Books are often the first exposure children have to the broader world outside of their homes. I have spent much of the past few weeks thinking about these early reading experiences, especially as it relates to Black History Month, and I focused on two questions:
- How important are these early book choices, whether we are making them with our children or for our children?
- When should parents and caregivers start intentionally choosing books for children that directly address topics like race and racism? Especially white parents and caregivers, like me?
I turned, as I often do in these crucial parenting moments, to the experts for some support. Luckily, I only had to turn as far as the list of people and places I follow on Instagram. One of my favorite follows — and one of the country’s leading voices on the importance of Black history for early education — started her career right here in Columbia. Dawnavyn James is a Stephens College graduate and former kindergarten teacher at Parkade Elementary, where she gained national recognition for her TikTok videos and Black History Club toolkit.
James is now a fellow at the Center for K-12 Black History and Racial Literacy Education at the University at Buffalo where she and other researchers compiled a comprehensive resource list on teaching Black History for parents, educators and researchers.
In the interest of brevity, I can confidently answer my own questions here: James’s work and the work of her colleagues nationwide demonstrate that the choices we make are very important and that it is never too early to start talking to your children about race and racism. Not only is it never too early, it’s never too late, and the resources on the list above have something for everyone.
And that’s because Black History is American History and Black History Month is a celebration for every American. And the celebration can and should continue all year, because 28 days cannot begin to hold the opportunity we have to introduce our children to a world of human resilience, brilliance, ingenuity and beauty. And we don’t have to protect our children from the worst parts our shared history, children are capable of understanding age-appropriate books about injustice and inequality, especially with your gentle guidance.
As parents and caregivers, we have the awesome privilege and responsibility of not just introducing children to the nation’s complexity, but to introduce them to their own complexity — to their own capacity for kindness, empathy, resilience and a sense of collective responsibility in shaping our future world.
DBRL is here to help — we have book lists for younger audiences, including a thoughtfully curated list of resources on Folklore and Fairy Tales and the Black Diaspora. The library staff also gathers digital resources, as well as recommendations tailored to getting outside learning more about Black lives in Mid-Missouri.