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“Mommy, that’s brown Isabelle’s Dad. See, he’s brown just like her,” my son proudly announced on the way into preschool. I smiled sheepishly at “brown Isabelle’s Dad” hoping he hadn’t heard my son and that he wouldn’t notice my pale pink cheeks turning bright red.
Have you ever been in a similar situation?
If not, let me assure you, your day will come. Your preschooler notices race-and by that I mean skin color and outward appearances. He or she looks to you as a guide to understand these differences. Your actions and reactions become their manual. Instead of leaving your child’s conclusions about race to chance, take the time to explain race to your child through intentional, honest conversations.
How to Use Books About Race For Preschoolers as a Tool
Granted, it can be hard to have deep, meaningful conversations in the midst of rushed daycare drop offs. If in the moment isn’t your style, add some of these great books about race for preschoolers to your daily routine so that you can start these conversations naturally in a comfortable space for both of you.
Most of these books are focused more on the beauty of diversity and differing skin colors. Granted, that does not even begin to scratch the surface of race and racism, there is so much more than just finding beauty within our differences but it is a great start for kids and a way to build a foundation of acceptance and empathy.
Just in case the conversation doesn’t flow quite as freely as you’d like, below the description of each book are preschool friendly discussion questions.
However, you don’t need to treat this like a school lesson.
Just pick up one of these books to read before bed and naturally ask and answer questions while you read. If that isn’t something you normally do, check out this video that shows active reading with kids in action.
Studies show that children benefit more from reading if it’s interactive. Don’t be afraid to stray from the words on the page a bit and turn story time into a conversation.
Meaningful conversations are what will take these books from just stories on a page to transformational moments that form foundational beliefs about race, diversity, and acceptance.
The Best Books About Race for Preschoolers
Books about Race for Younger Preschoolers
This first section of books is dedicated to toddlers and younger preschoolers who have shorter attention spans and need a story time of ten minutes or less. If your child looses interest at any point, don’t force it. Follow your child’s lead and see where it takes you. You can always try to reread the story again another day.
The Colors of Us by Karen Katz
We’ve loved Karen Katz since the day Donde esta el ombliguito? (the Spanish version of Where is Baby’s Belly Button?) came into our home. However, The Colors of Us took my appreciation for her creativity to a whole new level. This book steps away from the harsh racial confines of black and white. Instead, each person’s skin color gets its own beautiful, unique label like cinnamon, chocolate brown, and honey. This would be a wonderful book to pair with the paint chip activity described in our free “Talking to Kids About Race” Ebook.
- What color best describes your skin?
- Do you like your color?
- Have you ever noticed that each person has a different skin color?
- How does it make you feel to know that we all have our own special color of skin?
The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler
This may be one of my favorite books about race for preschoolers. The book begins by showing the value and purpose of our skin. Then, we dive into a colorful description of the beauty and diversity of skin color. However, the author doesn’t stop there- he goes on to describe how skin doesn’t make us good or bad or define who we are- such a vital truth for kids, and adults.
The last page pretty much sums up what I’d like my child, and all people, to believe and understand about skin color, “And like flowers in the fields that make wonderful views, when we stand side-by-side in our wonderful hues…we all make a beauty, so wonderfully true. We are special and different and just the same too.”
- Do you know why you have skin?
- What would we look like if we didn’t have skin?
- Can you think of something that makes you special?
- What do you imagine or dream?
- What does it mean when the author says “you are more than you seem”?
- How can we be different but the same?
Happy in Our Skin by Fran Manushkin
This book is similar to The Skin You Live In. It begins at birth and shows how we are all born with skin, all the different shades of skin, and how it helps us throughout our lives. I love that the illustrations also show people of differing abilities and cultures as well, which could spark additional conversations (Why do you think that woman has her head covered? Why is that girl sitting in a wheelchair? Have you ever seen a wheelchair? etc.)
- Do you know what a birthday suit is? Freckles? Dimples? Birthmarks? Goose pimples?
- Did you know you’ve had your skin since you were born?
- Why is our skin important?
- What makes you happy about your skin?
Why am I me? by Paige Britt, Sean Qualls, Selina Alko
This book doesn’t talk specifically about race but sparks conversation about what life would be like if you were someone else. This could easily feed into a plethora of different conversations: race, poverty, culture, injustice, family structures, etc. Translation, it’s a good book to have on your shelf for those moments when you want to encourage your child to think beyond him or her self.
- Have you ever wondered what your life would be like if you were someone else?
