Get monthly email updates when I add new resources to our Family Action Toolkits
Captivating Kids Stories To Recognize Privilege
[Featured Image Description: Book cover for ‘Lila and the Crow’]
Every day, I see comments from friends, family, and even readers like this:
“I’m waffling between educating my white kids about all the terrible things that happen to children of color and protecting them from the truth. They’re so young. I don’t want them to be traumatized.”
This choice about what to tell our kids and when – is a privilege.
Those of us with daughters, children of color, and children with disabilitiess have no choice but to teach our children about discrimination and violence – so they can survive.
My kid is prone to meltdowns when he’s overwhelmed. Now that he’s in kindergarten, I worry every day he’ll be expelled, arrested, or killed by police.
I worry, because I know how overwhelmed, understaffed schools deal with ‘out of control’ kids. It doesn’t matter if a meltdown harms no one but himself. It doesn’t matter that disabled people are way, way, way, WAY more likely to be victims than aggressors.
They call the cops. They cuff young children, drag them out of school, beat them, and it’s totally acceptable, if kids don’t learn how to conform – to kill them.
Don’t you dare let that tiny voice in your head derail this with a ‘Actually, not all cops.‘
FOCUS. Our babies are in danger.
So I don’t have a choice about whether or not I teach my child about police brutality, and how vital it is that he hold himself together at story-time. I want him to survive more than I want him to live without fear and trauma.
All this fear I live with – and my kid is white as paper. Our school district is within the top 20 best districts in the country and I love our teacher and principal. But all it takes is one bad classroom meltdown.
The only thing that keeps me from losing my goddamn mind is that he has light skin and goes to school in a wealthy community, so maybe, maybe an officer will blink twice before pulling out a taser. I hold tight to this luck, and it makes me sick knowing most don’t have this unearned armor.
You might also like: Ending Police Brutality Family Action Toolkit
Choosing not to discuss hard topics is a privilege.
If your child is in preschool, they are old enough to start learning how they benefit from our kyriarchy so they can dismantle it.
When marginalized communities tell you to be an accomplice, to #DoTheWork, that #SilenceIsViolence, this is what they are talking about.
Let’s roll up our sleeves. Let’s get our children uncomfortable. Let’s start those difficult conversations.
Choose a story start talking. You don’t have to have all the answers. This doesn’t have to be traumatizing.
You do have to having tough conversations with your kids.
Remaining silent is an act of supremacy
The following stories help children understand what it feels like to face bias and discrimination in daily life.
These are not books that normalize diversity. Normalizing minority protagonists is super important – but reading ONLY feel-good books in an unrealistic bubble of acceptance contributes to a color-blind fallacy that helps the privileged pretend discrimination is over. (Re: “We have a black president now! Racism is over!“)
Racism isn’t over. Slapping a #BlackLivesMatter sign in your front yard is not the end of your career fighting for equality.
Do the work – every week, read one book
Even the busiest of us can manage that. Let’s get on with it.
Raising Luminaries & Books For Littles (BFL) is free and accessible for readers who can’t afford a paywall. Posts may contain affiliate links, which allow me to earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Check out the full affiliate disclosure along with the BFL statement of accountability. If you’re pairing this advice with a trip to the library (please do!), you can also support BFL on Patreon.
Captioned age ranges are for when my sons got ‘the gist’ of the story with discussion & alternative readings – most contain text for much older ages.
Understand your economic privilege
This one is easy. I think we can all agree that poverty is bad. No child will be traumatized by the idea of not having a bike or donating a dinner to a family. So if you’re new to this, let’s start here.
[Image Descriptions: Book covers for: A Bike Like Sergio’s (caveat below*), Maddi’s Fridge, & A Shelter In Our Car]
*Caveat on A Bike Like Sergio’s Beverly Slapin from De Colores gives us valuable insight on the problematic racial coding in A Bike Like Sergio’s as ambiguously Latinx. I’m including it here because this story does validate the conundrum of selfishness, honesty, and integrity many of us wrestle with, and it was an accurate reflection of my own experience. Find an in-depth analysis and explanation of how to handle topics like this in our accomplice community’s guide for parents & educators: Smashing Wealth Inequality .
