Diverse Children's Books, Bible and otherwise
Multiple studies have affirmed that children are not “color-blind” and children as young as two or three are beginning to form racial biases based on their experiences (or lack thereof) interacting with people of different races and ethnicities. One way to help shape a child’s understanding of race and ethnicity that is by introducing stories, music, and images that share the stories of people of color. These stories can range from the celebration of everyday life to the exploration of lives of courageous leaders to the recognition of modern and historic tragedies caused by racism and discrimination.
Below are a handful of books I've gathered from my own library and from recommendations read online that could be helpful resources for families and teachers seeking to intentionally talk about race, diversity, history, and privilege in their home or classroom.
Christian parents and church leaders have the privilege and responsibility of introducing children to the wonderful diversity of God’s kingdom. Sometimes this can be done through illustrations or books (I listed a few below!), but creative Bible teachers can also use photographs to challenge the imagination and wondering of children into recognizing a more diverse Kingdom of God. Scroll to the bottom for a few words on how to do that.
Bible Stories with Diverse Images
Psalm Twenty-Three, Tim Ladwig. These three books by Tim Ladwig (2 below) use the biblical text with beautiful illustrations of black children and families living out the text of the words. For instance, in Psalm 23, the words “he leads me beside quiet waters” shows a child enjoying the beauty of a puddle on the sidewalk. The illustrations for the Beatitudes text show events from the Civil Rights movement.
Children of Color Storybook Bible by Regina Brundidge with International Children’s Bible- This storybook Bible is fully illustrated with images of biblical characters as people of color. Children encounter so many biblical illustrations depicting characters as white men and women, this provides a nice counterbalance.
The Complete Experience (Today’s NIV)- A dramatized audio Bible read by a cast of over 400 black actors, pastors, and other leaders. It’s a spell-binding dramatization by highly-skilled professionals, and it’s a wonderful opportunity for people of all backgrounds to hear the word of God read by people who represent a demographic who is often marginalized. This is a reading of the NIV translation, not a paraphrase.
Historical Children’s books featuring People of Color: Learn the true stories of leaders in politics, the arts, and Civil Rights
The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch: Follow the story of John Roy from his childhood as a slave in Mississippi to his role as on of America’s first black congressmen. This book explores the Reconstruction Era.
A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina’s Dream by Kristy Dempsy. Learn about the first African-American prima ballerina, Janet Collins
Sewing Stories: Harriet Powers’ Journey from Slave to Artist by Barbara Herbert. Learn the true story of Harriet Powers who learned to quilt on a Georgia plantation and as a free woman made quilts to tell Bible stories and other tales. She even has a quilt in the Smithsonian!
The Youngest Marcher: The True Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, The Young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthia Levinson. Audrey Faye Hendricks was 9 years old when she joined the Children’s March in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. This Civil Rights Era book introduces children to the history of segregation, peaceful protests and unjust arrests through a true story of a brave girl.
Words Set Me Free: The Story of a Young Frederick Douglass by Lisa Cline-Ransome. Learn about the life of anti-slavery activist Frederick Douglass and the ways his literacy and oratory skills enabled him to take a stand for justice for himself and others.
Henry’s Freedom Box: A Trust Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine. This book introduces children to the inhumanity of slavery by sharing about the abuses suffered and one man’s courageous attempt to escape to freedom.
Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis, by Jabari Asim. Learn about the childhood of Civil Rights Activisty, Freedom Rider, and chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee John Lewis through this illustrated children’s book. Today, John Lewis serves as a Georgia Congressman.
Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney. Introduce children to the Civl Rights’ sit-ins by learning the story of four courageous friends sitting in at the Woolworth department store in Greensboro, NC. This is a helpful introduction to Jim Crow Laws for children.
Children’s Fiction with Black Protagonists:
A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina’s Dream by Kristy Dempsy. Learn about the first African-American prima ballerina, Janet Collins through a fiction book about a little girl who dreams of being a ballerina. This book is fiction, but it weaves in the true story of Janet Collins.
Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman. Grace wants to try out for the role of Peter Pan in her school’s play, but her classmates think she shouldn’t get the part because she’s black and a girl. This is a great book for discussing race, story, and imaginative play in part because white children often assume their race as the ‘default’ for stories and have difficulty imagining friends of color dressing up as a favorite movie or storybook character.
Keats’s Neighborhood: An Ezra Jack Keats Treasury. Your family might be familiar with the famous children’s book A Snowy Day, but this collection includes eight additional stories from Keats’ Brooklyn childhood neighborhood.
Children’s Books that Affirm or Directly Teach about Diversity
When God Made You by Matthew Paul Turner- The text of this book is affirming and encouraging for every child, and the illustrations depict a young black girl learning her worth and dignity. Reading this with children affirms the imago Dei of every child and normalizes diversity.
We’re Different, We’re the Same, a Sesame Street classic appropriate for children in kindergarten and below, this book explores both diversity and universal experiences in child-friendly ways. This book does not explore discrimination or injustice.
Using Photographs in Bible Storytelling:
One of my favorite (and most accessible!) ways of including diverse images in at church is through using photographs either through print-outs or a few powerpoint slides (maybe 5-6 images total for a story). Typically this includes a map of where the story takes place for older elementary-age children, photographs of the region’s topography (e.g. the Sea of Galilee, the hills outside of Jerusalem, the deserts of Egypt, etc.), and photographs that represent some of the people in the story. For instance, instead of looking for an illustration of Simeon and Anna at the Temple, I might look for beautiful photographs of a joyful, elderly man and woman. A photograph rather than an illustration can emphasize that these were real, living people rather than just storybook characters. It’s also much easier to include photographs that represent diverse ethnicities than children’s illustrations that represent diversity. Sometimes I receive pushback from children on this- “that’s not what they looked like!”. And I say, “We don’t know what they looked like. This is a photograph that shows a man with the kind of joy that we see in the story. It makes us think about this person as someone who was real. I wonder what he did look like?”.