A Quaker Antiracist Reading List for Young People

After sharing an antiracist reading list of books we’ve read and discussed in recent years, we heard from people who expressed interest in a similar syllabus for younger readers. What a great idea! Our twice-annual Young Friends Bookshelf column highlights new titles fit for the curious Quaker kid, family, or First-day school class who enjoys learning through engaging with stories. So we went back through the book review archives, and found 12 books that address the crisis of racism both in America’s history and in our present-day world. Together they educate about influential past events and people and point the way to a more diverse, inclusive society. Parents, caregivers, educators, and First-day school teachers can use these books, presented in order of recommended age, to initiate conversations with young people about the roles of race, equality, and activism in our lives today.

Ages 3–5

Last Stop on Market Street

“The illustrations include diverse people: old and young, black and white, the able‐bodied and those with disabilities. The relationship between the young boy and his grandmother is lovely. The characters in this book treat each other with kindness, humor, and respect. I believe this book could easily be used to introduce concepts such as equality, simplicity, community, and service to young readers and listeners.”

Ages 6 and Up

Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad

COVER: Unspoken

Unspoken is an unusual book. It’s entirely wordless and the full‐page illustrations are soft pencil sketches on a cream background, inviting children to slow down, quiet themselves, and look carefully.… A girl living in the U.S. South during the days of the Confederacy discovers an escaped slave hiding in a shed on her family’s farm. At first, she is frightened, then she helps the hidden guest, and finally finds a gift of thanks.… Instead of giving facts or statistics, the story invites us to remember that history is made up of the people who lived it.”

Ages 8 and Up

My Name Is Truth: The Life of Sojourner Truth

COVER: My Name Is Truth

“It is hard to imagine how someone could capture an entire complex life more effectively than Ann Turner has done in this picture book biography of Sojourner Truth. It is the voice that lifts like song right off the page, sounding as if the woman who inspired so many with her fiery speeches has written the book herself.… This book should be treasured as a way to introduce our children to the life of this extraordinary woman, to the tragedies of slavery, and to how it feels to be moved by the fire of God in your heart.”

This Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality

COVER: This Promise of Change

This Promise of Change is a memoir in verse that offers an intimate account of school integration from the perspective of someone who lived it: Jo Ann Allen Boyce, one of a group of 12 Black students to enroll at Clinton High School in Clinton, Tenn., in 1956 following a court order to integrate.… In addition to telling hard truths about the reality of integration… it’s a story about Boyce coming to understand the depths of cruelty her White neighbors will go to in order to resist integration. It is a story about what racism, prejudice, and discrimination look like, how they function on the ground every day.”

Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship

COVER: Can I Touch Your Hair?

“The cover of Can I Touch Your Hair? is deceptive. At first glance, it appears to be a picture book aimed toward young children, but the content of this book goes much deeper and would best inspire discussion with older, middle grade children.… Can I Touch Your Hair? is not only a wonderful story, it is a great jumping‐off point for talking with children about race and privilege, commonalities and differences.”

Martin & Anne: The Kindred Spirits of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Anne Frank

COVER: Martin and Anne

“Both of these people were raised in circumstances of despair, surrounded by prejudice and persecution. Both of them left the world with words and messages of love and hope. Though both of their stories are tragic, Churnin’s interweaving of their lives leaves us with a message of love and hope. But I was moved most by the illustrations… [which] are striking and evocative and led me to re‐read the book several times just so I could experience them over and over.”

Ages 9 and up

Unbound: A Novel in Verse

COVER: Unbound

“Ann E. Burg relates the harrowing tale of a North Carolina slave family forced to risk everything for freedom. She writes the historic story in verse, told through the voice of the blue‐eyed, brown‐skinned Grace.… There is a lot to learn about the Quakerly vocation from Burg’s poetic vocation. She conveys something mighty and ineffable in the unheard voices of slaves faced with raw realities.”

Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968

COVER: Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop

“The Memphis sanitation strike of 1968 was one of several pivotal moments in the Civil Rights Movement, and it was in Memphis where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his last speech on April 3…. Nine‐year‐old protagonist Lorraine embodies the childhood spirit and thoughts of Almella Starks‐Umoja, whose parents were activists in the strike. Lorraine’s first‐person narrative spans the months from January to that fateful April.”

Railroad of Courage

COVER: Railroad of Courage

“Against the stark reality of slavery on a South Carolina plantation unfolds the imaginative courage of 12‐year‐old Rebecca, who in 1854 envisions freedom from bondage for her family when she overhears a conversation about runaways that are smuggled into Canada. Intuitive about her limited circumstances as a slave, Rebecca begins to nurture thoughts of living in a more humane world.… At the heart of the book is Rebecca’s engagement with Quaker society…. The valiant acts of Friends and freed slaves to eradicate slavery help shape Rebecca’s emerging view of her role in the struggle for liberty.”

Ages 10 and up

Troublemaker for Justice: The Story of Bayard Rustin, the Man Behind the March on Washington

COVER: Troublemaker for Justice

Troublemaker for Justice is a new edition of Bayard Rustin: The Invisible Activist, of which we wrote: “The goal of this book is not simply to inform young people about Rustin’s life, but to inspire them to become social activists. The book begins with a quote from Rustin: ‘We need in every community a group of angelic troublemakers.’ The authors explain that Rustin believed such ‘angelic troublemakers’ are essential to creating a better world. They invite young readers to ‘enjoy the pages ahead and then go make some trouble—angelically.'”

The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA

COVER: The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA

“In many respects Gabriel is an ordinary child, who, guided by a moral compass, possesses a remarkably functional sense of what is right and wrong. Whereas Meriwether’s race is of concern to the adults in discriminatory Birdsong, Gabriel accepts and embraces his newfound friend without hesitation. The child’s increasing awareness of race is evident in the questions he asks his Oberlin College‐educated parents about the inequality of White and Black schools and the presence of Whites‐only signs.”

Ages 12 and Up

We Are Not Yet Equal: Understanding Our Racial Divide

COVER: We Are Not Yet Equal

We Are Not Yet Equal shows how history is not a string of discrete moments in time but builds upon itself: how Black Codes enforced during Reconstruction made it difficult for many to chase the promise of economic opportunity in the North during the Great Migration; how between 1874 and 1888 the Supreme Court asserted literal readings of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments that severely limited the scope of the rights and protections they guaranteed to Black people; how the shutdown of public school systems in many cities and states over integration meant decades of lost educational opportunity that rippled through generations; how because of this steady, predictable backlash against what we think about as grand, noble steps advancing racial equity (the Civil Rights Act, integration, and even emancipation), there is still so much work to be done on both the level of policy and the level of ideology in the United States.”