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The racial injustice and inequity against Black Americans in our nation, both recently and historically, has sparked difficult conversations surrounding race and racism. With the hope to develop an understanding of the Black experience, many educators have turned to books to help facilitate these conversations.

We are shining a light on 20 engaging titles we believe are especially suited to help guide discussions and educate readers about racism and systemic injustice, while also celebrating Black lives. Read them on your own, give them as gifts, and help start—and continue—conversations about race.

1. Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi

STAMPED, Ibram X Kendi

Recommended for ages 13-18

Many Americans believe that we’re living in a post-racial, color-blind society, but recent events have shown that racism now lives in sophistication—operating in plain sight with subtlety.

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You is a research-based narrative from award-winning authors Jason Reynolds and Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, chronicling the entire story of anti-Black racist concepts, the role they have played throughout American history, and the ways readers can identify and stamp out racist thoughts in their daily lives.

2. Stamped (for Kids), by Sonja Cherry-Paul, Jason Reynolds, and Ibram X. Kendi, illustrated by Rachelle Baker

STAMPED, Ibram X Kendi

Recommended for ages 7-12

Adapted from the groundbreaking bestseller Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, this book takes readers on a journey from present to past and back again. Kids will discover where racist ideas came from, identify how they impact America today, and meet those who have fought racism with antiracism. Along the way, they’ll learn how to identify and stamp out racist thoughts in their own lives.

Ibram X. Kendi’s research, Jason Reynolds’ and Sonja Cherry-Paul’s writing, and Rachelle Baker’s art come together in this vital read, enhanced with a glossary, timeline, and more.

3. The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas, book

Recommended for ages 13-18

16-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer.

The Hate U Give helps readers better understand the Black Lives Matter movement and explores the societal difficulties that many Black Americans experience when forced to code-switch.

4. Just Mercy: A True Story of the Fight for Justice, by Bryan Stevenson

Recommended for ages 13-18

The awe-inspiring true story about the call to repair systemic injustices within the United States judicial system, Just Mercy follows the wrongful conviction of Walter McMillian — a young Black man sentenced to die for a murder he didn’t commit. Bryan Stevenson, a young lawyer defending the case, is met with conspiracy, political schemes, and legal brinkmanship in his pursuit for justice.

This edition was adapted by the author specifically for young adults and provides a call to action and compassion in the pursuit of justice.

5. Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship, by Charles Waters and Irene Latham, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko

Can I touch your hair, poems, book, racial justice

Recommended for ages 7-12

Two very different classmates partner together for a fifth-grade poetry project, but how can they work together if they know nothing about each other?

Can I Touch Your Hair? delves into different experiences of race in a relatable way, exploring such topics as hair, hobbies, and family dinners, and invites readers of all ages to join the dialogue by putting their own words to their experiences.

6. Sulwe, by Lupita Nyong’o, illustrated by Vashti Harrison

Recommended for ages 4-9

A personal YWCA- Central Carolinas favorite! Sulwe is a young girl with skin the color of midnight, but she wants to be beautiful and bright, like her mother and sister. After a magical journey through the night sky, Sulwe discovers her own unique beauty.

This gorgeously written and illustrated picture book promotes self-love and explores the topic of colorism in a way that’s easy for young children to understand.

7. The Day You Begin, by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael López

Recommended for ages 4-9

The Day You Begin follows Angelina, a young, curly-haired, girl with brown skin, as she returns to school from summer break. As her classmates share their summer adventures, she reflects on her vacation spent at home and fears she can’t measure up.

Award-winning author Jacqueline Woodson and illustrator Rafael López have created a heartwarming book that inspires young readers to find the courage to connect, even when they feel different or scared.

8. From the Desk of Zoe Washington, by Janae Marks

Recommended for ages 10-13

What does a girl say to the father she’s never met, she hadn’t heard from until his letter arrived on her 12th birthday, and who’s been in prison for a terrible crime – one he says he never committed?

