A Jewish anti-racist reading list for children of all ages

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By Lior Zaltzman

This moment has many of us reeling. Honestly, for those of you who are, like me, white-presenting Jewish parents, we should consider this a time of reckoning. Are we doing enough to make our homes anti-racist? What about our communal Jewish spaces?

The work to dismantle racism goes beyond what we do when people are out in the streets protesting. And the activism we do outside of our home is just as important as the activism we are doing inside our homes with our families, and especially with our kids.

Our kids perceive race much earlier than we think. So we have to start the work early.  Raising your kids with a “colorblind” mentality just doesn’t work — because we aren’t, and the world we live in most certainly isn’t colorblind.

In the New York Times, Marietta Collins, a clinical psychologist and the co-author of “Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice,” a book for children about a police shooting, suggests that those first conversations about race be positive. As the article explains, “Dr. Collins gave the example of a white child asking why another child had brown skin. A parent can take this opportunity to explain what melanin is, and to talk about how wonderful it is that the world has so many different kinds of people.”

The truth is, if you want to raise anti-racist children, the work starts with us, the parents. After all, we lead by example. Examine the biases that you were raised with and are still in your ears. This isn’t a finite process — or an easy, or a comfortable one — and we have to learn to live with that discomfort. But there are a lot of great resources out there.

As always, it is key to listen to black voices. Educator Brit Hawthorne, who is an expert in anti-racist education, is a wonderful resource, as is Tiffany Jewel, who wrote the great “This Book Is Anti-Racist” — and who actually does 15-minute consults on how to raise anti-racist kids.

(Remember, supporting black artists, writers and businesses is also important at this time!) Certainly, diversifying your children’s book collection — and specifically, your Jewish children’s book collection — is one good step. These shouldn’t all be books about struggles for equity. Showing happy, diverse Jewish kids celebrating your kids’ favorite holidays is just as important. They show your kids that the world — and specifically the Jewish world — is diverse. And for Jews of color, these books show them that they belong.

While this (far from comprehensive!) list shows that there are plenty of examples of such books, it’s still not enough. We need more diverse Jewish books, and we especially need more diverse Jewish books by Jews of color. So it is our hope that this list keeps growing, year after year.

Whenever possible, we encourage you to get these books at black-owned bookstores.

For toddlers

“The Snowy Day” and other Peter books, by Ezra Jack Keats
“The Snowy Day” was the first mainstream children’s book to feature a black main character, the lovable and delightful Peter. The book doesn’t mention race and it isn’t Jewish, but its iconic author, Ezra Jack Keats, was a Jewish immigrant who changed his name because of persecution. If your kids are big fans of Ezra Jack Keats, you can read them “A Poem for Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of The Snowy Day,” a book all about the making of this groundbreaking book.

“It’s Tot Shabbat!” by Naomi Danis, photos by Tod Cohen
This book shows the faces of a diverse Jewish congregation, and it also tells the story of how and why Shabbat is celebrated. It’s available on Kindle, so you can read it with your kids right now.

“Buen Shabat, Shabbat Shalom” by Sarah Aroeste, illustrated by Ayesha L. Rubio
My toddler and I love this book about a Sephardi family celebrating Shabbat. Written by the fabulous Sarah Aroeste, the book is both musical and lovely — and a great opportunity to expose your kids to Ladino and Sephardic culture.

For younger children

“Ezra’s BIG Shabbat Question” by Aviva Brown, illustrated by Anastasia Kanavaliuk
“Ezra’s BIG Shabbat Question” came to be when Brown saw there weren’t enough Jewish books that depicted families like hers. In this adorable book, Ezra wants to know if he can perform a certain action during Shabbat. He goes to his rabbi to get the answers but comes out with even more questions. Honestly, is there anything more Jewish than that?

“Let’s Talk About Race” by Julius Lester, illustrated by Karen Barbour
Award-winning children’s book author Julius Lester’s 2005 book stars with Lester telling us his own story: where he was born, what he loves to do, and that he is Jewish and that he is black. (“There’s something else that’s a part of my story,” he writes. “It’s part of yours, too. That’s what race we are. I’m Black. What race are you?”) While the book reminds us that we are all skeletons underneath, it also urges us to inquire about the story of every person we meet, and reminds us that race is a part of that story.

