Everybody harbours implicit bias.
It is a necessary tool the brain uses in order to process inconceivable amounts of information when meeting a new person. But left unchallenged, implicit bias leads to discrimination, the consequences of which can be tragic— as the recent killing of George Floyd testifies.
Bias is built by limited, stereotyped exposure to certain groups or types of people, and this begins when we are very small. Just as toys drive a sharp line between genders, stories about perfect families with a little white boy and a little white girl predispose our empathy, our understandings of beauty, and much more.
Over the past few years, movements calling to “decolonise the curriculum” have highlighted the racial imbalance in school and university reading lists in the UK. Young Brits are taught a history chronicled, overwhelmingly, by white scholars, and inspired to idolise authors and poets of an equally narrow demographic.
Aside from spreading awareness, purchasing these books will – in most cases – fund Black writers, illustrators and publishers, who operate in an industry in which they are vastly underrepresented, according to recent research by Lee & Low Books.
The Story of the Windrush
There are not many children’s books focused on Windrush Day, despite its seminal importance in modern UK history, but K. N. Chimbiri’s is a good place to start.
Her book takes readers through 22 real-life stories about three generations of the Windrush Children, including accounts from David Lammy and Lenny Henry. It is an inspiring story of pioneering migrants that encourages children to celebrate heritage, and to respect and value diverse communities.
Books on immigration help children to understand why there are so many different colours in their classroom, and why they may be different.
The Windrush story, specifically, explains to children of all races, that Caribbean immigrants came to help rebuild Britain after the Second World War— and were promised a warm welcome on arrival.
Ages seven and up, £6.99 (hardcover) – waterstones.com
The Great Big Book of Families
The Great Big Book of Families introduces children to the fact that not all families look the same. Through vivid representation, Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith break up socio-normative concepts of the family to allow celebration of all types of households.
Some of the book’s families have a mum and a dad, some a single parent, and others two mums or two dads. They come in many different sizes, have members with disabilities and members of different races. They celebrate holidays differently to each other, eat different foods and go to different jobs— but they are all families.
“So families can be big, small, happy, sad, rich, poor, loud, quiet, cross, good-tempered, worried or happy-go-lucky. Most families are all of these things some of time.’
Ages five to eight, £8.19 (paperback) – amazon.co.uk
A is for All the Things You Are: A Joyful ABC Book
A is for All the Things You Are is an alphabet book developed by the National Museum of African American History and Culture. It introduces twenty-six personality traits aimed to foster the development of each child’s healthy racial identity (for all races), with and open heart and mind.
As well as inclusivity of others, this book sows seeds of self-love, with positive affirmations and emotional guidance, focused on helping children’s mental wellbeing as well as teaching tolerance.
E is for emotional, F is for fair, K is for kind, N is for natural, Q is for questioning, and W is for worthy.
Ages seven and below, £8.99 (board book) – bookdepository.com
Woke: A Young Poet’s Call to Justice
For young poetry lovers, Woke is perfect pocket inspiration for young people to be socially engaged, get informed, and stand up for themselves and others.
Poems are titled thematically – “Activism”, “Community”, “Immigration” – making them an easy springboard from which to raise intentional, topical discussions with your kids.
Some of the poems are really helpful for deconstructing complex ideas like intersectionality, in a language that children can grasp. They also chronicle key figures and moments in Black history, to instil knowledge as well as empathy.
Ages six to 11, £11.19 (hardback) – blackwells.co.uk
Julian is a Mermaid
One of the most beautifully illustrated books you may ever lay eyes on, this story by Jessica Love follows Julian walking home with his Nana and becoming mesmerised by the sight of three woman in glorious fishtail dresses. Inspired, he dreams up and crafts his own mermaid costume— but boy does he make a mess.
It is a radiant celebration of creative self-expression, and a capsule of Black Pride, while the story itself is simple, understated and full of heart.
Ages six and above, £6.99 (paperback) – waterstones.com
We Are The Change
We Are The Change is a visual compilation of famous wisdom-filled quotations from Eleanor Roosevelt, Maya Angelou, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and more.
Curated by 16 award-winning children’s book artists and topped with an introduction by singer Harry Belafonte, this book shares a message of strength and struggle, grounded by a focus on peace, love and humanity.
Ages five and up, £14.99 (hardcover) – amazon.com
I Never Forget A Face
Presenting children with toys that represent the diversity of our society and the world can be very valuable— and is fairly easy to not do.
eeBoo’s I Never Forget A Face is a memory game presents children with 24 multicultural characters, to help build a sense of self as a member of a community.
Ages five and up, from £16.99 – amazon.co.uk
Show Racism The Red Card
Show Racism The Red Card is a leading UK charity tackling racism through education.
Via its website, it can equip parents with tools, ideas and activities to work through complex social issues with children and teenagers. Follow this link for the range.
The educational film packages take a holistic approach to racism, covering far-right hate groups, Islamophobia and prejudice against Gypsy, Roma and Travellers. They come with in-depth information packages (which may seem overwhelming, but are only there should you need them), as well as stripped back, simple activities such as myth-“busting quizzes” and discussion points. Learning outcomes help you trace your progress.
Try the Show Racism the Red Card Film & Education Pack for ages eight through to adult – £20, theredcard.org. This traces the origins and history of racism, experiences of racism, acting against racism and celebrating diversity.
Instagram accounts to follow for more children’s books that lift marginalised voices:
@LEEandLOW is good on Twitter.