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Let’s Talk About Race in Storytimes by Jessica Anne Bratt

When I created Let’s Talk About Race, it was to see if I could create a blueprint for entry level prejudice reduction conversations with children and their caregivers. My goal was to create a space where we could talk about race, and then from there, using that framework eventually highlight other identities and provide caregivers the proper tools and supportive resources to engage with follow-up conversations or practices with their kids at home.  Simultaneously, it was to engage in affirming that differences are to be respectfully celebrated. 

I created the first version of ‘Let’s Talk About Race in Storytimes’ in the fall of 2016. I started small, letting the storytime audience know that “it was okay to point out race” in a picture book with a child. I featured authors of color and discussed their important contributions to children’s literature. I talked through specific ALA children’s book awards and why they were important in creating and uplifting racial and cultural identities.  To fully immerse yourself in the work of equitable storytimes, I would encourage you to read Let’s Talk About Race in Storytimes.

There’s a lot of great prejudice reduction work happening. Project Ready is a resource that focuses on a variety of curated programs that may spark ideas. AB Kids ( Augusta Baker Kids 2021 session)  is another great resource where you can see Let’s Talk About Race modeled. Led by Dr. Nicole Cooke, AB Kids has done amazing work spearheading a fantastic literacy initiative. Wherever you are on this journey, I would also recommend spending some time on Kirkus familiarizing yourself with three different types of storytime experiences: identification, inclusion, and learning. There’s a lot to learn in making sure you are providing the best type of representation. Do not just pick any book off the shelf to make it a diverse storytime, make sure you do accurate research to mitigate biases and disrupt stereotypes.

We can give caretakers tools to model inclusion and acceptance. Educators need to be a resource in order to help children gain confidence to work, live, and commune alongside people who look different than themselves. As an ode to the time when I was fully immersed in this work, I will present a host of books (some new, some old) that I have enjoyed featuring during a Let’s Talk About Race Storytime session.

Who doesn’t like their baby’s cute little knees? NOMNOMNOM This is a classic prejudice reduction introduction that can be featured in a baby storytime showing caregivers that it is okay to point out the skin tone difference of brown knees and including an affirmation around how wonderful it is that our bodies produce melanin which gives us different knee skin shades ( or you can enter complete science mode and say skin pigmentation). 

Little learners receive an introduction around black not just as a color, but a culture. The gem of this book for educators is the back matter. It holds pages explaining the evolving black ethnonyms. Explaining ethnonyms in an accessible way to kids (and caregivers alike), which are a great way to respectfully showcase honest history in an accessible way by acknowledging that groups were not given a choice of how they were labeled due to unfair laws and practices, but nowadays work has been done to allow groups and individuals to have more of a voice in how they would like to be identified (without fear of retaliation/repercussion). If you need more grounding in understanding what I mean by retaliation/repercussions, learn about racial passing. 

This is a great book to feature a community reader to speak from their own experience. Leaning into tensions around what is appropriate when you meet someone who may look or speak differently than you and how would you appropriately respond? What are the correct questions to ask to learn more about their story? How would you communicate to young fans that sometimes  asking the wrong questions could lead to hurting another person, (i.e. “You don’t sound like…”)

Fans of anti-bias and prejudice reduction will love this uplifting and affirming book around differences. The shine in this book is capturing how to learn respectfully about differences from someone else. The text is very helpful in helping educators create space for celebratory differences. 

Showcase young readers how they need to work at pronouncing names correctly, even if it is hard or uncomfortable.  Names are powerful in shaping our identity and it is important to practice respecting others in learning vowel songs and other linguistic tones that we may not be familiar with. The glossary provides support and highlights how other cultures practice unique ways of naming children. 

I would encourage anyone who is looking to add more to their prejudice reduction work to check out Learning for Justice by the Southern Poverty Law Center. They have a great framework that can be translated to any type of educator practitioner around understanding how communities are affected by violence. 

I love this book as a gateway to an inclusive picture walk. Whether focusing on curly or straight hair or darker / lighter skin—it is a beautiful book about imagination, playful differences, and affirming everything that is wonderful about storytime magic. Ta-Daaaaa! 

Let’s Talk about Race is supposed to be a journey through identities not a destination. If we can talk about race in a holistic and uplifting way then how much further could we be society in talking about other identities that impact and affect us all. Once you are comfortable with prejudice reduction, I would encourage you to seek out ways to incorporate justice. “We are greater than, and greater for, the sum of us.”- Heather McGhee 


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