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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



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.



“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


“In an open, conversational tone, Reynolds makes it clear that anti-Black racist ideology in the U.S. has consistently relied on the erroneous belief that African people (and Black people in general) are “dumb” and “savage,” ideas perpetuated through the written word, other media, and pseudo-science. Using separationist, assimilationist, and anti-racist historical figures, a direct line is drawn throughout U.S history from chattel slavery through the Civil War, Jim Crow, the civil rights era, the war on drugs, and #BlackLivesMatter, with plenty of little-known, compelling, and disturbing details inserted. Readers who want to truly understand how deeply embedded racism is in the very fabric of the U.S., its history, and its systems will come away educated and enlightened.” - Kirkus Reviews


Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Additional Resource: Discussion Guide


“Endearing and painfully realistic, this could be a news story any day in America. Dear Martin author Nic Stone manages not only to maintain the characters' humanity in what could easily become a paint-by-number pulled-from-the-headlines story, but also breathes a realness into each character so they become just like people readers already know. Stone moves beyond character archetypes into fully realized humans with a depth and fragility that's sometimes lost in current-events novels. From seeing the micro-aggressions and posttraumatic stress brought on by a frightening encounter with the police, to experiencing the everyday details of first relationships and parental expectations, readers slip easily into Justyce's mind and feelings, truly going on this journey with him.” - Common Sense Media



“Inconvenient Skin challenges how reconciliation has become a contested buzzword filled with promises and good intentions but rarely with any meaningful follow-through. While Canada's history is filled with darkness, these poems aim to unpack that history to clean the wounds so the nation can finally heal. Powerful and thought-provoking, this collection will draw you in and make you reconsider Canada's colonial legacy. The cover features the art of Kent Monkman, and the interior features work by Joseph Sánchez, a member of the Indian Group of Seven.” - Orca Books


This Place: 150 Years Retold edited by HighWater Press staff (graphic novel anthology)


“This Place: 150 Years Retold is a fantastic teaching tool for junior and high-school students and a great read for any age. And yet it barely scratches the surface of Indigenous history and storytelling. Hopefully this is just the first of many anthologies to challenge that long-taught, one-sided narrative.” - Quill & Quire


The Truth Is by NoNieqa Ramos


“Strong insightful prose, sometimes disjointed, showcases Verdad’s unique voice, not shying away from her pain or her stubbornness. A lot of her growing up has to do with the question “How could you be so woke and so ’sleep at the same time?” as a queer woman of color who has to work through transphobic thoughts, anti-black racism, and other prejudices, which may help some readers in their own understanding while alienating or hurting others. A diverse cast of homeless queer youth provides a lot of catalyst for her growth, which at times verges on exploitative, but young people underserved in literature will find fully fleshed, mostly positive—though somewhat tragic—representation here. Teen banter about racism, cultural appropriation, police brutality, and transphobia showcases the complexity, brilliance, and power of young activists.” - Kirkus Reviews



Adult



“It is ultimately a book about surviving not only majority white space, but especially hostile white spaces. In London, Ont. (where Western University is based), the city’s racial tensions have simmered, regularly boiling over, at least since former enslaved people began arriving in the mid-1800s. The past decade has brought in more immigrants and, not coincidentally, an uptick in white violence. The city ranks among the top ten in Canada for police-reported hate crimes. It is in this environment that Martis begins to take her first steps to adulthood. Toronto, she notes wryly, had obscured for her whiteness, its fragility and how deeply scarring racial violence can be.” - The Globe and Mail


Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad

Additional Resource: Guided Journal


“Learning about the dangers of systemic racism often leads people to ask: What can I do personally to make a difference? Layla Saad, an East African, Arab, British, Black, Muslim woman living in Qatar, came up with an impressive answer — a 28-day process that she calls a "personal anti-racism tool" designed to teach those with white privilege how systemic racism works and how they can stop contributing to white supremacy in the world [...] This is "the work," as Saad describes it: a tough journey that pushes readers to examine the often-hidden mechanisms of white supremacy and systemic racism in our lives.” - NPR



“In her debut collection of essays, Gathering Moss, she blended, with deep attentiveness and musicality, science and personal insights to tell the overlooked story of the planet’s oldest plants. For Braiding Sweetgrass, she broadened her scope with an array of object lessons braced by indigenous wisdom and culture. From cedars we can learn generosity (because of all they provide, from canoes to capes). From the creation story, which tells of Sky woman falling from the sky, we can learn about mutual aid. Sweetgrass teaches the value of sustainable harvesting, reciprocal care and ceremony. The Windigo mindset, on the other hand, is a warning against being “consumed by consumption” (a windigo is a legendary monster from Anishinaabe lore, an “Ojibwe boogeyman”). Ideas of recovery and restoration are consistent themes, from the global to the personal.” - The Guardian


Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid


“Reid renders white people whose eagerness to shed their blinkers results in fumbling attempts to identify with black people—as much to burnish their own images as to genuinely connect with others. [...] The overarching joke of Such a Fun Age is that while the white characters fret over what black people think of them and their progressive values, the black characters are busy getting on with their lives and trying to keep up with one another.” - The Atlantic



“In an urgent and visceral work that asks essential questions about the treatment of Native people in North America while drawing on intimate details of her own life and experience with intergenerational trauma, Alicia Elliott offers indispensable insight and understanding to the ongoing legacy of colonialism. What are the links between depression, colonialism and loss of language — both figurative and literal? How does white privilege operate in different contexts? How do we navigate the painful contours of mental illness in loved ones without turning them into their sickness? How does colonialism operate on the level of literary criticism? “ - CBC Books



A Note to the Adults:

There is a phrase commonly used by educators and children’s librarians striving to promote diverse representation which speaks of books as “mirrors and windows”. An inclusive library collection should provide both mirrors where children can see themselves represented in books, as well as windows where children are provided with a view into the lives of others. Mirrors allow children to feel valued, seen, and validated in their own identity, while windows build empathy and understanding for others.


Children’s books are one of the most powerful tools which can be utilized by parents and educators to initiate conversations on important topics such as racism and racial injustice. A good book can provide a gateway to open a conversation, guide dialogue, and prompt questions from children. Particularly for young children, curling up and having a caregiver read aloud also provides ideal conditions for connection and fostering family values.


It is also recommended that parents read alongside their children in order to further discussions, particularly if these topics are new for your children. Additionally, the Middle Grades and Young Adult titles may contain more sensitive subject matter which may require further discussion with an adult. Older children and teens may be reluctant to read with a caregiver, but in this case adults can independently read the same title in order to be equipped to answer questions and spark discussions. Above all, let your child lead and guide the discussion, and listen attentively to their thoughts and ideas. Simply asking them questions such as “what do you think?”, “why do you think this happened?”, or “why do you think the character did this?” can be a good starting point.


Read any of these books with your kids? Send us their reviews and we will publish them on our Facebook page and Intsagram accounts. Show us your little Anti-Racist Readers!


If you have read a great book that you think should be on our next list, please email us at Info@MomsAgainstRacism.ca. We LOVE finding great new books!




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