“The Color of Us” by Karen Katz
“When my daughter was 5 years old in kindergarten she asked why she was a different color than my husband and me,” Karen Katz, the book’s writer and illustrator says. “She is adopted from Guatemala. We talked about it. The next day I was at her school looking at all the beautiful kids in her class and I thought: These kids are brown and tan and peachy they aren’t just black or white. It was then I decided to do do this book as a celebration of the beautiful colors of kids.”

“Jalapeno Bagels” by Natasha Wing, illustrated by Robert Casilla
Joey finds a way to celebrate his Mexican and Jewish heritage in quite possibly the most delicious way possible: by making jalapeno bagels. (Yum!) This beautifully illustrated book teaches some Yiddish and Spanish words, too.

“Hanukkah Moon” by Deborah De Costa, illustrated by Gosia Mosz
This beautifully illustrated picture book explores the Chanukah customs of Latin American Jewish families. It’s told through the story of Isobel’s visit with her aunt Luisa, a new immigrant from Mexico. Isobel plays with a dreidel piñata and learns about celebrating the luna nueva, the new moon that appears on Chanukah.

“Yaffa and Fatima, Shalom, Salaam” by Fawzia Gilani-Williams, illustrated by Chiara Fedele
Teach your kids about coexistence with this beautiful book that depicts the relationship and religious traditions of two neighbors: Yaffa, who is Jewish, and Fatima, who is Muslim. It’s a lovely way to teach your kids about Islam and loving your neighbor.

“Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas” by Pamela Ehrenberg, illustrated by Anjan Sarkar
This book features a multicultural Jewish and Indian family celebrating Chanukah, and stars one curious and perky little girl. It’s a delight.

“Always an Olivia” by Carolivia Herron, illustrated by Jeremy Tugeau
In this pretty children’s book that’s based on the author’s remarkable family history, a girl’s great-grandmother tells her about her the story of her family’s Jewish and African American heritage.

“Elan, Son of Two People” by Heidi Smith-Hyde, illustrated by Mikela Prevost
This book tells the story of Elan, the son of a Jewish father and a Native American Pueblo mother, who undergoes both a bar mitzvah and the pueblo ceremony that takes one from childhood to manhood.

For Middle Readers

“Stealing Home” by Ellen Schwartz
In 1947, a biracial Jewish kid with a passion for baseball faces alienation in both his African American community and in the Jewish community of Brooklyn.

“My Basmati Bat Mitzvah” by Paula J. Freedman
Aside from the challenge of learning her bat mitzvah Torah portion and dealing with the usual challenges of a girl her age, Tara (Hindi for “star”) deals with how to balance her Indian and Jewish identity, as well as what it’s like having a bat mitzvah while you’re questioning your faith.

“This is Just a Test” by Wendy Wan-Long Shang and Madelyn Rosenberg
David is preparing for his bar mitzvah, dealing with the drama between his Jewish grandma and his Chinese grandma, and… building a fallout shelter? A fun story about growing up Chinese and Jewish.

For Young Adults

“Little & Lion” by Brandy Colbert
This is a coming-of-age story about Suzette, who is black, Jewish and bisexual, and her relationship with her stepbrother, Lionel, who has bipolar disorder. As Lisa Borten writes: “The intersectionality and emotional honesty in this book are unmatched, and anyone looking for a realistic portrayal of mental illness and well-developed characters will enjoy this book.”

“Lucky Broken Girl” by Ruth Behar
A young Cuban Jewish immigrant to America adjusts to life in New York City while dealing with the aftermath of a terrible car accident in this dramatic coming-of-age tale.

“Color Me In” by Natasha Diaz
As Emily Burack writes, “Color Me In” “is the coming-of-age story of Navaeh Levitz. Navaeh is a black Jewish teenager whose father forces her to have a belated bat mitzvah at age 16. Navaeh’s parents are in the midst of a divorce, and the bat mitzvah is her father’s way of having her stay connected to his family. Meanwhile, Navaeh is struggling to figure out her identity, her relationship to her blackness, her privilege, a blossoming relationship and her family. It’s a compelling and timely read.”

Published by Kveller, a 70 Faces Media brand

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