Are you old enough to remember the 1960’s rallying cry of “Black is Beautiful”?  A recent conversation with a young Black mom lets me know it is time to bring it back.  This mom is looking for uplifting reading material for her 8 year old daughter, whose class has been discussing George Floyd’s death and how poorly Black Americans are being treated for the past week.  While the mom appreciates the importance of these discussions, she worries that this laser focus on injustice has the potential to permanently dampen her daughter’s spirits and reduce her motivation to excel.

As we must have these heartbreaking talks with our children about police encounters and our country’s deep racist roots, we must also be sure to talk to them about how Black people helped this country grow and develop, not just through our manual labor, but also by our inventions, creations, and by the many intellectual and cultural contributions we have made over the centuries we have been here.  We must let them know that Black is beautiful, and it is smart and joyful and…normal.  Not superhuman, just wonderfully human.

The mom asked if I could recommend books that focused on black excellence to give her an alternative to the steady diet of Black oppression her little one has had over the past few weeks.  While there are books in the list below for young readers that highlight our high achievers,  others tell stories about fun, interesting people who happen to be Black, and that’s beautiful.

 Please Baby Please –Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee.  This is the story of a delightfully mischievous little one in the bath tub.  Tonya talks bout writing this book in the upcoming Ground Control Parenting Podcast (launching June 17th!).  She explains: “I just wanted to create something that showed [a two year old] just living a day just like any other kid. And not just for the black and brown kids, but for all kids to know that black and brown kids live regularly just like everybody else.”

Penguin Book’s Who Was?, What Was?, Where Is?, and What Is the Story Of? books tell the  stories of legends, innovators, interesting places, and important events.  There are over 250 titles in this series, and it includes many famous African Americans.  Click on the “For Educators” link in their website for interesting lesson plans to try with your kids.

Miami Gets it StraightPatricia McKissack and Fredrick McKissack.  The McKissacks decided to write this series of books about Miami Jackson, a fun loving third going-on-fourth grader, in part because they were tired of all the books depicting the life of Black people as downtrodden and stressful.  Says Patricia, “I got tired of African American children showing up in literature a day late and a dollar short.”

Schomburg: The Man Who Built A Library: Carole Boston Weatherford.  This is the fascinating story of Arturo Schomburg, an Afro-Puerto Rican who was passionate about collecting Black culture in books, letters, art and music, and how his collection ultimately became the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem.