You may have heard the phrase “decolonize your bookshelf” recently, but what does it mean? It means that the history of colonialism and white supremacy pervades almost every aspect of our lives, including our libraries. No matter your background, chances are the majority of the books you read to your kids feature white characters. And for the few that don’t, how many of them are written by white authors?
If the books we read to our kids are filled with only white characters—or racialized characters written by white authors—they learn to see the world from a white point of view. Seeking out stories from different cultures will foster an appreciation of the things that make each person different. Remember that it’s also important to read stories about racialized people experiencing the joyous and mundane aspects of life, not just racial struggles. Ready to decolonize your bookshelf? Here are some representative titles to add to your collection.
Written by Ibram X. Kendi and illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky, Kokila Books (ages 0-3) “Antiracist Baby is bred, not born.” This adorable book (available as a board book or hardcover) shows little ones and their parents the path to making equity a reality in nine simple steps.
Julián at the Wedding
Written and illustrated by Jessica Love, Candlewick Press (ages 4-8) In this sequel to the beloved book Julián is a Mermaid, Julián and his abuela go to a wedding where he meets a new friend, Marisol. They set off on a magical adventure, but when things go awry, they learn that having good friends by your side makes everything easier.
I Am Every Good Thing
Written by Derrick Barnes; Illustrated by Gordon C. James, Nancy Paulsen Books (ages 3-7) This picture book is narrated by a confident young Black boy who is proud of everything that makes him who he is. “Powerful and full of light. I am a go-getter. A difference maker. A leader.”
Raven Squawk, Orca Squeak
Written by Roy Henry Vickers and Robert Budd; Illustrated by Roy Henry Vickers, Harbour Publishing (ages 0-3) This board book will help you teach your toddler the natural sounds of the West Coast, depicted in the bold and bright style of a celebrated First Nations artist.
We Are Water Protectors
Written by Carole Lindstrom; Illustrated by Michaela Goade, Roaring Brook Press (ages 3-6) Inspired by Indigenous activism movements, a young water protector takes a stand against a venomous black snake that threatens to poison and infect the Earth’s most sacred resource: water.
Nursery Rhymes and Rhythms
Written by Ijeoma Ntukogu; Illustrated by Ana Latese, self-published (ages 0-3) This book for babies and toddlers puts a twist on classic nursery rhymes to teach empathy and connection while affirming Black and brown children.
Written by Lupita Nyong’o; Illustrated by Vashti Harrison, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (ages 4-8) Sulwe finds it hard to love herself because of her dark-as-midnight skin. But one evening, she’s visited by a star that helps her learn to love the beauty in her darkness and shine bright from the inside out.
The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family
Written by Ibtihaj Muhammad with S. K. Ali; Illustrated by Hatem Aly, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (ages 4-8) Faizah’s older sister’s hijab is a perfect shade of blue, so it hurts to hear people making fun of it. This story is about what it means to be the bigger person.
I Like the Me I See!
Written by Culture Queen; Illustrated by Solomia Kovalchuk, self-published (ages 3-8) Filled with body-positive and self-affirming language—“I like my skin, I feel comfortable within”—this book encourages and empowers Black children to proudly proclaim their cultural identity.
Bilal Cooks Daal
Written by Aisha Saeed; Illustrated by Anoosha Syed, Salaam Reads (ages 4-8) This is a story about a boy who loves daal and his friends who help him and his dad make it. But the dish takes time. While the kids wait for it to cook, Bilal wonders, “Will his friends like daal as much as he does?”
Caravan to the North: Misael’s Long Walk
Written by Jorge Argueta; Illustrated by Manuel Monroy, Groundwood Books (ages 9+) Misael is a Salvadorian boy whose family joined a caravan making the long trek north to the US border. When they reach the end of their journey and find the borders are closed, Misael dreams of home.
Maiden & Princess
Written by Daniel Haack and Isabel Galupo; Illustrated by Becca Human, Little Bee Books (ages 4-8) A brave maiden is invited to the prince’s royal ball, but to her, he’s just like a brother. Everyone insists they’d make the perfect match, but she ends up finding true love elsewhere—with the princess!
Alma and How She Got Her Name
Written and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal, Candlewick Press (ages 4-8) Alma thinks her name is too long. It’s six names long to be exact—Alma Sofia Esperanza Jose Pura Candela—and it does not fit on any pages. However, an ancestry lesson with her father teaches Alma to appreciate her name and understand what makes her long name so special. $22, indigo.ca
The Big Bed
Written by Bunmi Laditan and illustrated by Tom Knight, Raincoast Books (ages 4-6) This girl wants to sleep in the big bed, and she means business. But there is one problem: there isn’t enough room for her, mommy, and daddy to fit! Luckily, she has the perfect solution—daddy has to go. $23, amazon.ca
The Walking Bathroom
Written by Shauntay Grant and illustrated by Erin Bennett Banks, Nimbus Publishing (ages 5+) Amayah has no costume for Halloween this year, and she wants to do something different for her schoolmates to see. Sometimes standing out can be scary, but not for Amayah. She makes sure she is something no one has ever seen before! $23, indigo.ca
They Say Blue
Written and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki, Groundwood Books (ages 4-7) The sky is blue and water is blue, but why not when we cup it into our hands? This beautiful book uses a poetic approach to explore different colours and moods from a child’s point of view. $20, indigo.ca
What’s My Superpower?
Written by Aviaq Johnston and illustrated by Tim Mack, Inhabit Media (ages 3-5) Nalvana kept finding friends who had superpowers whenever she would go out to play. Like flying, building things, and holding their breath underwater. Nalvana wanted a talent too. She was happy for her friends, but what is her superpower? After speaking with her Anaana (mom) she knows just what makes her special. $17, indigo.ca
Written by Junot Diaz and illustrated by Leo Espinosa, Penguin Random House (ages 5-8) Everyone at Lola’s school is from somewhere different, so when her teacher asked the class to draw where they are from, everyone is excited—but Lola can’t remember the island she is from because she left when she was a baby. With the help of her friends and family, Lola learns a lot about where she came from and puts the island back in her heart. $24, indigo.ca