Black History Month is held in October (in Europe) every year and it is a time to recognise and celebrate the contributions of Black people throughout history. As parents and educators, it is important to teach children about these significant figures and events, and to help them understand the ongoing struggle for racial equality and our role within that, irrespective of our own race. Today, I am looking at four excellent, best-selling children's books that touch on these issues that you can share within your family.
As always, if you would like to skip ahead to any of the sections, here are the links:
How to Learn More About Back History Month
If you would like to learn more about Black History Month then you can visit the official website for 2023 here or the National Geographic website has child-friendly information. Of course there is always the BBC: this website is for children around 5 - 7 years old or this page has videos for children of every age from 5 years old up to the end of secondary school covering various topics and people of significance.
Black History Month Books for Children
Below are 4 lovely books which you can share with your children centered around Black characters. I've summarised the story in a couple of sentences and given you the age range that the book is best for. I've also given you a couple of question suggestions, should you wish to start a conversation with your son or daughter about the book you've read. Not only is this important for your child in terms of becoming an inclusive adult but it is fantastic for thinking and reasoning skills as you guide your child in explaining their opinions.
Best for Celebrating Who We Are
I Am Perfectly Designed by Karamo Brown
Great for ages 3 - 7
You may recognise the author's name and this is because he is one of the stars of Queer Eye (you may be able to spot his co-stars in one or two of the illustrations too!) He wrote this book with his son to celebrate ourselves exactly the way we are. As well as a book about self-love, it also talks about how quickly children grow up. (This is the bit where I found it hardest not to cry!)
The characters in the background are all diverse as well so it is fantastically representative of all types of people.
Questions you could ask:
Can you see anyone in the book who is most similar to you? Why have you picked them?
Do you think everyone is perfectly designed? Why?
Best for Explaining Black Struggles
Rosa Parks by Lisbeth Kaiser
Best for age 3 - 7
When most adults think about prominent figures in the struggle for racial equality, most of us probably think of Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat for a white person on the bus. This book is part of a series called Little People, Big Dreams. (They are brilliant books and cover all sorts of people of every race, as well as historical and modern figures, like Anne Frank, Harriet Tubman, Nelson Mandela, Mindy Kaling, etc.)
This book covers slavery (briefly) and specifically talks about the poor treatment of Black people throughout history. The book is full of colourful illustrations, making it easier for younger children to follow the story. It is an inspirational story and there are hundreds of possible discussions that you could have after reading this. This book deals more directly with Black History and why it is important.
Questions you could ask:
Do you think she was right to refuse to give up her seat? Why?
Look at how the other characters in the pictures are looking at her. How do you think this felt? (This question is great for teaching children how to communicate emotions, which can lead to them feeling less frustrated themselves.)
Best for Football Fans
The Breakfast Club Adventures series by Marcus Rashford
Great for ages 8 and over
This is a series written by Marcus Rashford alongside author Alex Falase-Koya (who wrote Marv and the Mega Robot). There are currently three books in the series aimed at slightly older children. These books are particularly great for children who love football but might be reluctant readers as the main character is called Marcus and is loosely based on Marcus Rashford himself. The books themselves are about Marcus and his three breakfast club friends solving a mystery: a genre I personally loved as a child! This one in particular has the foursome trying to solve a curse on the school basketball team.
You may remember during lockdown when Marcus Rashford campaigned to try and end child food poverty and began working with FareShare to raise money to feed children over lockdown. Coming from an impoverished family himself, Marcus said that they often didn't even have a loaf of bread in the house.
The books are set in breakfast club because Marcus and his family relied on this and free school meals to survive. He has also talked about the friendships he made there and true spirit of breakfast club being very important to him. He also backed a cross-party parliamentary bill to fund free breakfast provision in schools. Wow - what a man!
Whilst the books don't necessarily cover specific Black issues they do serve as an example of how inspirational a person can be no matter what their background.
Questions you could ask:
Why do you think a footballer wanted to write a book for children?
What do you know about Marcus Rashford's life before he was a footballer? Do you think any other famous people had a similar childhood?
Best for Older Children
King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender
Great for ages 12 and over
This book covers some heavy issues: death, race, grief and LGBTQ+ issues so it's not suitable for younger children. The main character, King, doesn't believe his brother has really died and instead believes he has turned into a dragonfly. Before his brother died he told King to stop speaking to his best friend, Sandy, because Sandy is gay and his brother was worried that everyone would think King was gay too. A further complication is that Sandy's family are racist. Sandy then goes missing and King questions himself and the reality of his brother's death.
It is a multi-award winning book which portrays its characters as real, flawed human beings. This is great for discussion with children around how we can adapt and evolve as people and how it is important to be true to who we are. Be warned though, it is an emotional story!
Questions you could ask:
Which character do you think changed their view the most over the course of the story? Why?
Do you think King made the right decision in the end? Why?
What if My Child Asks a Difficult Question?
This can sometimes catch us off-guard and we want to give the correct response, especially when it is about such important issues.
Ask them what they think the answer might be or what their opinion is. You may then find that you can guide them through their thought process which is an important skill for children to learn.
Answer the question at the level the questioner is asking it. If you are speaking to an older child or teenager then you can go into more depth however if your child is a toddler or very young you can give them a more basic answer. For example, "Why did people have slaves?" You could answer, "Because people believed it was ok back then but we know better now."
If you really aren't sure what to say in the moment ask them for time to answer properly. Tell them that you want to make sure you are giving them a good answer so you need a little bit of time to find out. Arrange a time to speak about it again when you know that it won't be rushed and, in the meantime, look for some advice or have a think about it. This is important to show children that it is ok for them to do the same as well if they aren't sure of something right away.
The most important thing is that children know it is safe for them to ask you anything even if you don't have the answer right away, and sometimes that you don't know the answer at all. These big issues are best discussed at home (or school) where children feel safe and can work out their own views of the world that they live in.