At story time before bed, my 5-year-old usually reaches for familiar favorites: “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” “Superman,” “Spider-Man.” Perfectly entertaining fare, but probably not anything that will broaden his worldview. Usually, the closest we get to exploring other cultures or races involves taking a trip with Donatello and Raphael into a sewer.
With this in mind, and feeling a bit sheepish, I reached out to Newton mom Ellie Axe, the executive director at Story Starters and a member of Congregation Dorshei Tzedek. The organization equips families with strategies to raise children to develop anti-racist values and inspires racial justice action in homes and communities. Its eight-week Family Conversations Program is designed for parents who want to start and strengthen conversations about race with their young children (ahem: people like me). Story Starters gives families age-appropriate tools and skills to have meaningful conversations about race and racism, including books.
“As a white, Ashkenazi, Jewish, cis woman, I’ve had the chance to deeply explore my own identities. This started 20 years ago when I was a fellow in the Jewish Organizing Fellowship, the founding program of JOIN for Justice. Through that program and the relationships that followed, I’ve gotten very clear on my personal stake in fighting racism, which guided me to direct Story Starters,” she says.
Axe offered up some of her favorite titles for the youngest set.
“Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match” by Monica Brown
This story is about a mixed-race child who feels hurt when her friends question her choices of clothes and games. A teacher helps her find her connection and persevere to be her beautiful and expressive self, regardless of what others think. This story is helpful in finding points of connection and differences and is wonderful for exploring the ways families are created with a diversity of identities.
“All Are Welcome” by Alexandra Penfold
This story is focused on a school and allows families to focus conversations on all the different members of the school community. The warm, inviting illustrations filled with children will draw in your family and encourage you to name and notice skin color and more.
“Happy in Our Skin” by
This cheerful book shares how important our skin is and the job it does to keep us healthy and safe. Through the pages, there are many different families involved in so many activities that we can connect with. Noticing skin color is easy with the vibrant illustrations.
“May We Have Enough to Share” by Richard Van Camp
There are so many baby faces to look at closely in this photo board book. This is an #OwnVoices book, meaning it’s by indigenous creators featuring indigenous themes. (The photos are all taken by indigenous women photographers, and all the beadwork is done by a native artist using traditional stitch-work.)
This book beautifully smashes stereotypes around what makes a family “real.” As classmates take turns sharing about their families, you’ll see many different types of people for your family to talk about.
Got any other recommendations? Let me know!