• Caitlin Baker

25 Books to Decolonize Your Library

Our theme for January 2021 is "Decolonize My Mind". Here are 25 titles ranging from children's board books to Adult non-fiction that you can add to your library today.

15 of the 25 book covers from the list on a red background

If you’re here, I’m sure that like me you are striving to instill antiracist values in your family and your children, and a simple but important step we can take in this direction is to diversify and decolonize the books in our home.

MAR Recommends: 25 Books to Decolonize Your Library

January brings a new year, new beginnings, and, for many, new goals and resolutions. The start of a new year seems to hold even more weight currently, as the majority seem to be quite happy to say goodbye to what has undoubtedly been a very challenging 2020. We hope your family is leaping into 2021 with renewed hope and optimism, and will consider setting some intentions and resolutions which keep our mission in mind of “doing the work, starting at home”.

January also often means a time for cleaning and organizing, especially for us busy moms as we tackle all of the post-holiday tasks and try to make space for new gifts and items in our household. I often use this as an excuse to “purge” books and toys my children have outgrown or those which are otherwise inappropriate in order to avoid the inevitable avalanche of SO. Much. Stuff. Everywhere. This year, I’m approaching this with a slight shift in perspective and a bit of a different lens. The MAR theme for January is “Decolonize My Mind”, and naturally I began thinking about how this applies to the bookshelves in my house. If you’re here, I’m sure that like me you are striving to instill antiracist values in your family and your children, and a simple but important step we can take in this direction is to diversify and decolonize the books in our home.

Providing stories with diverse characters is one thing, but if we want to truly decolonize our bookshelves we need to look further and actively seek out books telling stories of Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour characters created by BIPOC authors and illustrators. These stories need to show perspectives from different races and cultures told in authentic voices with authentic experiences. I challenge you to examine the books your kids are reading. How many only feature white characters? How many feature racialized characters but are written by white authors? The #ownvoices movement on Twitter seeks to challenge this and calls for more authentic representation as well as a platform to showcase these resources. It’s a good place to start if you are seeking out your own books, but as we know us moms are busy, so we’ve done some of the legwork for you!

This month, our booklist features titles suitable for all ages written by authentic voices. Many of the titles are also Canadian, which gives important context relevant to where we live, particularly from Indigenous authors. We hope you find at least one title you’ll read to or with your children, as well as perhaps a title or two to continue your own antiracism journey. Maybe you’ll also consider replacing some of the books in your household which feature only white characters with those containing more diverse representation.

Happy reading, and Happy New Year!

Board Books

Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi

“This excellent board book answers questions so many people are asking right now: What can I do? How can I help? Kendi’s choice to speak directly to new parents in this format works quite well. His succinct, impactful prose makes for an accessible guide to anti-racism for everyone.” - School Library Journal

Raven Squawk, Orca Squeak by Robert (Lucky) Budd & Roy Henry Vickers

“With bright and bold illustrations by celebrated Indigenous artist Roy Henry Vickers, this sturdy board book introduces iconic sounds of the West Coast and supports the language development of babies and toddlers.” - CBC Books

Little You/Kitapisîsin by Richard Van Camp (dual language English/Bush Cree)

“Richard Van Camp, internationally renowned storyteller and bestselling author of the hugely successful Welcome Song for Baby: A Lullaby for Newborns, has partnered with award-winning illustrator Julie Flett to create a tender board book for babies and toddlers that celebrates the potential of every child. With its delightful contemporary illustrations, Little You is perfect to be shared, read or sung to all the little people in your life—and the new little ones on the way!” - Orca Books

Sweetest Kulu by Celina Kalluk

“A newborn child is welcomed by the sun, the wind, the Arctic land and all its animal inhabitants, who bring gifts of love and self-respect [...] ‘Kulu’ is an Inuktitut term of endearment, but this appreciation for the baby and the baby’s world would make a lovely gift for any new parent.” - Kirkus Reviews

Woke Baby by Mahogany L. Browne

“From raising little fists for justice through kicking glass ceilings to babbling songs of freedom, spread after spread shows a woke baby’s activities, intertwining a baby of color’s squirms, wiggles, and vocalizations with the symbols and gestures of resistance [...] Bubbling with an easy joy and nascent sense of justice—and the notion that the two can certainly go hand in hand.” - Kirkus Reviews

Picture Books

When We Are Kind by Monique Gray Smith

“When We Are Kind celebrates simple acts of everyday kindness and encourages children to explore how they feel when they initiate and receive acts of kindness in their lives. Celebrated author Monique Gray Smith has written many books on the topics of resilience and reconciliation and communicates an important message through carefully chosen words for readers of all ages. Beautifully illustrated by artist Nicole Neidhardt, this book encourages children to be kind to others and to themselves.” - Orca Books

Animals of the Salish Sea by Melaney Gleeson-Lyall

“This book shares Coast Salish traditional teachings of 26 animals. Also included is the specific aspects of each animal who live in this unique marine environment. Explore the Salish Sea through the First Nations and Native art of Coast Salish artists and Musqueam, Coast Salish author Melaney Gleeson-Lyall.” - Strong Nations

Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o

“Sulwe has skin the color of midnight. She is darker than everyone in her family. She is darker than anyone in her school. Sulwe just wants to be beautiful and bright, like her mother and sister. Then a magical journey in the night sky opens her eyes and changes everything.