You might also like: Galvanizing Kids Books About Poverty That Inspire Kids To Give Back
Understand your masculine privilege
For every girl who’s been told she’s too small, too weak, to flighty, and too delicate – there’s a ‘I was just joking, jeez’ bro interrupting her every move. Make sure your boys don’t grow up to be those bros.
[Image Descriptions: Book covers for: ‘Little Melba And Her Big Trombone,’ ‘Teeny Tiny Toady,’ & ‘For The Right To Learn‘]
You might also like: How To Get White Boys To Listen To Women Of Color
Understand your white privilege
[Image Descriptions: Book covers for: A Place Where Sunflowers Grow, Lila And The Crow & Something Happened In Our Town]
Note for (wealthy, white) critics of ‘Lila and the Crow,’ claiming all kids have adults they can turn to in a bullying situation, and how unrealistic this story is.
Lila is a modern-day example of classroom bigotry, and the racism might seem unrealistically blatant. Buuut it’s completely accurate, and when girls of color go to authority about situations like this, we get ignored.
It’s not okay that Lila’s bullies were never held accountable, and she shouldn’t have had to adjust to withstand their attacks on her own. BUT THIS IS NOT A FAIRY-TALE, this is a story about the experience of girls of color, and how they might empowerment and pride despite haters. This was my exact experience facing a 6yo motherland-hailing nazi bullies in elementary school and it validates the experience of girls of color who don’t have adults to step in and fix things.
You might also like: Stop Lying To Your Kids About White Supremacy
Understand your non-disabled privilege
Beyond the disability inspiration porn of courageous wheelchair users, insightful blind besties and powerful Deaf protagonists (love them, but they’re common and you can find those anywhere), and barfy books that center on non-disabled* friends and seeing-eye dogs instead of actually disabled people, these stories portray an inclusive model for invisible disabilities that are only challenging in the context of our culture.
Also yes, I see how white these are. I’m still searching for a book that centers a disabled protagonist of color.
*Edited to add: You can catch my explanation in the comments as to why, as a disabled woman, I use shameless identity-first language.
[Image Descriptions: Book covers for: A Boy And A Jaguar, Jacob’s Eye Patch & Why Johnny Doesn’t Flap]
You might also like: Empowering Kids Books About Disability
Understand your cisgender privilege
Your child will have (or be!) a trans friend, classmate, co-worker, or spouse one day. Get in front of the bigotry other kids and daycare providers are filling them with before they say something hurtful to a non-binary, trans, or gender-fluid kid. ASAP.
[Image Descriptions: Book covers for: ‘Morris Micklewhite And The Tangerine Dress,’ ‘Red, A Crayon’s Story,’ & ‘Introducing Teddy‘]
You might also like: Teaching Kids About The Gender Spectrum
Understand your heteronormative privilege
I’m grateful for all the books coming out featuring gay parents. But also I’m getting kind of sick of seeing only gay adults – as if kids are heterosexual by default and flip over somewhere in their mid-20’s. Read more books featuring gay young people (or bunnies)!
Maiden & Princess, Jerome By Heart, A Day In The Life Of Marlon Bundo
You might also like: Books about Sexuality, Masturbation & Healthy Boundaries
Understand your body size privilege
Little people are people. Fat people are people. Average people are people. (And I know dinosaurs are not people, but the story of accommodating size rather than contorting is worth it). All people (and dinosaurs) deserve to feel comfortable and welcome on earth.
If you’re feelin’ kinda huffy and want to email me to say it’s DANGEROUS to read books with fat protagonists without pointing out how they should diet/die/wallow in pity – NOPE. SHUT MOUTH. LEAVE IMMEDIATELY.
Fat people are people – worthy, lovely, and deserving of happiness and respect exactly the way they are. Full stop.