With equal parts mystery and heart, this middle grade debut by Janae Marks takes us through Zoe’s courageous journey to uncover the truth about his crime and opens readers’ eyes to the reality of racial profiling and the incarceration rates of people of color. This engaging story is perfect for starting conversations about systemic racism and social justice with kids in upper elementary and/or middle school. 

9. Black Brother, Black Brother, by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Recommended for ages 10-13

Sometimes 12-year-old Donte wishes he were invisible. As one of the few Black boys at Middlefield Prep, most of the students don’t look like him. They don’t like him either. Dubbing him “Black Brother,” Donte’s teachers and classmates make it clear they wish he were more like his lighter-skinned brother, Trey.

When he’s bullied and framed by the captain of the fencing team, he’s suspended from school and arrested. Terrified, searching for a place where he belongs, Donte joins a local youth center, meets former Olympic fencer Arden Jones, and stars training. As Donte hones his fencing skills and grows closer to achieving his goal, he learns the fight for justice is far from over.

Powerful and emotionally gripping, Black Brother, Black Brother is a careful examination of the school-to-prison pipeline and follows one boy’s fight against racism and his empowering path to finding his voice.

10. Your Name is a Song, by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, illustrated by Luisa Uribe

Recommended for ages 4-9

Frustrated by a day full of teachers and classmates mispronouncing her beautiful name, a little girl tells her mother she never wants to go back to school. In response, the girl’s mother teaches her about the musicality of African, Asian, Black-American, Latinx, and Middle Eastern names on their lyrical walk home through the city. Empowered by this newfound understanding, she is ready to return the next day to share her knowledge with her class and help them discover the musicality in their own names, too.

Your Name is a Song is a celebration to remind us all of the beauty, history, and magic behind names. Memorable, expressive, and beautifully illustrated, this is a heartwarming celebration of self-esteem and individuality.

11. A Place Inside of Me: A Poem to Heal the Heart, by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Noa Denmon

Recommended for ages 4-9

In this powerful, affirming poem by award-winning author Zetta Elliott, a Black child explores his shifting emotions throughout the year. In her stunning debut, illustrator Noa Denmon articulates the depth and nuances of the child’s experiences following a police shooting—through grief and protests, healing, and community—with washes of color as vibrant as his words.

Here is a groundbreaking narrative that can help all readers—children and adults alike—talk about the feelings hiding deep inside each of us.

12. The Talk: Conversations about Race, Love & Truth, edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson

The talk conversations about race love and truth, book, racial justice

Recommended for ages 10-18

This engaging short story collection is a call-to-action that invites all families to be anti-racist and advocate for change. Thirty diverse, award-winning authors and illustrators engage young people in frank discussions about racism, identity, and self-esteem through stories and art filled with love, acceptance, truth, peace, and an assurance that there can be hope for a better tomorrow.

13. Punching the Air, by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

punching the air, book, racial justice

Recommended for ages 16-18

From award-winning, bestselling author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five, comes a stunning YA novel in verse about a boy who is wrongfully incarcerated.

Amal Shahid has always been an artist and a poet. But even in a diverse art school, he’s seen as disruptive and unmotivated by a biased system. Then one fateful night, an altercation in a gentrifying neighborhood escalates into tragedy. “Boys just being boys” turns out to be true only when those boys are white. Perfect for fans of Jason Reynolds, Walter Dean Myers, and Elizabeth Acevedo.

14. I Am Enough, by Grace Byers, illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo

i am enough, book, racial justice

Recommended for ages 4-9

With vibrant artwork that shows girls of diverse body shapes and skin tones, I Am Enough is a lyrical ode to self-love, empathy, respecting others, and being kind. Share this lovely picture book not only with those who need to hear the words of affirmation but also with those who need to practice saying them to others. 

