Anti-Racist Books for Kids Ages 8 – 12

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If you’re looking for anti-racist books for kids ages 8 – 12, read these middle grade choices to build empathy and teach kids about prejudice, social justice, and discrimination.

How can talk about race with our children? How can we educate children so they’re anti-racist and advocates for social justice?

One way to do this is through books –which is why I’m recommending this list of books from which to choose.

What I like about books so much, and it’s especially important as a white person, is that we get to read stories about other people’s lives and experiences.

Sometimes the books will be mirrors into our own life while other times, the books will open doors and windows into the lives of others. Seeing what other people experience builds our empathy and our understanding of the world.

These excellent middle grade books for ages 8 to 12 deal with race, racism, prejudice, and social justice. They’ll give readers insight, empathy, and spark deep thinking about human rights and inequality. And they can be a starting point for discussions and reflections.

Racism is taught. Let’s be sure we’re not teaching it inadvertently. Let’s keep learning and growing in this area. And teach our kids well.

I want to be clear that I stand against racism. And I denounce the systemic inequalities and violence perpetuated on the black citizens of our country.

Social justice means we see and value every individual in our communities. It means the systems in our society are fair and equitable for all people.

I want to be part of the social justice movement in this country that will fix the wrongs happening every day.

One of the best middle grade books that I’ve read that helped me learn about racism and reflect on my own biases is This Book is Anti-Racist— it’s eye-opening and I highly recommend it for YOU and for the children in your lives. My daughter and I are currently rereading it together.

If you’re looking for young adult books for ages 13 and up about systemic racism, race, police brutality in the 20th century, and gender, I highly recommend reading starting with these amazing novels:

As far as terms go, here are a few you should know about as defined by Tiffany Jewell in her book, This Book is Anti-Racist.

Racism is the personal prejudice and bias and the systemic misuse and abuse of power by institutions.”

Prejudice is the personal side of racism. It is an attitude towards an individual or group of folx based on the social group they belong to. Prejudices can be based on stereotypes, misinformation, or fear, and –while they are not always negative–they most often are.”

I am not an expert. I’m continuing to listen, learn, and grow. With that in mind, I’m sharing books with you that have been helpful, insightful, and powerful for me, a white woman, to read and share with kids.

PRINTABLE BOOK LIST

ALSO READ: Picture Books to Teach Kids Ages 2 – 8 About Racism, Prejudice, Inclusion, and Kindness

Anti-Racist Book Lists for Kids Ages 8 – 12

Anti-Racist Nonfiction Book

Anti-Racist Books for Kids Ages 8 - 12
This Book is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell, illustrated by Aurelia Durand
#OWNVOICES
If you’re going to read one relevant, anti-racist book right now, start with this one. The writing is straightforward and understandable and the activities push readers to think and interact with the information about what it means to be against racism, including what racism and prejudice are, the history of racism, and responses to racism. It’s an excellent book.


This Book is Anti-Racist Journal: Over 50 Activities to Help You Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work
by Tiffany Jewell, illustrated by Aurelia Durand
Because it’s so important that we all apply the anti-racist lessons to our own lives, this journal’s guided questions and thinking opportunities will spark growth and reflection on a person’s journey to becoming more anti-racist. The journal begins with prompts to think about self and identity. The journal begins with prompts to think about self and identity. It continues with information and guided questions about topics like power, privilege, history, books, creativity, and taking action. Kindness won’t end racism,” writes Jewell on the last page. She quotes Opal Tometi who says, “What we need now more than ever is a human rights movement that challenges systemic racism in every single context.” Beautifully designed, this is a must-read, well-written book that will be a step in helping readers move toward an anti-racist life. 

Anti-Racist Books About Black Lives

Anti-Racist Books for Kids Ages 8 - 12
Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship
by Irene Latham and Charles Waters, illustrated by Sean Quills and Selina Alko
#OWNVOICES
Fictional classmates, one black and done white, write poems for a school project about identity, race, hair, police brutality, and diversity. Their project about difficult topics helps them learn about each other, becoming friends in the end.

Anti-Racist Books for Kids Ages 8 - 12
What Lane?
by Torrey Maldonado
#OWNVOICES
Short and fast-paced, this is the story of a boy who learns to think for himself and define who he is himself, instead of being influenced by friends. Stephen notices he’s living in a world that treats him differently than his white friends. His journey in this book ends with the conclusion that only he gets to decide what lane he’s in as a young black man– not the world or his peers who are judging him by the color of his skin. 

