A GOOD Book!
Open one, open a mind.
I believe this generation, barring negative in-home and outside undue influence, will be better at this race business. The best news is that for parents and teachers and others that love young people, there is a wealth of great titles to help us explore age-appropriate ways to answer the inevitable: “Why am I different? The next-best news is that there is no bad news because this generation is the most open-thinking on the topic of race and the most diverse in our country's history. I am always searching for better ways to answer the hard questions about our differences, so I read a lot. This site’s electronic bookshelf will evolve with the help and curiosity of its readers, race experts, parents and teachers I consult. Please, check periodically for the latest additions, and send recommendations. Amazon.com or your public library are best sources.
Psychologist Beverly Tatum was an expert source for a 2001 feature article I wrote exploring the lunch period at Cedar Hill High School in Cedar Hill, TX, just south of Downtown Dallas. I also reviewed her then newly release book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? I reread the book this summer and was not surprised that its content still holds. Sadly. Here’s a quick excerpt from my Dallas Morning News review/sidebar that accompanied the feature at Cedar Hill High: Dr. Tatum recommends that parents keep the race talk simple, particularly at the preschool-age level. In her book, "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?" And Other Conversations About Race , she details a talk she had with her preschool-age son after picking him up from daycare. His friend had told him that his skin was brown because he drank too much chocolate milk. Dr. Tatum explained melanin to her son and told him how he and his friend both had protection from the sun, but that he had more because he was darker. Jonathan seemed to understand the idea and "smiled at the thought that he was the child with the most of something," she writes.
As usual, the folks at Sesame Street (Random House Books) get it right. With kid-friendly bright colored drawings, this very basic head-to-toe read-to-me approach explains in amusing smart words how our physical differences are the same. We're Different, We're the Same comes with brilliant illustrations of kids and Sesame Street characters that come alive page after page to make it simpler for parents to explain to an engaged listener how feelings are universal. Adult Lesson to learn: Don’t fall into the trap of over-thinking how preschoolers can grasp concepts still difficult for grownups.
This title stays at the top of my list of favorites. For the simple reason that I'm Chocolate, You're Vanilla guides parents and teachers of black and biracial children through the inevitable hurdles associated with racism. Marguerite Wright goes the extra mile to back up her work with solid research. The cautionary chapter, “The Waning of Racial Innocence: The Early School Years,” should be bookmarked by ALL parents and teachers.
The following two titles come from the classroom reading table of one of my most admired sixth grade teachers. There is no wonder why students I talk to love Wonder, the first of the two selections. It's the perfect reader for middle school. Boy with a different looking face against a world of small minds. Boy is a hero. That's not a spoiler, it's an obvious because for every bully in adolescence, there is another kinder and gentler human being that's been on the receiving end. Every preteen should be encouraged to read this.
Bam! Walter Dean Myers always keeps it real -- even with the littlest among his readers. In Looking Like Me, Walter the Father/writer-poet, collaborates with Christopher, the son/illustrator, to convey Jeremy's message of how Jeremy can be Jeremy. Turns out the book's lead character can be many things, as he sees himself in the mirror. My suspicion is that Harlem-raised Myers is Jeremy the writer, as expressed in this rhythmic passage: "Miss Kay put out her fist. I gave it a BAM! Say Jeremy. Say brother. Say son. Say writer. That's who I am." Christopher Myers' colorful cutouts/collage more than window-dress the pages, they complete the fun and the pow. By the way, all young people need a Miss Kay or a sixth-grade teacher like the one that displayed this 2009 book in her 2013 classroom. Fun Fact: No documentation of which came first, the illustration or the writing. In book review circles, rumor is that the two efforts were independently done. Talk about serendipity!
Sharon Robinson, daughter of civil rights history maker Jackie Robinson, pens a beautiful historical perspective of her legendary father, one of baseball's most revered first baseman. Ms. Robinson writes with an engaging touch that young readers quickly will wrap their minds around. (Good refresher for mature minds, too.) The book's frosting of vintage sepia historical and family photos throughout is, well, sweet. (No matter how many Instagram shots daily they eyeball, show young people old pictures and their faces light up and the questions pour out!) Ms. Robinson's words are even sweeter than the book's images. In Promises to Keep: How Jackie Robinson Changed America, the author writes thoroughly and eloquently about the time in history when her father was a transforming figure. She doesn't sugarcoat, nor does she exaggerate. Amid the cruel assault of race hatred, she frames Jackie Robinson, the typical person: "As a boy, Dad went to Cleveland and Washington Elementary schools in Pasadena (California). The students were black. The teachers were white. My father only got average grades, but he loved sports. With marbles, soccer, dodge ball, and baseball, Dad's reputation as a competitor -- and a winner -- began when he was just a young boy."