Obviously, my deeply nerdy passion for books played a huge role in my decision to become a librarian, but there was more to it than that. I considered for awhile working in publishing and that would have fit nicely with my book love (and also my author worship). There was a bit of serendipity involved in my ultimate career path. After my freshman year of college, I applied for internships with several publishing houses in Boston and one with my hometown library. I never heard from the publishers, but bless her heart, our library director hired me for the summer. That internship led to almost twenty years working at that same library. In the end, librarianship was a much better fit for me than publishing and the reason is a simple one: access.
It turns out that in addition to loving books more than is probably healthy, I passionately want to make books accessible to people, especially to children. There are many wonderful publishers, authors and non-profits (including Barefoot Books) who have started initiatives to get books into the hands of low-income families. They do important work and I love them for it. But, in my admittedly biased opinion, no other institution has more of a societal impact on book accessibility than public libraries. If you want to convince me otherwise, you can give it a go in the comments section, but I warn you, I am a tough sell.
This is not to say that libraries are perfect. Far from it. Like most American institutions, libraries have a shamefully racist legacy. Many public libraries adhered to segregationist policies in the first half of the 1900’s. And today, there is still work to do. Book collections are not diverse enough, behavioral and fine policies are often exclusionary and library staff does not reflect the racial diversity of their communities. In my experience, few libraries have the budget to properly train staff in any area, including anti-bias or anti-racist training. And as we grapple with the role that the police play in our society, libraries need to ask some hard questions about how to handle security in their buildings.
Still, in terms of providing access to anti-racist and diverse literature, libraries are a key player. With many (most?) libraries still physically closed due to the pandemic, book access is a real concern. I fully support purchasing books from independent bookshops, especially black-owned shops. And as blog readers know, I personally purchase lots of books from Better World Books to keep things affordable. But purchasing books is not a privilege everyone can enjoy. I am heartened when I see how many people are seeking out and sharing recommendations for anti-racist books and stories depicting Black and Brown characters. However, sharing diverse books with children should not be limited just to families who can afford to purchase books.
Hoopla is not a 100% solution to the problem of access. Not every library subscribes to Hoopla. For these readers, the library’s Overdrive collection will be a better source, but Overdrive collections vary too widely from library to library to create a useful list. Even if families do have access through their library card to Hoopla or finds a book on Overdrive, any downloadable ebook or audio book requires a device and the internet. We have a lot of work to do in terms of access too. Sigh.
Still since Hoopla is a solution for at least some families, I went through and curated a list of audio books that either featuring Black and Brown children or are written by a Black or Brown author. This list is not comprehensive, nor have I read all of them (if I haven’t read them, they are now on my Hoopla favorite list for future listening). Please be a aware that some of the books do not explicitly mention a character’s race, so it may be a bit ambiguous. But I have done my best to limit these books to ones that depict Black and Brown children.
A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams. This classic picture book about a young girl whose family is saving money to buy a comfortable chair for their apartment once won a Caldecott Honor. This is a favorite of mine for its racially diverse characters, it’s portrayal of a family headed by a single mom and a realistic, child friendly look at life in a working class, urban family. Highly recommend this book. You can buy it here.
Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty. I love Beaty’s Questioneers books. The first one was Rosie Revere, Engineer. Ada Twist, is a Black scientist who tests her family’s patience with her science experiments. But she persists and continues to ask and investigate all her “why” questions. This rhyming picture book is fun, funny and joyous. Perfect for all future scientists and curious kids. Buy the book here.
A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramee. This award winning chapter book features 12 year old Shayla, who does her very best to avoid trouble of any kind. When her older sister becomes involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, Shayla takes part in a protest that makes her question her studious avoidance of all conflict. I am looking forward to listening to this one over the summer. Buy the book here.
Barack Obama by Nikki Grimes. Hoopla features plenty of books about Barack Obama and Michelle Obama for that matter, but I picked this one to feature because it is by the amazing Nikki Grimes. I love everything she writes. Her lyrical poetic style makes her such a treat to read. And she even narrates this story on audio. If you want it in physical form, buy it here.
Chocolate Me by Taye Diggs. The little boy featured in this wonderful book for the youngest read aloud audience is teased for having dark skin and curly hair. His mother helps him see how beautiful he is. Buy it here.
New Kid by Jerry Craft. This book is the winner of the 2020 Coretta Scott King Book Award, which is “given annually to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.” Appealing tweens and teens, the protagonist in this comic book starts school in a racially homogenous community and struggles to fit in. It is also available as a Hoppla ebook. Or you can buy it.
Come On, Rain by Karen Hesse. Tess is tired of the boiling hot summer weather and the dry cracked earth. She tries to coax the rain into giving them some relief. When she succeeds there is a joyful dancing celebration. Buy it here.
Elizabeti’s Doll by Stephanie Stuve. When Elizabeti’s mama has a new baby to care for, this nurturing little girl starts lavishing the same care on her doll. A sweet story that earned Stuve an Ezra Jack Keats Award. Buy it here.
I am Enough and I Believe I Can by Grace Byers. These two releases by Byers feature gorgeous illustrations of Black and Brown children and universal messages of self-acceptance and self-confidence. These titles are getting a good amount of well-deserved attention. Buy Enough here and Believe here.
I Love You More Than… by Taye Diggs. Our family has a tradition, started by my mother, of trying to one up each other by coming up with the most extravagant declaration. “I love you more than books,” “I love you more than pizza,” “I love you more than toys” and so forth. This book reminds me strongly of the way we seek to let our children know that they are unconditionally and grandly. This is a message for children of all races. Buy it.
Journey to Jo’burg by Beverley Naidoo. This book takes place in South Afica during apartheid. I tried to mostly stick with books set in the U.S. for this list, but the message that grotesque racism has been grappled with other places can be valuable for middle grade readers. The children in this story must venture into the city to find their mother at work when their baby sibling is seriously ill. On their journey, they are confronted with the reality of racism in their land. Buy it.
Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel by Nikki Grimes. Here’s another pick by the wonderful Nikki Grimes. Dyamonde Daniel is a third grader with a big personality. In this series debut, Dyamonde is determined to discover why the new kid in her class, Free, is so unfriendly. Buy it.
My Daddy, Dr. Martin Luther King by Martin Luther King III. Biographies, picture books and otherwise, of MLK are not rare but this one is set apart from the rest because it was written by Dr. King’s son. A great introduction to this Civil Rights icon for younger children. Buy it.
My Name is Tani… And I Believe in Miracles by Tani Adewumi. Tani was 8 year old Nigerian refugee when he learned to play chess. Thanks to a very special teacher, he manages to not only adjust to his new school, but become a state chess champion. Buy it.
Something Happened in Our Town by Marianne Celano. This book, which centers on the aftermath of a police shooting has been on a lot of anti-racist lists recently. It can be hard to find for purchase, however, so I am pleased that Hoopla offers it.
A note: in my last post, I did not include affiliate links because it did not feel right to potentially earn income from the reality of racial discrimination in the United States. The main links on this list go to the Hoopla listings. I am, however, including Bookshop.org links for anyone who wants to purchase these books. Any commission I earn from this list will be donated to The Children’s Defense Fund. This decision was inspired by one of my best teachers, Sarah Bessey, who did something similar in her soul inspiring newsletter.