[Image Descriptions: Book covers for: ‘Brontorina,’ ‘Abigail And The Whale,’ & ‘Not So Tall For Six‘]
You might also like: Adipositive Stories Championing Fat Liberation
Understand your freedom from religious persecution privilege
[Image Descriptions: Book covers for: ‘The Garden of Peace,’ ‘I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark,’ & ‘Lailah’s Lunchbox‘]
You might also like: The Sikh Identity – One Mother’s Quest To Fight Erasure & Bigotry With Books
Understand your colonist privilege
[Image Descriptions: Book covers for: When I Was Eight, My Wounded Island, The People Shall Continue]
You might also like: Decolonizing Thanksgiving Is An Oxymoron – Dismantling The Myth Of The First Thanksgiving
Understand safe citizenship privilege
[Image Descriptions: Book covers for: The Journey, ‘Lost And Found Cat & From Far Away]
You might also like: Endurance, Tenacity, and Wits – Why Irish Americans Must Advocate For Refugees & Black Lives
Understand your documented citizenship privilege
[Image descriptions: Book covers for: Hannah Is My Name, Carmela Full Of Wishes, La Frontera]
You might also like: Immigrants Belong Here – Books To Help Kids Advocate For Human Rights
Understand your language & cultural fluency privilege
[Image Descriptions: Book covers for: ‘A Piece of Home,’ ‘Dear Baobab,’ & ‘The Name Jar‘]
You might also like: Stereotype-Free Kids Stories Celebrating The Lunar New Year
Stay Curious, Stand Brave & Read One Book
We can do this. SO EASY, right? Go to the library. It costs nothing to fight hate.
Meanwhile, advocate for increased public education funding – and as a temporary band-aid: join me in supporting local under-funded schools to support educators in building school libraries and providing materials for under-privileged students through Donors Choose.
Regarding whether or not to post the holiday list, you should totally do it. People want resources you can make it an extra posting and keep posting the great discussions you’ve been giving is. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. Thanks for what you do. 🙂
I wish I had the time! Until I can afford a babysitter, group posts and one long-form blog post each month are the only things I can manage while the kids are in school/bed 🙂
Thank you for commenting to bump the page up, you are the best <3
Thank you so much for this resource. I am attaching a link to this page on my website and giving you credit because I literally could not have said it better myself and am creating a web based resource that corresponds to a large art installation outside of a children’s museum and I’d like to provide further reading on the topic of privilege to pair with the work.
Thank you and I look forward to learning more as I work my way through these books with cousins and kids in my own life!
I hear you! Keep up the great work.
Thank you! I’ve been looking for a book for my nephew for Christmas, I appreciate the categories and age recs!!
I love these suggests and will definitely start incorporating these into our daily reading. Just a note… many people prefer person first language as they don’t like to be defined by their disabilities. It’s kind of a political thing, but your content is so good, I thought you might want to know. For example, “people with disabilities” instead of “disabled people.” Thank you for putting this information out there!
Hi Dana! Thanks for bringing this up – I’m sure other new readers noticed my choice of identity-first language and it gives me an opportunity to clarify why.
If you have a disability, you may have great reasons to choose to identify person-first, and I would respect that. From what I’ve heard, members of the Down Syndrome community prefer person-first language, and I use that language for them to uplift that choice. From members of the Blind & Deaf communities, I hear the opposite. Individuals are free to correct me and ask that I refer to them differently, and I would defer to that because I am not blind, nor deaf.
But I AM autistic, and suggesting that it’s a separate part of me, like ‘having’ cancer, is language formed by a system that denigrates disabled people.
Other than that – almost all the members of the disability community whom I have spoken with, (as well as several polls you can find run by organizations that follow a #nothingaboutuswithoutus priciple of leadership) prefer identity-first language. It’s ALWAYS non-disabled people (particularly non-disabled parents of disabled children who co-opt disabled identities and ironically use terms like ‘Autism Mom’), educators, and ‘disability experts’ who push back on my choice to identify alongside my disability without shame.
I do not ‘have Chinese heritage’ – I am Chinese. I do not ‘have right-handedness,’ etc.
