7 Realistic Media Representations of Black Kids for Them To Read, Listen to, and Watch

MSNBC's Trymaine Lee says realistic depictions of Black children can be threatening in a culture of racism. Books and television shows like "Alma's Way" depict Black children beautifully and honestly.

There's untold beauty in the diversity of the Black experience. Shows like Ada Twist, Scientist and Motown Magic are fantastic and freeing for Black children, but it is equally important to honor the beauty in our everyday lives and communities.

Trymaine Lee, a Pulitzer Prize and Emmy Award-winning journalist who is a correspondent for MSNBC and host of the award-winning podcast Into America, says though most Black families are "regular, everyday human beings who fit somewhere in the 'wide middle' of the human experience," many media depictions of Black people lean toward stereotypical or unrealistically exceptional.

Alma's Way
Fred Rogers Productions

"When Black children are only exposed to the exceptions on either end, that often feels isolating. They can feel erased or that they don't matter," he says, also noting that narrow depictions of Blackness are a direct consequence of living in a culture of anti-Blackness—where showing Black people in their ordinary everyday contexts seems threatening.

"For people who don't see Black children as capable, worthy, or deserving of the fullness of humanity, showing Black children realistically can seem radical," Lee notes that books that show Black children realistically—or represent children who are overlooked—are at great risk for being banned because they confront people who expect everything to match their unrealistic perceptions of the world.

Lee and his 9-year-old daughter Nola regularly critique the limited ways Black people are shown in TV and books. The father-daughter duo have discussed representation and how it impacts which books are banned on the Into America podcast. "Depictions of unapologetic, regular Blackness are being wiped away. Or at least that's what seems to be the goal," says Lee.

In spite of this, creatives are doing what they can to make sure Black families—and most importantly Black children—can see their realities in media. Shows like Alma's Way and books like The Hula-Hooping Queen show us the joy of life in the neighborhoods our children live in. These authentic representations of Black families remind us even the ordinary moments in our Black lives should be celebrated.

Read on for books, television shows, and activities that showcase everyday things, like being nervous at a new school and making mistakes, in ways that help our children to feel seen and know that their ordinary lives are worthy.

Alma's Way

Alma's Way
Fred Rogers Productions

The experiences of city life are like a quilt with dynamic colors. Alma's Way is a PBS Kids television series that showcases the diversity of Black life in New York City in a way that honors the nuances—like the episode where Alma tries to fix her mother's mofongo— but embraces the regular, like picnics in the park. The show features 6-year-old Alma Rivera, an Afro-Puerto Rican girl who lives in the Bronx. The Bronx is known as the birthplace of hip hop and the home of the Yankees, but rarely considered as the home to thousands of diverse families raising kids. The show follows Alma's adventures in the borough with family members, like MTA train conductor Tia Gloria, and diverse friends like Rafia and Becka.

Bedtime Bonnet

cover of children's book, "Bedtime Bonnet" by Nancy Redd
Random House Books for Young Readers

This book reminds us that we don't spend enough time discussing the love and care that goes into the bedtime routine. Most of us were introduced to one of the most important parts of bedtime, the bonnet, by the loving adult who was taking care of our hair. We never saw it as a point of pride. Bedtime Bonnet changes this, presenting a realistic depiction of what countless black families do before bed each night. We see the familiar emotional rollercoaster of a missing, and recovered, bonnet and the diversity of Black hair textures. In this multigenerational family, little readers witness waves, Afro puffs, loose natural hair, locs, and even a roller set.

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut

Cover image of book "Crown: An Ode to The Fresh Cut" by Derrick Barnes
Agate Bolden

Is there anything more powerful than a fresh shape-up? Crown poetically explores the confidence that a black boy feels in the aftermath of a fresh fade. This one-of-a-kind book shares a rare glimpse into the hair care experience for Black men and reminds us that self-care makes us all feel good. This book reminds us that when little Black boys look their best they're prepared to take on the world.

I Am Perfectly Designed

Karamo Brown Perfectly Designed
Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)

Based on the real life of Karamo Brown, his book I Am Perfectly Designed discusses the experience of a single father who happened to meet his son later in life and loved him instantly. I Am Perfectly Designed showcases the endless curiosity of a child, the youthful belief that parents know everything about the world and warmth between father and son. Readers even get a little bit of fatherly advice on how to handle uncertainty and low self-esteem. These beautiful exchanges take place in everyday environments like the park and during the bedtime routine.

The Day You Begin

Cover of children's book, "The Day You Begin" by Jacqueline Woodson
Nancy Paulsen Books

Sometimes children feel out of place, this book reminds us that's OK. The Day You Begin is all about being different or feeling nervous in a new environment. The characters see a ruler in each scene that symbolizes our tendency to "measure ourselves" against our peers. The Day You Begin normalizes the discomfort in being new, reminding readers of all ages that being different doesn't mean that you're less valuable.

The Hula-Hooping Queen

cover of children's book, "Hula Hooping Queen" by Thelma Lynne Godin
Lee & Low Books

Kameela just wants to claim her title as the hula-hoopin queen of 139th street in Harlem—or so she tells her mother before she is unexpectedly inundated with tasks. The book, The Hula-Hoopin Queen, gets the details of the city all the way down to the dirt and the heat of the pavement. Readers are along for the ride as Kameela's neighbors get dressed for a party and her mother becomes frustrated with her. Most relatable is the elders, who show the kid that they still got it and remind readers that family and neighbors are almost one in the same.

Charm Words: Daily Affirmations For Kids

Charm Words graphic
ABF Creative

It's normal to deal with bad feelings from time to time. We've got a podcast recommendation to help kids make it to the other side. Charm Words meets children where they are and gives them empowering words in the form of daily affirmations, like "Challenges help me to learn and grow," and breathing exercises that combat negative thoughts. The podcast is a "daily reminder to be good to themselves and others." The short 2-3 minute episodes, which explore topics like feeling good in your body, doing your best, and listening to feelings, are just short enough to keep little ones' attention.

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