Now, more than ever, children’s books and movies include black characters. However, these characters are usually side-kicks to the white, main character. Sometimes a black character is included, along with an Asian character, as the creator’s attempt at diversity, but these characters are almost always in the background while the blond-haired, blue-eyed protagonist shines. Furthermore, the black characters are often stereotyped: disrespectful and subversive, street-wise (vs. being intellectual), and talented only in things like basketball, singing, and hip-hop dancing.
Media like books, movies, music, and television shows are powerful teachers, shaping our children’s views of what they can and cannot become and what they should believe about others. If you are parenting a black child, it’s crucial to surround them with media that demonstrate possibilities, sends positive messages, and features children who look like them. Here are some of my family’s favorite books and DVDs:
Chocolate Me: Actor Taye Diggs tells the story of a boy who is teased for his looks: his dark skin, hair texture, nose size, and bright, white teeth. The boy’s mother encourages him to appreciate his wonderful features and take pride in his differences.
Ron’s Big Mission: This is the true story of African American astronaut Ron McNair, who as a nine-year old boy, enjoyed numerous trips to the local public library. One day in 1959, Ron refused to leave a public library until he was issued a library card and could enjoy the freedom of checking out books just like white patrons.
He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands: Kadir Nelson illustrates the popular hymn though the eyes of an African American boy. Nelson draws a parallel between the everyday activities of a child, such as drawing and playing outdoors, to the lyrics of the song.
Keats’s Neighborhood: An Ezra Jack Keats Treasury: Keats’s treasury includes ten of his most popular stories, most of which feature an African American boy as the central character. He explores a snowy day, sharing, friendship, siblinghood, and several more themes.
What Color Is My World?: The Lost History of African-American Inventors: Co-authored by former basketball star Kareem Abudul-Jabbar, this book is truly unique. The interior contains biographical information of several African American inventors, including the inventor of the Super Soaker, open heart surgery, and the stop light.
I Like Myself: Author Karen Beaumont tells the story of a black girl who celebrates herself: her looks, her personality, and her confidence. Above all, Beaumont demonstrates the girl’s resilience to keep being herself no matter what others think and say.
Amazing Grace: Mary Hoffman tells the story of Grace, a black girl who believes she can be anyone or anything until two classmates tell her she can’t be Peter Pan in the school play because Peter Pan “isn’t black” and isn’t a girl. Grace overcomes her struggle with the encouragement of her mother and grandmother, and ultimately, is chosen to be the star of the play.
Happy to Be Nappy: bell hooks focuses on the versatility and beauty of a black girl’s hair. This celebratory and uplifting book is colorfully illustrated by Chris Raschka.
Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom: Carole Boston Weatherford tells the story of Harriet Tubman’s courage from when she first escapes slavery, to when she rescues her family, and then begins to lead others, weaving in fictionalized prayers between Harriet and God. The book includes a page of biographical information for further insight.
Princess Truly and the Hungry Bunny Problem: Princess Truly is an African American princess whose magical hair helps a hungry bunny’s garden grow. Authored by adoptive mother Kelly Greenawalt, this tale is certain to please girls who love princess stories.
Global Wonders: African American: This film teaches children about African American culture through art, music, animation, and historical figure references.
Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child: This collection of animated fairytales features many African American characters and features voices of famous actors such as Whoopi Goldberg, Will Smith, Denzel Washington, and Samuel L. Jackson.
Polly and Polly Comin’ Home: Starring Keshia Knight Pulliam and Phylicia Rashad (both also on The Cosby Show), the story of Pollyanna is retold with the talent of an African American cast.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella: This film features a diverse cast of characters, including singer and actress Brandy as Cinderella. The fairy godmother, along with one of the stepsisters and the prince’s mother are all African American.