And you may notice, at this point, that all of these are things that are something we are allowed to live with, without shame. Yet for disability, particularly disability that is formed by the context of our environment, we continue on with this ableist language.
These are all things that are an integral part of who I am – identities that determine how I have grown up, formed opinions, and navigated the world.
I AM autistic. I AM disabled. I will not separate that from who I am because it’s not a disease that I need to separate from my identity, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Thanks for bringing this up! I may add an older post from the FB group on this topic at a later date to explain this in more detail, but for now, there are a TON of articles written by #actuallydisabled people (that’s a good hashtag to google) expounding on this.
I’m learning so much from you! Thank you.
You’re welcome! <3
I’ve been looking for just this kind of list for my kiddos. Thank you!
Not sure if you’re looking for suggestions to add to the list or not but, if so, might I suggest two for your ‘Understand your colonist privilege’ list? Nicola I. Cambell’s ‘Shi-shi etko’ and ‘Shin-chi’s Canoe’ are two of my favourite books in our collection. They are beautifully written and illustrated and give a realistic yet not nightmare-inducing introduction to Canadian residential schools. And, importantly, they focus a lot on the culture (in a positive light) that residential schools wreaked such havoc on. They’ve sparked many insightful conversations with my 4-yr-old.
‘Shi-shi-etko’ is gorgeous! I’ll have to check out ‘Shin-Chi’s Canoe,’ thanks for the suggestion.
Since this is a 101 guide, I had to keep it down to just 3 books per category, but I’ll be creating more expanded posts in the future. Join the email list and I’ll let you know when new posts are added!
My goodness, how can we expect three and four year olds to take such responsibilities at such a tender age. Children learn by example. Discrimination and misogyny is transmitted by adults to young children. It’s the responsibility of the adults around them to set the right behavioral examples. To burden such tender minds with the sins of so many generations before them is unfair. No wonder so many teens have trouble coping with their lives and end up committing suicide.
How can we expect three- and four-year-olds to survive in a country where their parents’ partners are murdered during a routine police stop for a broken tail light, at such a tender age? I suppose that’s Diamond Reynolds’ daughter’s problem, not ours.
Children form implicit (unconscious) bias from infancy – even when our parents don’t consider themselves ‘racist.’
Click here for only one of many, many sources, I found that one on google in less than 15 seconds, you do the rest yourself.
Even if our kids aren’t watching biased TV news showing Trayvon Martin, a child victim of gun violence as a ‘hooded thug,’ the bias embedded in our culture is everywhere – from the toy aisles of Wal-Mart to the cartoons and children’s books we read.
Children learn by example – and the examples we set in the world, choosing to clamp our hands over our ears and shut our eyes tight for the sake of those tender (white, male, cis, etc.) young ears is a direct act of ignorance and violence against children who have no choice but to deal with the fallout of denying inequity.
These sins of violence, casual discrimination, and oppression do not just belong to previous generations. The sins belong to my parents’ generation and my parents take responsibility for that. The sins belong to my generation, and I own that responsibility, too. The sins belong to my children’s generation, and you bet your pearls my sons are both eager and competent enough to fight for equality.
The ONLY way to fix inequality is to acknowledge something is broken and step up. Reading books about homeless children and fostering open discussion on how we can avoid judging and actively help families facing this hardship is our responsibility as decent human beings.
Citing child suicide as an excuse for sitting still while our children harm others is irresponsible, derailing, and dismissive. It’s cruel to drag this trauma into the conversation for anyone who has suffered the loss of a child or loved one in the name of a pearl-clutching ‘Oh think of the childrens!’ arguments. I’m not even going to rip that flawed argument to shreds because the incidences of discrimination, dismissal of mental illness, and other societal factors that force a child to resort to suicide are so blatantly at odds with the idea of raising our children to become kinder and more responsible.
Thank you for sharing your insight and experiences. I appreciate your use of the phrase “complex characters of color with agency.” I feel highlighting “complex” is particularly important with children and it opens the door for many more talks around identity. I also found your response to Dana very thought provoking. It would be interesting to hear what you think about introducing characters in books that are complex with agency while simultaneously talking about them with identity first language.