- What do you think it would be like if you:
- Were born in a different country?
- Born with a different color of skin?
- Born with a physical or mental disability?
- What is special about you?
We’re Different, We’re the Same- Sesame Street
This is another quality book about race for preschoolers. Instead of focusing solely on differences in skin tones, this book highlights differences in hair, noses, eyes, mouths, etc. The language of the book is simple and repetitive. Kids love finding the facial features that match their own and seeing their favorite Sesame Street characters.
- Which (nose, eyes, hair, mouth, etc.) looks like yours?
- Which one looks like your (mom, dad, sister, brother, etc.)?
- Have you ever noticed that we all look different from each other? Why do you think that is?
- How are we all the same?
Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match by Monica Brown
This book literally made me laugh out loud, while simultaneously bringing tears to my eyes. Maybe because I’d just had a conversation with a friend about how she’d wished her (biracial) parents “matched” growing up, Or maybe because my son used to tell me that he and I were a team (because of our lighter skin) and papi wasn’t on our team. I guess I saw a little bit of myself and my family in Marisol’s story. It’s a good thing I’ve never been good at matching anyway ;).
Marisol is a Peruvian-Scottish-American with red hair and brown skin. She does everything to the beat of her own drum and never matches in any way. One day she tries to force herself to match and is wildly unhappy until her teacher reminds her that she is perfect just the way she is. If you know a biracial family, they need this book. Deep down, we know not matching is a beautiful thing but sometimes it’s nice to hear someone else say it.
- Why do they say Marisol doesn’t match?
- Why do you think she looks sad while she is trying to match?
- What made Marisol so happy that she skipped home from school?
- Do you think it is better to be yourself or to match?
Let’s Talk About Race by Julius Lester
This is a must-have book about race for preschoolers and beyond. The author focuses on the stories that make us who we are. He gets right to the heart of what race is in a very age-appropriate way and discusses racism in simple, easy to understand language. The author encourages us to look beyond what we see on the outside and learn people’s stories instead. It is a beautiful book and an important message for kids and adults of all ages.
- Do you know what race means?
- Has anyone ever said they were better than you?
- How did that make you feel?
- What is your story? What makes you who you are?
Books About Race for Older Preschoolers
These books are a little bit more robust, perfect for older, more mature preschoolers or even elementary students.
How Our Skin Sparkles by Aditi Singh
This book does a beautiful job of addressing race and skin color while also weaving in Indian culture and tradition. It is a great way to spark conversations about race and culture at the same time. The author was also one of our podcast guests! If you’d like to learn more about her, listen here.
- Do you have classmates or siblings who have a different skin tone than yours?
- What is melanin? What story does it tell us?
- What does your skin do?
You can also use the information in the back of the book to learn more about Indian culture and do a culture exploration together.
Lulu the One and Only by Lynnette Mawhinney
What I love about this book is that it not only addresses the discussion of race and identity, it also gives tools for kids to answer the tough and often despised question, “What are you?”.
- Why are people mean to Lulu?
- Has anyone ever asked you “What are you”?
- What could your power phrase be?
Honeysmoke: A Story of Finding Your Color by Monique Fields
You may have noticed, I am partial to books about mixed race children. This book shows the beautiful journey of young Simone to find her color word and the realization that she is a mixture of her mother and father and that none of us really fit into the categories of black, white or brown. We all have our own unique shade. This would fit perfectly with the paint chip exploration activity in the “Talking to Kids About Race” ebook.
- What is Simone searching for?
- Why do you think she wants a color of her own?
- What is your color?
Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o
Sulwe is the story of a young girl who is teased and left out because of her skin color. She goes on a journey and learns that there is light and beauty in all of us.
- Why did Sulwe want to change her color?
- Have you ever wanted to change your color?
- Where does real beauty come from?
- What happened with day and night?
- What did Sulwe learn?
My Skin, Your Skin. Where do Genes Begin? by Devon and Keonna Scott
I love that this book provides a very age appropriate explanation of genetics. A young boy realizes that his skin tone is vastly different from his sister’s so he asks his parents why. They explain to him that our features come from our family members and we all get a different mixture of genes.
- What are genes?
- Does you skin tone look different from your siblings?
- Who do you get your features from?
I truly hope you enjoy these books about race for preschoolers. If you know of a great book that should be added to this list, please let us know in the comments below. If you are looking for more great ways to spark conversations with your child about race, download our free “Talking to Children About Race” Ebook for some tips and fun activities to pair with these amazing books.