43 must-read books about racism for adults and kids

Is there any better time than now to dig into some of these titles? There are classics, there’s something by Ben Crump, the lawyer for George Floyd’s family, and much more.

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Ben Crump, the attorney for George Floyd’s family is the author of “Open Season: Legalized Genocide of Colored People.”

Ben Crump, the attorney for George Floyd’s family is the author of “Open Season: Legalized Genocide of Colored People.”

Getty Images

With all of the protests around the country centered on racism and police brutality, here are some books on how to talk about race, brush up on history and learn about important figures.


  • “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander (The New Press, $18.99) — a “great book to read” because it talks about systemic problems in the criminal justice system, says Lorenzo Boyd, an associate professor of criminal justice and assistant provost of diversity and inclusion at the University of New Haven.
  • ”How to Be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi (One World, $27) — the founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center examines racism, what an antiracist might look like — and how to help create one.
Ibram X. Kendi.

Ibram X. Kendi.

American University

  • ”White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism” by Robin DiAngelo (Beacon Press, $16) — praised in The New Yorker for “its methodical, irrefutable exposure of racism in thought and action, and its call for humility and vigilance.”
  • ”Me and White Supremacy” by Layla F. Saad (Sourcebooks, $25.99) — the author, who is black, Muslim, East African, Arab and British, drew a huge following on Instagram before this became a book.
  • “From Slavery To Freedom: A History of African Americans” by John Hope Franklin and Alfred A. Moss Jr. (Random House, $75) — offers a comprehensive look at how the foundation of the United States has fed racism in the present, according to Chad Helton, a top city libraries administrator in Los Angeles.
John Hope Franklin.

John Hope Franklin.


  • “Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do” by Jennifer L. Eberhardt (Penguin Books, $28) — “an internationally renowned expert on implicit racial bias breaks down the science behind our prejudices and their influence in nearly all areas of society and culture,” according to Kirkus Reviews.
  • “Raising White Kids” by Jennifer Harvey (Abingdon Press, $22.99) — as the subtitle says, this book is about “Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America.”
  • “So You Want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo (Seal Press, $27) — “covers some of the most sensitive and easily conflict-inducing aspects of racial dialogue, with chapters exploring affirmative action, cultural appropriation, microaggressions and the historically problematic relationship between some communities of color and the police,” the Seattle Times says.
Ijeoma Oluo.

Ijeoma Oluo.


  • “The Black and the Blue: A Cop Reveals the Crimes, Racism, and Injustice in America’s Law Enforcement” by Matthew Horace and Ron Harris (Hachette Books, $27) — “the hidden dysfunctions in American policing are laid bare in this searching exposé,” Publishers Weekly. Horace is a former federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives agent.
  • “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” by Bryan Stevenson (One World, $17) — “the message of this book, hammered home by dramatic examples of one man’s refusal to sit quietly and countenance horror, is that evil can be overcome, a difference can be made,” The New York Times wrote of this memoir that became a movie with Jamie Foxx and Michael B Jordan.
  • “The Fire Next Time” by James Baldwin (Vintage, $13.95) — “basically the finest essay I’ve ever read,” best-selling author Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote in The New York Times.
James Baldwin.

James Baldwin.

Sun-Times file

  • “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race” by Reni Eddo-Lodge (Bloomsbury Publishing, $18) — a collection of seven essays that began with a viral post, the book “delves into topics like structural racism, class and feminism,” according to National Public Radio.
Reni Eddo-Lodge.

Reni Eddo-Lodge.

Bloomsbury Publishing

  • “They Can’t Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, And A New Era In America’s Racial Justice Movement” by Wesley Lowery (Little Brown, $27) — based on hundreds of interviews, Lowery “describes traveling from shooting to shooting during 2014 and 2015” as a Washington Post reporter covering police shootings and the fraught relationship between the police and some of the communities they serve.”
  • “Hood Feminism: Notes From The Women That The Movement Forgot” by Mikki Kendall (Viking, $26) — an essay collection targeting what the author says is the modern feminist movement’s failure to support marginalized women and integrate issues of race, class and sexual orientation.
Mikki Kendall.

Mikki Kendall.


  • “Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism” by bell hooks (Routledge, $34.95) — a groundbreaking book on black womanhood.
  • “Open Season: Legalized Genocide of Colored People” by Ben Crump (Amistad, $26.99) — by the civil rights and personal injury attorney who has represented the families of, among others, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and now George Floyd.
  • “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Random House, $26) — acclaimed and best-selling book, written as a letter to the author’s teenage son, that Toni Morrison called “required reading.”
Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Random House

  • “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You” by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, $18.99) — an adaptation for young readers of Kendi’s book on racism and its history in the United States.


  • “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf” by Ntozake Shange (Scribner, $12.99 ) — the text (with stage directions) of the prose poem / Obie-winning play on being a woman of color in the 20th century.
Poet Ntozake Shange.