I recently wrote a blog about experiences with my six year old daughter. It is based on the first of many conversation we have had about the complexity of identities. Feel free to take a look at it. https://prekteachandplay.com/want-build-wall-listen-speak/
Hi Andrew! I took a moment to check out your article and it looks like a spectacular resource!
I’m actually working in a comprehensive book list on normalizing and empowering disabled characters, and the most powerful ones that argue for inclusion and feature complex characters tend to use identity-first language. This makes sense since the authors are more likely to write books about inclusion and social justice are familiar with social models of disability and the disability rights movement.
So far as I can tell, re-claiming identity-first language without shame applies to race, gender, and sexual orientation in both children’s and adults books as well, with a few exceptions. The Down syndrome community, for example, seems to have a majority who prefer person-first language, and while I’m not exactly sure why yet, it’s my job as an accomplice to respect that and refer to them the way they suggest, so I do.
Thank you so much for this list. I’m wondering if you have a list of books compiled for older children 12 and up?
I wish I could – but since my kids are still little, I have no way of screening books for older kids :/ BUT – we do have a ton of readers who have found the short length of picture books to be perfect for starting discussions together as a family over dinner with teens. Hopefully something here can spark something for you guys!
I just found your site while looking for books about upstanders, and I am so, so, so grateful to you for the work. I have been reading many of these books with my 4 year old son – raising a child to become a white man in this society is…wow, so important for me to get it right, and so easy to get it wrong. But I am trying. I have just followed your RSS feed and will be getting all of these books from the library in coming weeks!
Wow – thank you, Maura! It’s awesome to hear what you’re doing and you sound like an awesome parent <3
Love your work! I manage an online toolkit for human rights education in the province where I live. I will be including this list in our “reading lists for kids” section. Thanks for all you do!
This is awesome! I am so excited to hear about the work you’re doing – keep up the great work!
Thanks for this list. I’m starting a podcast to recommend kids books and help caregivers use books to promote language development in kids. This website is turning into a fabulous resource for new books to read and review – I can’t wait to get my hands on some of these.
Thank you also for introducing me to the terms “local born citizenship” and “cultural fluency” privilege. We travel around a lot and rebuilding our home in foreign countries can at times come with the realization that we don’t have the same rights and access purely because we aren’t originally from here. It continually causes me to check my other privileges and re-evaluate our priorities because even though its a problem for us I have to remember that it was our privileg that allowed us to get here in the first place. But I didn’t know there were terms for it – going to read up on them now!
That sounds awesome! Glad to help – and if BFL is helpful in building your podcast, I’d love it if you tell your listeners about us!
Thanks so much for the important work you’re doing. Your lists are making me a better mom, and making my three young white boys into better human beings. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your efforts. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
<3 <3 <3
Thank you so much for this post. I’ve shared it with my followers on one of my FB pages. I would LOVE to see a printable version of these lists if possible
We happen to have that! There’s a printable single-sheet file available for BFL Patreon supporters – it’s available right here:
This list is FANTASTIC, thank you thank you thank you!!
Hi there, Thanks for this great list! One piece of feedback – the section about “hetero-normative privilege” is actually about “cisgender priviledge.” Heteronormative means assuming all people are or should be heterosexual, not gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer. Cisgender means someone feels comfortable with the sex they were assigned at birth, as opposed to being transgender – feeling like what they were assigned at birth doesn’t fit. Another great book that centers a trans kid of color is “When Aiden Became a Brother.” There are also lots of great books about hetero-normative privilege – “This Day in June,” “Worm Loves Worm” “And Tango Makes Three,” and “Antonio’s Card.”
Good catch – fixed! Thank you Molly!
This list is great! I wish I could find one for 11-13 year olds who are past picture books!
What kid or person for that matter is ever “past picture books”? I taught grade 8 students for several years and they loved that I ‘made’ them read a variety of picture books all through the years…. if you have them in your home… you WILL catch them reading them! In my opinion no one is ever “past picture books”!