Ten books for an AntiRacist baby.

The murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis on May 25th 2020 sent shockwaves across the world. A month later, we are still trying to process how such an atrocity could happen, and why a relatively calm, nonthreatening man was killed by police over a twenty dollar bill. It happened in broad daylight and in front of countless witnesses, with Floyd lying motionless on the ground while desperate bystanders shouted at Chauvin to take his knee off Floyd’s neck. He refused, murdering Floyd by asphyxiating him for nearly nine minutes.

In the same week we heard of Amy Cooper, the white dog walker who, when asked to put her dog on a lead by black bird watcher Christian Cooper, lashed out at him in a verbal attack which culminated in her calling the police to (falsely) report “an Africa-American man threatening her and her dog”. Christian filmed the whole incident on his phone, and for any white person watching, it makes for cringingly uncomfortable viewing, not least because of Amy Cooper’s readiness to wield the most easily accessible weapon in any white person’s armoury; the stereotype of white ‘vulnerability’ at the hands of black ‘aggression’. The world began to rage, it was time for change.

And yet on June 12th, only three weeks later, we learned of yet another fatal killing of a black man at the hands of the police; this time in Atlanta, where Rayshard Brooks was fatally shot by Garrett Rolfe, a white police officer who confronted Brooks when it was reported that he has fallen asleep at the wheel while waiting in line at a drive-through restaurant. It appears that Brooks was running away from the police officers, unarmed, when he was sot and killed.

What has ensued since has not only been an outpouring of grief, but a universal sense that ‘enough is finally enough’. Black Lives Matter, and it’s a tragic reality that yet another brutal and unnecessary death of a black man at the hands of a white police officer has been what it takes to make the world wake up and listen. Institutions are taking action by pulling down statues, changing TV schedules and giving more airtime to black voices, but what can ordinary white people do on an individual level? And more specifically, what can white parents do?

One (small) thing that I am trying to do is educate myself. I have started reading “Me and White Supremacy” by Layla Saad, and am working through the exercises she sets with a group of other white women, lead by journalist Geraldine Brennan. The work is challenging, upsetting and triggering, but isn’t it high time that we were challenged, upset and triggered? Perhaps that’s what it takes to open our eyes to the system of white supremacy that we have and will continue to benefit from on every level from the cosmetics we put on our face to the treatment we receive at the hands of the law.

But what about my baby? What can I do as the mother of a white male living in the UK? He is only 14 months old, but is it ever too early to start paving the way for a child to be an AntiRacist? And by that, I mean to encourage him not only to support and stand up for his black brothers and sisters, but to amplify their voices, advertise their achievements and give credit to their talents? Odhrán loves board books, so once my initial “white paralysis” (or “white silence” as Saad terms it in her book) wore off to some degree, I found myself searching for books that I could buy my son to broaden his experience of stories —and his exposure to the characters telling them.

I have compiled a list of ten (mostly) board books that are suitable for babies and toddlers. By no means exhaustive, they are just a selection tried and tested by The Amateur Parents that you may like to read your little one too:

  1. “AntiRacist Baby” board book by Ibram X. Kendi.

AntiRacist Baby is a board book available in the UK for pre-order. Ours won’t be arriving until July 8th so we’ve not physically read it yet, but we wanted to include it in the list, and indeed in the number 1 slot, because it’s a book that does what it says on the tin. There’s no beating around the bush here, this is for anyone who wants to teach their young ones (and themselves!) about AntiRacism. The pictures are bright, and bold enough to catch your baby’s attention, while the text rhymes, helping your little one to learn through language. The messages are simple yet deep; “…we confess the racist ideas we sometimes express.” Prepare to face up to some home truths, but rest assured, Kendi gives us the solutions too. Buy AntiRacist Baby HERE.

2. “A is for Activist” board book by Innosanto Nagara.

A is for Activist is a board book by children’s author, activist, and graphic designer Innosanto Nagara. Acclaimed for its “progressive message”, the book introduces little ones to a world of activism, environmental justice, civil rights, LGBTQ, equality and race. This board book packs a punch, combining rhyming couplets with hard-hitting messages that deal with topics such as protesting, geurilla advertising, indigenous communities and racial advocacy, all at the level of an alphabet book that also has a hidden cat on every page for children to find! The images are bold, and the colours contrasting enough to provide an engaging read for babies, while the issues covered will make for some interesting discussions as they grow older. Buy A is for Activist HERE.

3. “Peter’s Chair” board book by Ezra Jack Keats.