 

Anti-Racist Books for Kids Ages 8 - 12
Black Brother Black Brother
by Jewell Parker Rhodes
#OWNVOICES
These twins with very different skin colors are treated differently. Donte, who is darker, is unfairly accused of something and suspended from school. He learns to fence to get revenge on the kid calling him “black brother” but as he trains, he discovers that he’s smart, good at fencing, and courageous. If you think the world still isn’t racist and colorist, read this compelling story and you’ll see that we still have a long way to go.

 

 
 

New Kid
by Jerry Craft
#OWNVOICES
This graphic novel is the well-deserved Newbery winner for 2020. Jordan’s parents make him go to a private school across town where he’s one of the only kids of color. Besides having the tricky business of navigating friendships, he now must deal with the two separate worlds of his neighborhood and his school along with racism and balancing academics with his artwork. This story feels truthful, relatable, and important.
 

Anti-Racist Books for Kids Ages 8 - 12
From the Desk of Zoe Washington
by Janae Marks
#OWNVOICES
On her 12th birthday, Zoe, a girl who loves to bake, discovers a letter to her from her incarcerated biological father, Marcus. She decides to write him back, even daring to ask him about the murder he’s in jail for — did he really do it? Zoe learns that he’s innocent and determines to prove it. You won’t be able to put down this winsome story with a heroine you can’t help but adore; a story that illuminates social justice with themes of family, friendship, and love.

 

A Good Kind of Trouble
by Lisa Moore Ramée
#OWNVOICES
Middle school is hard enough with friend drama but 12-year-old Shayla is also dealing with not being black enough drama, personal and community race-related drama, and boy drama. She experiences micro-aggressions from teachers and when a jury finds a cop innocent in the shooting death of a black boy, Shayla decides to take a stand and support the Black Lives Matter movement calling for equality for black Americans. It’s a powerful coming of age story about social justice.

 

 
Anti-Racist Book Lists for Kids Ages 8 - 12
Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes
#OWNVOICES
After Jerome is unjustly shot because of his skin color, he becomes a ghost– a ghost that only Sarah, the police officer’s daughter, can communicate with. Interestingly, Jerome can also see other ghost boys who were killed in racially motivated violence which gives us more stories that show a systemic pattern of violence against black boys. It’s a well-written, fast-paced story about police violence that shows us the complexity of issues including the humanity of the police officer.
 
 
 
Anti-Racist Book Lists for Kids Ages 8 - 12
Harbor Me
by Jacqueline Woodson
#OWNVOICES
Harbor Me tackles very big issues including race, immigration, bullying, learning differences, friendship, and forgiveness. The story is about six diverse children with learning differences. They bond during a special group, kids-only time on Friday afternoons where they share their stories, many of which Haley records on a tape recorder.

 

 

It All Comes Down to This
by Karen English
#OWNVOICES
Experience the 1960s in Los Angeles, a turbulent time of racism and burgeoning activism, from the perspective of Sophie, a sweet black girl who lives in an all-white neighborhood. Her parents’ marriage is in trouble, her sister is about to leave for college, and her best (white) friend has abandoned her. Surprisingly, Sophie’s strict, disapproving housekeeper becomes her ally, something Sophie needs during the challenges of life and growing up.

 

 
Diverse Books About Black Lives
Brown Girl Dreaming
by Jacqueline Woodson
#OWNVOICES
Written in verse, Woodson shares her experience of growing up as an African American girl in the 1960s and 1970s. This Own Voices historical memoir is a Newbery Honor Book. Woodson shows how her love of stories and words helps her as she grows up during the Civil Rights Movement, dealing with racism, and finding her voice.

 

 
 

Genesis Begins Again
by Alicia D. Williams
#OWNVOICES
An important middle-grade book about self-worth, beauty, and colorism. Genesis hates her dark skin, believing that if only she were lighter-skinned, she’d have a better life. Despite this and troubles with her ne’er-do-well father, an insightful music teacher introduces Genesis to jazz music. The music helps Genesis find her voice, literally and metaphorically.
 

