Unravel the Pages: Ibram X. Kendi Shows the Value of Anti-racist Literature for Kids/Teens


Photo by: Commonwealth Club

Dr. Kendi is the director for the center of antiracist research at Boston university, as well as a professor, public speaker, and prolific writer. Two of his most popular books have recently been adapted for a young audience.

Haley DiFruscio, Writer

  Systemic oppression and anti-racism can be complex topics for young people to understand, leading most adults to believe that they shouldn’t be brought up until students are older. However, bestselling author and director at Boston University, Ibram X. Kendi, values the minds and voices of the younger generation. In an interview with INSIDER, Kendi said, “We know as adults how hard it was for us to start this process of striving to be anti-racist. What if we would have started these conversations earlier, become more fluent and comfortable?”  This led him to adapt his best-selling novels, Stamped from the Beginning and How to be an Antiracist into simpler versions by working with critically-acclaimed young adult authors.

  Kendi first adapted one of his books in 2020, collaborating with Jason Reynolds to create Stamped: Racism, Anti-racism, and You. This book details the history of racism, starting with the world’s first documented racist, and going through time into the modern age. The school librarian for Abbotts’ Creek Elementary, Ms. Stacy Darwin, spoke with Cat Talk about the value of these kinds of books. “This particular version is great for middle school to high school and even adults,” she said, “I was personally unaware of a lot of the history and he [Reynolds] explained it so well.” Stamped reaches into the dark corners of history that most classes won’t delve into and creates a strong foundation for young readers to start thinking about systemic oppression and how to be an active anti-racist.

  This year, Kendi remixed his other most popular book with Nic Stone, who some may know as the author of Dear Martin. They came together to create How to be a (Young) Antiracist along with a workbook that pairs with the novel, allowing readers the space to self-reflect. Darwin explains the importance of books like this by saying, “It’s most important for kids who haven’t grown up living with the effects of racism. It’s these books that are really powerful to those kids who may not even know it exists. It humanizes it and shows another point of view.”

  At a time where concepts like critical race theory and anti-racism are extremely polarizing topics, Dr. Kendi is undertaking an important job by arming the next generation with informative literature. When discussing books with fellow educators, Ms. Darwin cites a popular quote by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop: “Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created and recreated by the author.”  This is a quote that Kendi has stood by with the creation of his latest two books, delivering important messages to kids who otherwise wouldn’t hear them. Tackling a topic as big as racism can be intimidating. If you’re looking for somewhere to start that’s simple, engaging, and informative, these two titles are excellent reads for any age.