddlers getting swept up in the loving arms of their caretakers.
“An ABC of Equality” by Chana Ginelle Ewing: This board book addresses complicated adult topics like P is for Privilege or D is for Difference in a way that is accessible for very young children and starts to build their vocabulary for justice at the same time it’s building their basic literacy.
“A Feast for 10” by Cathryn Falwell: “A Feast for 10” is a counting board book that focuses on shopping for and making a delicious meal for a large, happy black family.
“Please, Baby, Please” by Spike Lee and Tonya Lee Lewis: Two crazy-cute black toddlers try to wrangle their dog in this brightly illustrated picture book.
“Ten, Nine, Eight” by Molly Bang: In this board book reminiscent of “Good Night, Moon,” a sweet young black girl (rocking a short hairdo!) gets ready for bed as she counts down from 10.
“The Snowy Day” by Ezra Jack Keats: Another classic, “Snowy Day” was many readers’ first introduction to a black toddler in children’s literature. It still has a huge impact on readers and their parents. One of our members told us that their little boy delighted in seeing a brown boy in the snow who looked like himself.
“When’s My Birthday?” by Julie Fogliano: A nice intersectional treat for Pride, Harriet eagerly awaits the birthday party her two dads are throwing for her. All little kids can identify with her sweet anticipation and long list of birthday wishes.
“Grandma’s Purse” by Vanessa Brantley-Newton: Who doesn’t love rifling through Grandma’s purse? It’s always full of wonderful surprises, and this board book is also in the shape of Grandma’s purse!
“Looking for Bongo” by Eric Velasquez: “Looking for Bongo” follows an Afro-Latino boy searching for his lovey, and he finds that Bongo is more widely loved than he expected!