Miles Morales 
by Jason Reynolds 
#OWNVOICES
Miles’ spidey sense is whacking out when he’s at school, especially in his history class. Add to that, he’s worried he will turn out like his criminal uncle. So, Miles, who is Puerto-Rican and African American, stops being Spider Man. Until he discovers a chilling plot of men named Chamberlain who work under the control of The Warden.  Now, he must use all his skills to save the world from a racist threat. You’ll love the diversity, the two-parent family, and the complexity of Mile’s character– this is a GREAT book.
 
 
Anti-Racist Book Lists for Kids Ages 8 - 12
For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington
#OWNVOICES
It’s hard for Makeda being a black adopted girl in a white family. But there are even more challenges for Makeda these days, starting with being the little sister to a newly distant teenager, moving to a new town away from her BFF, having parents who constantly fight, and watching her mom’s mental health deteriorate and blaming herself. Don’t miss this insightful, honest story — it makes you think deeply and will stay with you long after the last page.
 
 
8th Grade Superzero by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich
#OWNVOICES
Lovable but insecure Reggie McKnight is an unpopular yet thoughtful middle-school student who is hoping to get past his horrible “Pukey” nickname. He spends a lot of time with his church youth group which leads to an interest in his school’s elections for president. This book for middle school students explores the themes of social justice, faith, friends, and family.
 
 
Anti-Racist Book Lists for Kids Ages 8 - 12
Blended by Sharon Draper
#OWNVOICES
Isabella hates switching houses between her divorced dad and her mom. To make it worse, her parents, one who is white and one who is black, don’t get along. Tensions between the families get worse when both parents decide to remarry on the same date. Add to this, she and her stepbrother are pulled over simply because he’s black. The story captures Isabella’s feelings of division as she searches for who she is in her own story.
 
 

Midnight Without a Moon
by Linda Williams Jackson
#OWNVOICES
Williams Jackson masterfully tells the history of the 1950s in Mississippi with compelling characters and an interesting plot. Rose Lee Carter is a girl who is raised by her grandma and father, works in the cotton fields, and is best friends with the preacher’s son. She dreams of leaving Mississippi for the north like her mom and aunt, especially after the white men who killed Emmett Till are found not guilty in a real-life historical trial.

Young, Gifted and Black Meet 52 Heroes from Past and Present by Jamia Wilson, illustrated by Andres Pippins
#OWNVOICES
If you’re like me, you’ll immediately love the eye-catching, colorful design and illustrations. Then, you’ll read about influential people like George Washington Carver, Stevie Wonder, Oprah Winfrey, and Serena Williams. There’s about half a page to a full page of text for each biography making the information easily accessible for growing readers.

READ MORE BOOKS WITH BLACK MAIN CHARACTERS

Anti-Racist Books About Muslim Lives

Jameela is one of four girls in a Pakistani-American family and she’s passionate about journalism but in her enthusiasm, she hurts a new friend when she writes something he isn’t comfortable sharing with the world. While she digests these hard-earned lessons, she learns that her beloved little sister has lymphoma. Khan skillfully weaves a story of family, culture, community, and social justice.
 
 
Anti-Racist Book Lists for Kids Ages 8 - 12
It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel
 by Firoozeh Dumas
#OWNVOICES
Although it may sound like a heavy book, this is a funny, realistic story about growing up and living in a culture that is not your own. It’s the late 1970s and Zomorod (Cindy) and her family are back in the U.S. from Iran –again. Nevertheless, she’s desperate to fit in with the other kids despite facing both family pressures and anti-Iranian prejudice.
 

 

Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan
#OWNVOICES
Amina’s struggling when her friend, Soojin, wants to change her name to be more American and be friends with other kids. Her troubles are put into perspective though when Amina’s mosque is attacked, dimming her worries about middle school drama. In a heartening turn of events, the community, including her friend Soojin, supports the mosque by providing a place for everyone to gather and helps them rebuild.
 
 
Ahmed is a refugee boy from Syria who arrives at Alexa’s London school. Alexa and her friends hear that England is going to shut the borders to refugees, they decide to ask the Queen for help to reunite him with his family. Showing the power of individuals to make a difference, this moving gem of a novel ultimately is about human kindness and friendship. 

Stories About Native American Lives

Anti-Racist Books for Kids Ages 8 - 12
Indian No More
by Charlene Willing McManis and Traci Sorell
#OWNVOICES
Indian No More is an emotional, important antiracism story for kids about when the United States government arbitrarily made certain Native American tribes no longer tribes without reservations or legal rights. It also shows the historical landscape of prejudice and stereotypes towards people of color. I love the close-knit, loving family based on the author’s own life, a family who values each other and their survival.
 