15. I Am Every Good Thing, by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James

i am every good thing, book, racial justice

Recommended for ages 4-9

The confident Black narrator of this book is proud of everything that makes him who he is. He’s got big plans, and no doubt he’ll see them through—as he’s creative, adventurous, smart, funny, and a good friend. Sometimes he falls, but he always gets back up. And other times he’s afraid because he’s so often misunderstood and called what he is not. So slow down and really look and listen when somebody tells you—and shows you—who they are. There are superheroes in our midst!

An upbeat, empowering, important picture book from the team that created the award-winning Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut– another YWCA Central Carolinas favorite!

16. Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre, by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Recommended for ages 10-13

Celebrated author Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrator Floyd Cooper provide a powerful look at the Tulsa Race Massacre, one of the worst incidents of racial violence in our nation’s history. The book traces the history of African Americans in Tulsa’s Greenwood district and chronicles the devastation that occurred in 1921 when a white mob attacked the Black community.

News of what happened was largely suppressed, and no official investigation occurred for seventy-five years. This picture book sensitively introduces readers to this tragedy and concludes with a call for a better future.

17. My Hair is Magic!, by M. L. Marroquin, illustrated by Tonya Engel

Recommended for ages 4-9

This little girl knows her hair is great just as it is. When people ask, “Why is your hair so BIG?” she answers, “Why isn’t yours?” Her hair is soft, it protects her, it’s both gentle and fierce. While some might worry about how it’s different and try to contain it, she gives it the freedom to be so extraordinary it almost has a life of its own.

Told in bold verse and vivid, fantastical illustrations, these critical questions will ring familiar, and the proud, confident answers show that what really matters is how readers see themselves.

18. A Day for Rememberin’: Inspired by the True Events of the First Memorial Day, by Leah Henderson, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

a day for rememberin, book, racial justice

Recommended for ages 7-12

Inspired by true events and told through the eyes of a young boy, this is the deeply moving story about what is regarded as the first Memorial Day on May 1, 1865.

Today is a special day. Eli dresses up in his best clothes, Mama gathers the mayflowers, Papa straightens his hat, and together they join the crowds filling the streets of Charleston, South Carolina, with bouquets, crosses, and wreaths. Abolitionists, missionaries, teachers, military officers, and a sea of faces Black, Brown, and White, they march as one and sing for all those who gave their lives fighting for freedom during the Civil War.

With poignant prose and celebratory, luminous illustrations, A Day for Rememberin’ shines a light on the little-known history of this important holiday and reminds us never to forget the people who put their lives on the line for their country. 

19. The Electric Slide and Kai, by Kelly J. Baptist, Darnell Johnson

electric slide and kai, book, racial justice

Recommended for ages 4-9

Kai’s aunt is getting married, and everyone in the Donovan family is excited about the wedding … except Kai. The highlight of every Donovan occasion is dancing the electric slide—a groovy line dance with footwork that Kai can’t quite figure out. More than anything, he wants to prove that he can boogie with the rest of his family and earn a cool nickname from his granddad. Can Kai break through his nerves and break it down on the dance floor?

Told with humor and heart by author Kelly J. Baptist and lively illustrations from debut picture book artist Darnell Johnson, The Electric Slide and Kai is a funky celebration with all the right moves! 

20. The Undefeated, by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

the undefeated, racial justice, book

Recommended for ages 4-9

Originally performed for ESPN’s The Undefeated, this poem is a love letter to Black life in the United States. It highlights the unspeakable trauma of slavery, the faith and fire of the civil rights movement, and the grit, passion, and perseverance of some of the world’s greatest heroes.

The text is also peppered with references to the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, and others, offering deeper insights into the accomplishments of the past, while bringing stark attention to the endurance and spirit of those surviving and thriving in the present. The robust back matter at the end provides valuable historical context and additional detail for those wishing to learn more.

Jasmine Mix is the literacy and engagement manager at YWCA Central Carolinas. She has served as a public educator and literacy facilitator for over 14 years.