representation matters

This is the third post in a trio this week offering resources for bringing race into the conversation with young children in positive, proactive, welcoming ways.

children playing

You can read my thoughts on why we need to talk about race with young children here, and find books and further resources that address race, especially the black racial experience, here.

Today I’m showcasing books with ordinary stories featuring children of color as main characters.
Black children should not only appear in stories about Jim Crow, the Civil Rights movement, the Civil War.
Stories about birthday parties, fishing expeditions, winter holidays, bedtime — all those ordinary moments — illustrated with faces in shades of brown. That’s what we’re after.


I’ve heard the phrase “representation matters” often, but it became a living, breathing reality for me last summer when my daughter and I visited the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.
Among the paintings, there was a stunning portrait of Henrietta Lacks by Kadir Nelson, as well as Amy Sherald’s majestic portrait of Michelle Obama.

Observing the line-up of black women joyfully waiting to have their picture taken alongside Michelle or Henrietta was a surprisingly emotional experience for me. An aha! moment.
Representation matters! We all long to see ourselves, reflections of ourselves, our people, honored, visible, inside of the circle; to see heroines who look like we do, dreams fulfilled by people who are like us.

If your children are white, chances are you rarely consider the fact that the vast majority of faces in the children’s books at your library are also white, that the black children accessing these books mostly see children who don’t look like themselves rather than experiencing the intimate connection a reader feels when an image matches his/her own.


Today’s books are golden for families of color, but they’re also golden for white children, offering an opportunity to engage with racial diversity positively, as well as experience a story as an unrepresented person. It’s good for white children to be on-lookers sometimes.

Each of these books has been featured on Orange Marmalade in the past. Click on the title to find its review. In addition, there are many stories in my African listings if you’re interested in that angle. You can find those here.

The Airport Book
Alfie: The Turtle that Disappeared
Baby Cakes
The Baby on the Way
Big Snow
Billy and Belle
Cherries and Cherry Pits
The Day You Begin
Eat Up Gemma
Emma and Julia Love Ballet
The Girl with the Parrot on Her Head
Happy Christmas, Gemma

Happy Like Soccer
Hi Cat
Hiking Day
Jabari Jumps
Last Stop on Market Street
Lola Reads to Leo
The New Small Person
One Word from Sophia
Oscar’s Half Birthday
Peeny Butter Fudge
The Snowy Day

So Much
Sonya’s Chickens
Sunday Shopping
Thank You, Omu
Twenty Yawns
We Are Brothers
Welcome Precious
When’s My Birthday?

The Lulu stories:
Hamster in the Night
Dog from the Sea
Duck in the Park
The Julian stories:
Stories Julian Tells
More Stories Julian Tells
Starring Grace

 Although there are more and more middle grade novels being published that feature black main characters, many of them are centered around racial experiences whether that be enslavement, civil rights, or contemporary struggles with racism. Ordinary moments of life with main characters of color are still lacking. A few suggestions:

Ghost and sequels
The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street and sequels

In my to-read pile is The Season of Styx Malone which I believe fits in this category.