This heartfelt story is about growing up, family, and finding your identity in the context of adoption, historical maltreatment of Native Americans, and the mystery of your own heritage. Edie discovers a woman she suspects was her mom’s birth mother and it prompts a journey to discover the truth of her heritage. She learns about the unjust practices in U.S. history of taking Native kids away from their birth parents; parents whose only crime was being Indigenous.

Books about Jewish Lives (and Anti-Semitism)


The Blackbird Girls
by Anne Blankman
This story that explores what happens after Chernobyl explodes in 1986; it’s about Russia, friendship, family, and prejudice. When Jewish Valentina and her enemy Oksana are forced to leave town together after the meltdown, we learn why Oksana acts the way she does, because of fear and abuse from her father. Once she gets away, she starts to think for herself. The girls end up in Leningrad with Valentina’s grandmother and the months there are a healing time with unconditional love.
 
Anti-Racist Book Lists for Kids Ages 8 - 12
Refugee
by Alan Gratz
Three distinct, alternating stories narrate children who are displaced from their countries, on the run, and in danger. First is a young Jewish boy who escapes from Nazi Germany on a ship to Cuba, only to be turned away from the Cuban port and sent back to Europe. Next is a Cuban girl in the 1990s who, with her family and neighbors, flees in a homemade raft to the United States at great peril. Finally, is a story about a Syrian boy fleeing his home country.

 

Chinese and Japanese Immigrant Stories

Anti-Racist Book Lists for Kids Ages 8 - 12
Front Desk by Kelly Yang
#OWNVOICES
Mia’s parents take a new live-in job at a motel, working around the clock for very little pay. Mia helps out by working at the front desk. She befriends the weekly tenants from a variety of racial groups and uses her English skills to write letters advocating other people in tough spots. A memorable, antiracist, coming-of-age immigrant story, it’s also about tolerance, determination, and diversity. 
 
 

Kira-Kira
by Cynthia Kadohata
#OWNVOICES
This book is both sad and beautiful. Katie’s sister, Lynn, tries to help Katie make sense of the racism and challenges that their Japanese-American family faces in Georgia in the 1950s. When Lynn gets very ill, Katie tries to emulate her sister’s positive outlook.

 

Books about Latinx Lives

Each Tiny Spark by Pablo Cartaya
#OWNVOICES
Each Tiny Spark doesn’t just address racism but also learning differences and PTSD. Emilia is a Cuban-America girl whose ADHD makes focusing on school and school work a challenge. When her community proposes to redraw the school district’s boundary lines, it exposes prejudice and ongoing injustice. While Emilia decides how to stand up for justice in her community, she’s also trying to reconnect with her father who has PTSD.
 

Santiago’s Road Home
by Alexandra Diaz
Santiago is thrown out of his cruel tia’s home in rural Mexico with nowhere to go. He unexpectedly meets a kind woman and her daughter who let him join with on their journey to el Norte. Santiago is a keen survivor and helps them find a trustworthy coyote but when their group is attacked, they must find the route without the coyote’s help. The heat and lack of water almost kill them but he and his adopted little sister are rescued and taken to internment camps. This book is amazing — unflinchingly honest about the situation of illegal immigrants with a heroic main character whom you’ll love.
 
After a happy, hardworking life in the U.S., Guerrero’s parents are deported to Columbia, leaving Diane behind and forgotten just as she’s about to start high school at a school of the arts. She survives by staying with different friends, moving when they don’t have space for her, trying to be invisible and the perfect house guest, and excelling in school. An incredible journey of survival and strength and will profoundly affect readers.
 
 
anti-racism middle grade books for kids ages 8 - 12
 
social justice and anti-racist books for kids

 

 
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4 Responses

  1. Thanks, Melissa, fir a great list. I have read many, but your list provides more for my TBR list of MG books. I am still reflecting on my latest read which I highly recommend: PIECING ME TOGETHER by Renee Watson. Let me know what you think!

    Beth

  2. Thank you so much for this list. I’ve read a few of them, but I’m eager to share more of them with my boys.

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    Hi! I’m Melissa Taylor, mom, writer, & former elementary teacher & literacy trainer. I love sharing good books & fun learning resources.

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