Peter’s Chair is a lovely story by the same author as the famous book The Snowy Day It’s about a little boy who has to make room for a new arrival; his baby sister. Peter’s Chair is just one of a whole series of books written by Keats which star this determined little hero, and the bright colours, rounded page edges and simple moral-of-the-story make it ideal for reading to babies and beyond. If you’re keen to create a more diverse library for your baby and include more storybooks that star a black protagonist, this delightful series is a good place to start. Buy Peter’s Chair HERE.

4. “Baby Says” board book by John Steptoe.

Another retro classic, Baby Says is a sweet and funny story about a baby who wants to get out of his cot and play with his older brother. With very minimal text, it’s perfect for non-verbal babies and toddlers, and even older children can help tell the story by looking at the pictures and describing what they see. As children of the ’80’s, Rob and I love the illustrations, which take us back to our youth. Again, if you’re keen to include more black characters in your baby’s book collection, then Baby Says is a delightful addition! Buy Baby Says HERE.

5. “My First Maya Angelou (Little People, Big Dreams)” board book by Lisbeth Kaiser.

Little People, Big Dreams is an amazing collection of books for babies and children that feature international icons that have disrupted and shaped the world. Achieving outstanding feats, sharing their talents, making scientific breakthroughs, breaking world records and leading revolutions, what unites them all are their little beginnings as children with dreams. If you’re interested in introducing your little boy or girl to feminism as well as AntiRacism, then My First Maya Angelou, the story of a African-American girl who became a powerful speaker, writer, and civil rights activist, isn’t a bad place to start. Buy Maya Angelou HERE.

6. “My First Ella Fitzgerald (Little People, Big Dreams)” board book by Isabel Sanchez Vegara.

I love these book so much that I bought Odhrán My First Ella Fitzgerald too! Teach your baby how powerhouse Ella went from making a living singing on the streets to becoming the internationally acclaimed First Lady of Song. If your baby loves music (what baby doesn’t?!) then make this story even more immersive by playing some classic Ella in the background. Buy Ella Fitzgerald HERE.

7. “Muhammad Ali (Little People, Big Dreams)” hardback book by Isabel Sanchez Vegara.

For slightly older children who don’t rip pages (!), hardback books from the Little People, Big Dreams series are also available. My son was given “Muhammad Ali” as a birth gift and it follows much the same formula as the Ella and Maya books, only with a bit more text. As you can tell, we’re big fans! Buy Muhammad Ali HERE.

8. Rosa Plays Ball (All About Rosa) board book by Jessica Spanyol.

We just received this book from second hand bookseller World Of Books , and we’re not disappointed. Author Jessica Spanyol has created a whole series of colourful ‘Rosa’ board books which celebrate inclusivity and gender equality in an accessible, fun board book form. Your baby will love reading about adventurous toddler Rosa as she explores the different ways to play ball with her friends Mustafa, Sarah, Samira and Marcel. One of the best things about this book are the colours; bold, bright and eye-catching; perfect for the youngest readers. Buy Rosa Plays Ball HERE.

9. “Please baby, Please” board book by Spike Lee.

What’s not to love about this cute and mischievious baby created by Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Spike Lee and his wife, producer Tonya Lewis Lee? Parents everywhere will relate to the trials and tribulations depicted in this behind-the-scenes peek at toddlerhood at its most disobedient! From not holding your hand to splashing in the bath, little ones will delight in watching their partner-in-crime getting up to mischief, while mums and dads will take solace in the fact that parents all over the world can relate to the lovable chaos that toddlers create. THE.STRUGGLE.IS.REAL! Pre-order Please, baby, Please HERE or at The Book Depository

10. “Happy Hair” board book by Mechal Renee Roe.

From the author of the equally cool hardback book Cool Cuts, comes Happy Hair, a baby-friendly board book which we literally can not wait to get our hands on! We have pre-ordered Happy Hair, as it’s not released in the UK until October 2020. The images and colours are bold, beautiful and perfect for babies and toddlers, and it’s a fantastic way to introduce the beauty of black hair types to your baby or child at a young age. If you can’t wait until October, you can get your hands on the hardback Cool Cuts right now though, if your child is old enough not to tear the pages: Buy Cool Cuts HERE . Pre-order Happy Hair HERE.

So, there you have it. Ten baby’s board books that encourage understanding and awareness of black characters and AntiRacist values. It’s a small step in the right direction, but it’s a start. We can only hope that through reading these picture books, Odhrán will develop an appreciation for a more diverse range of stories, and for the hugely diverse range of people in the world with stories to tell. We hope you find it helps your baby too! Let us know what you think! As Odhrán gets older, we’ll be creating a new post with paperback and hardback books suitable for the older age groups.

Thanks for reading!

Freya, Rob and Odhrán xx

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