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I’ve always been a reader: One of my moms’ favorite stories about me was how I would spell out cartoon characters’ names when I was 2 years old.
She would take my younger brother and me to a small library within walking distance of our apartment to borrow books. Those books supplemented the tons I got from my school library.
But in the sea of Dr. Seuss’, Berenstain Bears, Amelia Bedelias, Baby-Sitters’ Clubs, and Sweet Valleys, I can only name a handful of books I read as a kid that had a Black person in it.
And of those books, it’s even harder to name ones that weren’t focused on slavery or the Civil Rights Movements. (Though I loved the American Girls’ Addy books and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, I now realize they made me equate being Black with suffering. Shout out to Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, though!)
Thankfully, kids today have it a lot easier.
Book publishers are starting to step up and produce more Black children’s books, books that make them the star, that show Black kids in everyday and extraordinary circumstances. And children’s authors are having an easier time getting their work in the hands of young Black readers.
While we’re a long way from bookshelf equality, young readers—and the adults who love them—don’t have to look as hard as I did for Black and brown main characters. The following are a list of book publishers and outlets doing the work to make readers of color feel seen.
1. Little Proud Kid
Little Proud Kid was founded by Georgia Lobban, a mom on a mission. Wanting to reflect her daughter’s beauty through books and dolls, she was surprised to find that there were so few options available.
“While sharing my story with a few friends, also with children of multicultural descent, I was overwhelmed with nods of agreement. They too struggle finding images and messages that communicate to their children that they are beautiful exactly the way they are,” George writes. “It became clear in that moment that we need to create a change for our children.”
Enter Little Proud Kid. The company sells culturally relevant books (along with toys and games) for children 3-15+ years old, and covers a truly diverse range of perspectives beyond race and gender to different countries of origin and physical abilities, too.
2. Denene Millner Books
“I think there’s nothing more beautiful than brown children who are happy, living out loud, and enjoying childhood,” mater mea mom Denene Millner told us when we interviewed her in 2015.
And since then, the author and MyBrownBaby founder has found a way to both encourage that happiness and represent it through her children’s book imprint at Agate Bolden. Denene Millner Books “is a love letter to children of color who deserve to see their beauty and humanity in the most remarkable form of entertainment on the planet: books.”
The books bring a sweet and relatable take on the everyday, from having an invisible friend like in There’s a Dragon in My Closet to performing in the choir in Early Sunday Morning to getting a haircut in Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut, which just may have won every possible award and recognition available in children’s books.
3. Just Us Books
Necessity remains the mother of invention—and the need “for children’s books that reflected the diversity of Black history, heritage and experiences” led parents Wade and Cheryl Hudson to launch Just Us Books 30 years ago.
The publishing company has received accolades over the years from grown ups and children alike for their wide array of children’s and young adult books. Just Us also has two imprints: Marimba Books, which publishes titles that reflect America’s diversity, and Sankofa Books, which brings back out-of-print books for today’s audiences.
4. The Brown Bookshelf
The Brown Bookshelf has made it their mission to shine a spotlight on the many Black authors and illustrators creating books for African-American children. You can follow their blog to learn about just released books or celebrate old-school pioneers in children’s literature.
5. Plum Street Press
If you’ve tried to find books starring a Black boy, chances are, you’ve probably already heard of the Jaden Toussaint, The Greatest. Plum Street Press is the publisher behind the 5-year-old-boy-genius-with-a-fro book series, and more.
“We believe that all children should get to see themselves and their friends represented in the pages of books,” the brand states. “That’s why, whether they are fantasy or realistic fiction, all of our books feature children of color just being kids.”
6. Kujichagulia Press
The name says it all. Kujichagulia Press (kujichagulia means “self-determination”) offers Black children and families educational materials steeped in an Afrocentric worldview. You can teach your children how to tell time or write in cursive with the help of their coloring/workbooks.
7. Lee and Low Books
Lee and Low Books is known in book publishing for publishing diverse titles for kids of all ages, and its Tu Books imprint focuses on that hard-to-please reader spot of middle school and young adult readers.
Both imprints have titles that will capture the attentions and imaginations of Black, Latinx, and Asian readers—and the gratitude of their parents.
8. Eoto Books
Much like Black history exists outside of February, it also doesn’t begin with American slavery. Short for “Each One…Teach One,” Eoto Books is a boutique publisher that carries books focused on mining African-Americans rich history for stories and lessons.
“A major objective of this series is to illustrate valuable, but lesser-known information about the African-American ancestors that is far too often not taught, left out, or just plain forgotten about.”
9. Mahogany Books
The rise in Black children’s books seems focused on the younger readers out there, but there are quite a few options out there for your high schoolers. Online bookstore Mahogany Books has a number of young adult fiction across genres to choose from, as well as nonfiction books that cover African-American history, race, and politics for your future scholar. (The store just opened its first location in Washington, D.C. if you live in the area or are in town for a visit!)
10. Tonya Duncan Ellis
Sophie Washington is the character I wished for when I was in elementary and middle school.
Fierce, smart, funny, kind, and relatable, she’s the type of friend young girls wish to be or to have. The best-selling book series is written by author Tonya Duncan Ellis, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight, meaning your readers can follow along with Sophie and her friends’ adventures for many pages to come.
You can also purchase Sophie Washington on Amazon.
11. Make A Way Media
Books can teach kids hard facts like geography and history, and soft, yet-no-less-important, skills like empathy and kindness.
Make A Way Media is definitely meant to teach the latter. Its books focus on spreading positivity and instilling gratitude with each turn of the page.
12. Tangled Press
Tangled Press’ founding story is one that many a parent can relate to: Hearing their beautiful, brown baby tell them they wish they were white and had blonde, straight hair. (Or in the case of founding author Yolanda’s daughter, a desire for “pink skin.”)
Yolanda created the characters Curlilocks and Story Bird Dance—heroines with brown skin and big curly hair—for her daughter, and other readers who need the reminder that the skin they’re in is beautiful and special.
13. We Read Too
“Growing up, I saw an immense lack of representation in literature for kids of color,” developer Kaya Thomas explains. “I wanted there to be a better way for educators, guardians, librarians and community members to expose youth of color to books that have characters who look like them. I also wanted to highlight and celebrate Black, Latinx, Native and Asian authors who often aren’t in the spotlight.”
The We Read Too app, created by developer Kaya Thomas, brings a number of diverse authors and titles right in the palm of your hand. You can discover hundreds of books written by or featuring people of color.
This one is more of a heads up entry: Penguin Young Readers has launched Kokila, “a new imprint which will be dedicated to centering stories from the margins with books that add nuance and depth to the way children and young adults see the world and their place in it.”
The women behind the new imprint are devoted to diversity and answering the call for diverse voices and stories in publishing—and they may be responsible for your kids’ new favorite book. (I’m already excited for one of their first acquisitions, Twelve Dinging Doorbells, a holiday-centered picture book authored and illustrated by Tameka Fryer Brown and Ebony Glenn respectively.)
15. The English Schoolhouse
Starting out as a language school in Rome, The English Schoolhouse has evolved into a boutique publishing house featuring a variety of Black children’s books, from fantastical tales of myths and legends to bedtime stories.
The English Schoolhouse helps young readers learn more about the world around them and grasp more abstract ideas in an engaging manner. (Learn more about the publishing house’s founder Tamara Pizzoli here.)
You can also purchase Elijah Everett, Kid Principal on Amazon.
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