“The question is not whether we can afford to invest in every child; it is whether we can afford not to.”– Marian Wright Edelman
Marian Wright Edelman is a civil and children’s rights activist. She helped establish the Head Start program, has been a fierce advocate for children and families of color, and founded the Children’s Defense Fund in 1973 as an initiative to ensure that every child has what they need to thrive. The Children’s Defense Fund is also home to the CDF Freedom Schools program which provides children with culturally relevant teaching, empowering books, and enriching learning materials.
In so many ways, the work of Marian Wright Edelman inspires our work here. As we’re creating culturally empowering learning products that educate our children and affirm their cultural identities, every learning product, every educational resource we create, is an investment in them.
Reading together is one way we can realize that investment. To raise Black children who are — as our ABC Affirmations remind them — Brilliant and bright with minds full of brilliant ideas.
Many of us are familiar with the “million word gap” — the research that shows young children whose parents read five books a day to them enter Kindergarten having been exposed to about 1.4 million more words than children who were never read to. But–And–we’re just as interested in the QUALITY of those words as the quantity.
What that data leaves out is that all books aren’t created equal — especially for young Black learners who often aren’t represented or reflected in the books and learning materials used to teach them.
As early as 3 – 4 years old, children begin to connect books to their personal experiences, they recognize and have character preferences, and begin to look to books to answer questions about themselves and the world. This is why cultural and identity affirming books are so important. Which perspectives and answers do we want our children to hold and receive? And how do we ensure their books and other learning materials reflect that?
This empowering summer book list aims to do just that. To be a starting point to diversify your bookshelves and provide you with book recommendations that affirm our children’s cultural identities, empower them to know and remember who they are, and help to sow the literacy seeds they need to grow.
BLACK, BEAUTIFUL, & BRILLIANT SUMMER BOOK LIST
- BIG by Vashti Harrison – This book is described as “a child’s journey to self-love”. A sad and beautiful story about a Black girl in a world where being herself, being big, is a problem. Through it, she has hurtful experiences and feels out of place, but ultimately she learns to make space for and love herself exactly as she is. While this is a great story about self-love for the little ones, the adults reading this might learn a thing or two about the way we speak to our (and when I say our, I mean ALL of our) children too. “I can help you change if you want…No thank you I like the way I am.”
- I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes – This affirming book follows a confident Black child as he shares all the many good things that make him who he is. Alongside beautiful illustrations of Black children living, playing, learning, and loving, we learn that he’s creative, adventurous, smart, and confident. We also learn exactly who is and what he stands for. “I am not what they might call me, and I will not answer to any name that is not my own. I am what I say I am.”
- Black Gold by Laura Obuobi – This is a deep and powerful book celebrating Black children — children of the universe. With gorgeous illustrations and poetic storytelling, this is a story about the magic and beauty of our children. “When they ask where you come from, tell them, ‘I am from a place that is rich, dark, and full of everything that gives life. I was kissed by the sun, cradled by the moon, and wrapped in love.'”
- All Because You Matter by Tami Charles – A reminder that Black children matter. Black lives matter. Deep and important, this book is a necessary tribute, celebration, and affirmation of Black people, who we are, and what it means to matter in the world we’re in. “They say that matter is the all the things that make up the universe: energy, stars, space…If that’s the case, then you dear child, matter.”
- Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o – A beautiful story about loving the skin you’re in. Sulwe (whose name means star) is a beautiful, Black, girl with skin the color of midnight. She doesn’t look like anyone in her family and is often teased about how dark she is. Inspired by Lupita’s — and many other dark skinned Black girls — experience, Sulwe tries to find her light and love for herself. “Brightness is who you are.”
- Black Boy, Black Boy by Ali Kamanda – This book encourages and empowers Black boys to remember who they are by showing them who they can become. If “when children can see themselves, they can believe in themselves” was a Black history picture book! Learn about a few brilliant Black men while the young Black boy learns who he is. “Dear boy, Black boy, rise up, it’s time. It’s a new day and a chance to shine.”
Be sure to check out our Black, Beautiful, & Brilliant Book List on Bookshop! We’ll continue to update it with our favorite empowering as we go.
*Disclosure: We are an affiliate of Bookshop.org — a platform connecting readers to local independent booksellers. Choose a local (Black-owned!) bookstore of your choice when you purchase a book to support independent bookstores. Note: We may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Thank you for your support!