Representation Matters: Affirming My Toddlers’ Blackness Through Books

I’m working to create a space where it feels easy to include and imagine black girls and make black girls like me the main characters of our lives. Marley Dias 

 

Neylan at 6 months with two of her fave books – Whose Toes Are Those & Girl of Mine.

Affirming my daughter’s identity and striving to ensure that she grows up feeling comfortable in her skin is not something I take lightly. Before Neylan was born I had already started collecting children’s books on self-love and acceptance. Part of this is making sure that the majority of her books have black children as the lead characters. I would read stories to Neylan while she was in my belly not only as a form of bonding but in hopes of planting seeds of pride and self-confidence that she will eventually connect with as she grows. As a black woman, I know that my womanhood, my blackness, and how I experience these identities are not only interconnected but a large part of who I am and how I navigate the world.

 

Neylan, Christmas 2017 with the book Little Leaders – gifted to her by her aunty Allya & Uncle Ben. 

I want Neylan to be able to be the unique being she is without having to constantly think about her gender or race. However, as much as I don’t want her to be defined by the labels society has placed on her, it would be foolish of me not to acknowledge that the labels indeed exist and that they will impact her in obvious and not so obvious ways. It’s a fine balance and she’s only three years old. While the Angela Davis in me low key wants her to gravitate towards books, tv characters, and dolls that are brown and look like her – I also have to just let her be three. She hasn’t internalized and formed the inherent biases and prejudices the rest of us have. She simply wants to get her life with some Elsa and Anna and I have to give her the space to like what she likes. To be clear, I have nothing against Frozen. Nor do I have an issue with my daughter liking white characters and dolls. BUT we still live in a world that lacks balance when it comes to storytelling and representation. Ultimately, the goal is for Neylan to be able to appreciate characters that look like Elsa and Anna while also being able to see herself in similar stories and movies and to know that stories featuring girls who look like her are also important and deserve a platform. I still have to go online or to specialty bookstores to find a decent selection of stories featuring black children and this shouldn’t be the case – not in a country that prides itself on inclusiveness and being a cultural mosaic. Society as a whole has come a long way since I was a child, but there is still a long road ahead.

 

Neylan age 3 – at the local library.

Below are Neylan’s infant to toddler (and beyond!), book pick’s featuring black children.

 

1.

 

Girl of Mine, by Jabari Asim is a sweet bedtime story with lots of rich illustrations and rhymes that are soothing and melodic. I also love that it features bonding time between father and daughter.

 

 

2. 

 

Whose Toes Are Those, by Jabari Asim, was one of the first books I read to Neylan. Who doesn’t love baby toes much less a cute story about them? Another Jabari Asim book, where he uses the “This Little Piggy” rhyme and playful language to encourage babies to find their toes.

 

3. 

 

Please, Baby, Please, by Spike Lee & Tonya Lewis Lee is a story about the day-to-day adventures of raising a baby. The toddler in this book is just about every toddler (including Neylan) that I know. I related to every single page. The illustrations are vibrant and will engage any infant/toddler.

 

4. 

 

Big Hair, Don’t Care, by Crystal Swain-Bates is a book I started reading to Neylan when she turned one. It’s still in our book rotation two years later – and is one that she can identify with, with each passing year. This is a story about a girl with afro hair who unapologetically loves it. Weather in braids, twists, or puffs she loves the versatility of her hair and embraces it in all its variations. I love this book and never get tired of it. Now that Neylan is three she expresses more interest in her hair. She can point to the hairstyles showcased in the book and tell me which ones she also wears and loves.

5.

 

I Like Myself, by Karen Beaumont is hands down one of my favourite children’s books. I purchased this before Neylan was born and used to read it to her while she was in my belly. I find myself standing a little taller every time I read this book so it’s not just for the benefit of little ones. The author does a great job of using the silly and vivid imagination of a child to convey the message of loving oneself from the inside out. The story is told through rhyme which keeps it fun and engaging with illustrations that are bold and vivid. This book is a must own!

 

6. 

 

Ada Twist, Scientist, by Andrea Beaty Is such a gem. I came across this book in the bookstore and immediately ran to it as soon as I saw the little girl on the front. How often do we see kids books about science featuring girls, let alone a little black girl? Not only is the concept of the book great but the story itself is awesome. Andrea Beaty uses appealing text rhyme to tell the story of the “curious thoughts of this curious child.” Ada’s curiosity about the world around her gets her into hot water at home and at school but ultimately, Ada’s parents foster an environment that helps Ada to express her investigative nature and love for discovery. Andrea Beaty has also published two other books featuring young girl math and science lovers (Rosie Revere, Engineer & Iggy Peck, Architect), that I also plan on purchasing for Neylan.

 

7. 

 

Lola Plants a Garden, by Anna McQuinn is the sweet story of a little girl (Lola) who wants to plant her own garden after being inspired by the popular nursery rhyme Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary. Lola goes to the library to read about different seeds and how to plant them. Author, Anna McQuinn beautifully captures the innocent curiosity of little Lola and her love of learning. I’m excited that Lola is a book series so Neylan and I will have more adventures to read about featuring this loveable little girl.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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