Books are multi-purposeful in a school setting, as well as in life. For both children and adults, books can entertain, they can be used to foster a love of reading, or even to study. One purpose they serve, that may be above all else, is to inform and affirm. This is why exposure to multi-cultural and anti-racist literature is vital in the classroom. Anti-racist and diverse books are informative, while simultaneously affirming the multiple aspects of students’ identities and exposing them to the values and viewpoints of others.
Tami Lake, dean of upper elementary at Knapp Charter Academy, follows an organization on social media called the conscious kid who did a giveaway to the first 1,000 educators who applied to receive two shipments of books that support important conversations about race, racism, and resilience.
The conscious kid is an education, research, and policy organization dedicated to equity and promoting healthy racial identity development in youth. They support organizations, families, and educators in taking action to disrupt racism in young children. The giveaway was the launch of their Anti-Racist Children’s Book Education Fund.
“Though over 50% of students in public school are students of color, curriculum remains Eurocentric and often lacks equitable and diverse representation of Black and Brown experiences,” said The Conscious Kid. “Moreover, white students are not given models for how to disrupt racial inequity and demonstrate solidarity with Black and Brown communities.”
Within eight hours of launching, over 3,000 educators across all 50 states applied to receive anti-racist children’s books for their schools.
“Representation matters,” said Lake. “The more students of all colors can see that television shows, movies, advertisements, and literature are reflecting diversity and telling stories of inclusivity, the more they will see this as the norm. It is critical that students are regularly seeing positive images and narratives of characters from a wide variety of races and backgrounds.”
The books that Lake received affirm students from Black and Brown communities, while also empowering youth from all backgrounds to take action against racism. She received the first shipment of 30 books, many of which are award-winning and best-selling children’s books, and the second shipment should arrive in the near future.
“These books allow students to dream and imagine,” shared Lake. “They allow them to believe that they can be an astronaut like Mae Jemison in ‘Mae Among the Stars’. They help them to see that their curly hair, beaded braids, and the two puffs on top of their head are beautiful like in ‘Hair Love’. They remind them that their name is special and unique and has meaning, even if it's hard for others to pronounce like in ‘Your Name is a Song’. They help them to understand that they are welcome here even if they have come from another country like in ‘Dreamers’.”
Lake is incorporating the books into Knapp classrooms as a way for teachers to continue to ensure representation in the literature they are making available to students. While the books in the first shipment were all picture books, she does not discount them for middle school students as they have important themes, history lessons, and empowering messages.
Teachers can check out the books to read to students or put them in a location where students can borrow when they have free time. “These books serve as a reminder to teachers to be intentional about what literature they are making available to their students, and can help ensure every student at Knapp is able to see him or herself in the books we have on our shelves,” she shared.
The conscious kid explains that there is substantial research showing that empowering representation, paired with content that specifically names and addresses race and racism, produces positive academic and social outcomes for students of all races.
Lake explained how each year more children’s books are published about animals than about Black people. As of 2018, only 10% of children's books featured Black characters. “These statistics should be alarming to us as educators. It is important for all of our students to see themselves in literature through characters who are strong, intelligent, wise, brave, joyful, unique, and being fully themselves,” said Lake.