When reading with students or developing literacy assignments, teachers should read books with characters of different cultures, races, religions, genders, and other identities. This allows teachers to model respectful questioning and guide classroom discussions and activities that teach students to better understand themselves, each other, and the people in our increasingly diverse society.
It is imperative for educators to select books that reflect the diversity of people and expose students to cultures, perspectives, and experiences other than their own. With this in mind, we have curated a list of books by authors that we highly recommend, with a particular emphasis on the diversity that exists within the Black community.
While this list of culturally responsive books only includes stories focused on the experiences of Black folx, we wanted to show educators that even within identity groups, there is still great variance and diversity.
Culturally Relevant Books
My Rainbow by DeShanna Neal and Trinity Neal, Illustrated by Art Twink (Grades PreK–3)
Trinity and DeShanna Neal wrote My Rainbow based off their own experiences. My Rainbow is a heartwarming story about a Black family and their transgender daughter. When Trinity shares with her mother that she’s a transgender girl, the family is full of love and support for her, and Trinity is able to fully express who she is to her family. Given the prevalence of anti-Blackness and anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments in society, and specifically the violence against Black trans girls and women, it is imperative that our schools are inclusive and affirming of Black trans lives. This positive story opens space for discussion around race, gender, gender expression and stereotypes, and family.
Your Name Is a Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, Illustrated by Luisa Uribe (Grades PreK–3)
This book is a celebration of Black culture and the origins of names. In the story, a young Black girl, Kora-Jalimuso, leaves school upset because her peers and teachers keep mispronouncing her name—a far too common experience for many of our students from non-dominant backgrounds. Not only does this story explore a beautiful bond between an African American and Muslim mother and daughter, but it also creates space for lessons around respect, culture, identity, school, family, and the origins of names.
I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes, Illustrated by Gordon C. James (Grades PreK–5)
Part of the responsibility of a culturally responsive educator is to provide counter-narratives to commonly held negative beliefs around minoritized children. Derrick Barnes’ book is centered on Black boy joy, excellence, and potential. Gordon C. James skillfully illustrated the beauties of Black boyhood. This culturally responsive children’s book is a message to all young kids, especially Black boys, to be who they are with confidence and pride.
Ways to Make Sunshine by Renée Watson, Illustrated by Nina Mata (Grades 3–5)
This is the first book in a new series about the life and family of a young Black girl named Ryan Hart. The book begins with Ryan's family moving to a new home because they could not afford their current one. Ryan is challenged by the move, but she is strong, kind, and creative, and knows how to make sunshine out of hard times. Her family is loving, and her relationship with her brother is relatable. This series will be joyous, and it is a necessary uplifting example of the life of a loving Black girl, her family, and her friendships.
These are two books from the Alston Boys series. The books are unpredictable stories of the joys and adventures of two Black boys named Otto and Sheed. The two cousins have their differences but are able to combine their strengths to travel through time, work through challenges, and complete their quests. The boys are relatable, clever, creative, and caring, and they are wonderful strengths-based and imaginative examples of Black boyhood.
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