In this stunning debut picture book, actress Lupita Nyong’o creates a whimsical and heartwarming story to inspire children to see their own unique beauty.” - Simon and Schuster

We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom

“In this tribute to Native resilience, Indigenous author-and-illustrator team Lindstrom and Goade invite readers to stand up for environmental justice. [...] An inspiring call to action for all who care about our interconnected planet.” - Kirkus Reviews

Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed

“When Little Mae was a child, she dreamed of dancing in space. She imagined herself surrounded by billions of stars, floating, gliding, and discovering. She wanted to be an astronaut. Her mom told her, "If you believe it, and work hard for it, anything is possible." Little Mae's curiosity, intelligence, and determination, matched with her parents' encouraging words, paved the way for her incredible success at NASA as the first African American woman to travel in space. This book will inspire other young girls to reach for the stars, to aspire for the impossible, and to persist with childlike imagination.” - A Mighty Girl

Middle Grades

New Kid by Jerry Craft (graphic novel)

“Middle school is hard. Switching schools is hard. Now imagine switching to a private middle school where you’re one of the few black kids there. Jordan Banks is a seventh grader with a dream. He wants to go to art school where he can let his drawings soar. Instead, he finds himself at hoity-toity Riverdale Academy Day School. It’s okay and the kids are generally pretty nice (with some notable exceptions) but Jordan can’t help noticing things. Teachers who get the black kids’ names mixed up. Classmates that get away with murder. Privilege privilege privilege. The longer he stays, the more he sees. The more he sees, the more he understands. And the more he understands, the better prepared he’s going to be for the real world out there.” - School Library Journal

Twins by Varian Johnson (graphic novel)

“There is a knowing here that goes beyond the author’s own experience as a twin himself. It is the sober understanding that for many Black girls, a joyful, everyday moment like shopping at the mall can turn quickly into a reminder that this world is not always welcoming. When Maureen goes to the mall with her friends, a white clerk ignores them and helps a white customer instead. This moment happens quickly, with no foreshadowing. Just as in life, no one knows when micro (or macro) aggressions will happen; they come when least expected and leave the targeted person upended.” -New York Times

The Case of the Missing Auntie by Michael Hutchinson

“Tech-savvy Chickadee and her cousins—muscled Atim, bookworm Samuel, and guitar-strumming Otter—travel to the city for a week of fun at the Exhibition Fair. When Chickadee tells them about Great-Auntie Charlotte, Grandpa’s little sister who was “scooped” to a residential school before being adopted out by the government, the group decides to make finding her their next mission. But the lure of the fair, an opportunity to see a favorite rock star in concert, and a chance encounter with an old friend from the rez split the team’s priorities, taking them in different directions and threatening the case. Unless they regroup, they may never cut through the red tape and uncover what happened to Charlotte. Though the harsh realities of Canada’s historical treatment of First Nations are central to the plot, the complexities of the subject matter are age-appropriate and easily digestible.” -Kirkus Reviews

Trailblazers: The Black Pioneers Who Have Shaped Canada by Tiyahna Ridley-Padmore

There is very little online press or reviews for this title, which is disappointing as it fills a sizable void in Canadian biographies written for children. Written in the style of many other recently published biographies such as Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls and Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, Trailblazers features one biography per page of figures in Black Canadian history. Originally begun as a Kickstarter after disappointing encounters with the publishing industry, this book tells many important stories of individuals that the majority of Canadians are unfortunately unfamiliar with.

Speaking Our Truth: A Journey of Reconciliation by Monique Gray Smith

“Canada's relationship with its Indigenous people has suffered as a result of both the residential school system and the lack of understanding of the historical and current impact of those schools. Healing and repairing that relationship requires education, awareness and increased understanding of the legacy and the impacts still being felt by Survivors and their families. Guided by acclaimed Indigenous author Monique Gray Smith, readers will learn about the lives of Survivors and listen to allies who are putting the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission into action.” -Orca Books

Young Adult

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds & Ibram X. Kendi