Earlier in the pandemic, I spent seven months with my infant and toddler grandchildren. In March, their family came to Tucson from California to shelter in place. At the time, the public libraries were closed and the books I had given the kids were in storage out of state. This meant we had to rely on my own collection of baby and preschool-age books… and I found it lacking.
Conducting a diversity audit of my early childhood books was a wake-up call for me. It seems I had a few board, paperback, and hardcover books for this age group on my shelves but the majority of them had animal and inanimate object characters. Although I had a few with diverse human characters, I definitely needed to expand our reading choices.
I should add at this point that I had received some publicity regarding Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s board book Antiracist Baby illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky (2020). I immediately ordered it and then it took four months to arrive!
In the meantime, I turned first to Star Bright Books, publisher of my board book Read to Me (2004) also available in Spanish/English, Vietnamese, Vietnamese/English, and Haitian Creole/English. Star Bright is known for publishing early childhood books with diverse characters and many of their titles are bilingual or offered in diverse languages.
Due to pandemic safety measures, our infant granddaughter had not seen other babies, and our toddler grandson had not played with other children. The books below are the Star Bright Books I added to our home collection.
Next, I consulted the list of board books offered on the Social Justice Books website. I was happy to see that several of the books I owned or had recently purchased were on their list.
At some point along the way, I found the Leo and Lola series by Anna McQuinn that engaged our two-year-old grandson in seeing, hearing, and talking about babies and young children involved in everyday childhood activities. Thankfully, the public library re-opened for requests and pick-up and had these titles in their collection.
Last week, our family’s copy of Antiracist Baby arrived. At the time, I was immersed in the Racial Justice Challenge (RJC). One thing I had shared was the lack of diverse representation in the early childhood selections in our home book collection. Kendi’s book was the perfect reminder of how families, and White families in particular, can positively influence the young children in their lives with regard to normalizing diversity in books for infants and preschool children.
In his book, Kendi offers nine steps to make equity a reality. The first step is to “open your eyes to all skin colors.” During the RCJ, I also shared how my own awareness of race came later in my childhood; to the best of my recollection, I was around eight years old. It is important to me that my grandchildren not experience any delay in acknowledging and affirming difference.
Similar to my book Read to Me, the print in Kendi’s book is directed to the adult readers of his board book. While Ashley Lukashevsky’s bright, bold illustrations will catch the eyes of young children, the message and strategies Kendi offers for overcoming racism are for parents, grandparents, caregivers, and all older children and adults. Kendi invites readers to believe we can transform society and overcome racism and charges us with beginning that process with the very young.
For the foreseeable future, Antiracist Baby and Read to Me will be our family’s baby shower book selections.