Poet Ntozake Shange.

Getty Images

  • “The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday, $26.95) — a fictionalized alternate history that won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.
“The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead.


  • “Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston (Amistad, $15.99) — the beautifully written and enduring 1937 novel acclaimed as an African American feminist classic.
“Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston.

  • “Passing” by Nella Larsen (Penguin, $24) — first published in 1929, it centers on two friends, one of them “passing” as white.
“Passing” by Nella Larsen.


  • “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison (Penguin, $14.95) — the Nobel Prize-winner’s debut novel, published in 1970 and set in the post-Depression era, tells the story of an African American girl from an abusive home who equates beauty with whiteness.
“The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison.


  • “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker (Penguin, $17) — a Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-winning classic, set in rural Georgia in 1930, centered on two African American sisters and told through their letters.
  • “White Teeth” by Zadie Smith (Vintage, $17) — a chronicle of two families and multiple cultures, set in London.
  • “An American Marriage” by Tayari Jones (Algonquin Books, $26.95) — newlyweds’ American dream is torn apart by his wrongful conviction.
“An American Marriage” by Tayari Jones.

Algonquin Books

  • “The Mothers” by Brit Bennett (Riverhead Books, $26) — a coming-of-age tale, set in southern Californi, awash in secrets and reckonings.
  • “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe (Penguin, $13) — the Nigerian author’s acclaimed 1958 debut chronicling pre-colonial life in that country.
“Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe.


Children’s books

For younger kids
  • “The Colors of Us” by Karen Katz (Square Fish, $7.99) — a 7-year-old girl takes a walk with her mom and finds that brown skin comes in many shades besides her own.
“The Colors of Us” by Karen Katz.

Square Fish

  • “Let’s Talk About Race” by Julius Lester (HarperCollins, $7.99) — a book about people’s differences by the Newberry Honor-winning author.
“Let’s Talk About Race” by Julius Lester.


  • “The Skin I’m In: A First Look at Racism” by Pat Thomas (B.E.S. Publishing, $8.99) — helping kids learn to be accepting of others.
  • “We’re Different, We’re the Same (and We’re Wonderful)” by Bobbi Jane Kates (Random House Books for Younger Readers, $4.99) — a Sesame Street picture book.
“We’re Different, We’re the Same” by Bobbi Jane Kates.

Random House Books for Younger Readers

  • “Something Happened in Our Town” by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins and Ann Hazzard (Magination Press, $16.99) — as the subtitle says: “A Child’s Story about Racial Injustice.”
  • “I Am Enough” by Grace Byers (Balzer + Bray, $18.99) — an ode to being who you are by the former “Empire” actor.
“I Am Enough” by Grace Byers.

(Balzer + Bray,

  • “Happy in Our Skin” by Fran Manushkin (Candlewick Press, $7.99) — a picture book about a light-skinned mother and her three kids who have the same brown skin as their father.
“Happy in Our Skin” by Fran Manushkin and Lauren Tobia.

Candlewick Press

  • “Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement” by Carole Boston Weatherford and Ekua Holmes (Candlewick Press, $17.99) — a Caldecott Honor selection about the civil rights champion.
“Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement” by Carole Boston Weatherford and Ekua Holmes.

Candlewick Press

  • A Terrible Thing Happened” by Margaret M. Holmes (Magination Press, $15.95) — the subtitle tells it: “A Book for Children Who Have Witnessed Violence or Trauma.”
“A Terrible Thing Happened” by Margaret M. Holmes.

Magination Press

  • AntiRacist Baby” by Ibram X. Kendi (Kokila, $8.99) — a brand-new board book on uprooting racism, coming out June 16, by the acclaimed author.
“AntiRacist Baby” by Ibram X. Kendi.


For teens
  • “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas (HarperCollins, $18.99 — the book that became a movie focuses on the aftermath of the killing of an unarmed black teenager who’s shot by a white police officer.
Angie Thomas.

Angie Thomas.


  • “Harbor Me” by Jacqueline Woodson (Penguin, $8.99) — six kids talk with each other about the things that are bothering them in this middle-grade novel.
  • “This Book Is Anti-Racist” by Tiffany Jewell and Aurelia Durand (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, $14.99) — “20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work,” as the subtitle says.
  • “Brown Girl Dreaming” by Jacqueline Woodson (Penguin, $10.99) — the author calls this “the story of my childhood, in verse.”
“Brown Girl Dreaming” by Jacqueline Woodson.


  • “Dear White People” by Justin Simien (Simon and Schuster, $18.99 ) — the companion book to the movie of the same name (which spawned a Netflix series) centers on a group of African American students at a largely white college. Subtitled “a guide to inter-racial harmony in ‘post-racial’ America.”

Simon and Schuster.

Read more at usatoday.com

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