The Real Reason My Biracial Son Has Long Hair

Not because I want to control him, but because it’s the one thing to which I’ve hitched the illusion that I can control the way people see him.

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When my son was born, he had a faint whisper of fine brown hair. “Have his curls come in yet?” my mother would ask each time we spoke. By the time he was two, they sat on his forehead in perfect spirals; a mop of coils that bounced about in every direction as his body did the same.


“He’s got the good hair.” “Oh, I just want to touch it. Can I?” “What a beautiful little girl you have!”

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We couldn’t leave the house without someone strange or familiar commenting on the head of my child. If he was bothered by the attention, he never really expressed it. He didn’t necessarily thrive on it either, but rather came to accept it as something to navigate and traverse like cracks in the sidewalk.
When he was three, he quietly took a pair of kid scissors and hid in his room, hacking a chunk out of the back before being discovered by his dad. I arrived home to find my husband far more anxious about delivering the news than the would-be hairdresser himself.


“What? The hair? I threw it in the trash can. Why?”

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I scrambled to the kitchen to rescue what I could. The curls I had stroked as they lay splayed against the pillow as he slept. The curls I untangled each morning and marveled at from across the playground. I tucked them safely into an envelope and away in a drawer acutely aware for the first time that his body was not simply an extension of mine.
In preschool he came home from a sleepover at his grandparents house, his scalp tightly lined with cornrows. With his hair out of the way, it was so easy to appreciate the angular beauty of his maturing face. If he ever had baby fat, all traces of it had vanished, leaving behind chiseled features that hinted at the man he’ll become. I loved finding his eyes so easily; the eyes that always hold a soft skepticism, reluctant to give anything away before letting someone in.
He loved it, too. He said it made him faster. As he darted up the busy pedestrian mall in our tiny city, the same people who’d stop in their tracks to compliment or observe this wild and wonderful creature when the wind blew through his curls, now said nothing. I can’t make assumptions about their assessment of my son, but I know that as his mother, I sensed the world was receiving him differently. It weighed on me.
Not long after, we faced the childhood scourge of lice. Teeming with bugs that evolved simply to make people miserable, I could have shaved his head completely. Instead, I spent countless hours combing, picking, treating, and obsessing. As we sat, “Spongebob” on loop, I considered why I was so reluctant to simply cut it off. How much should a child be defined by their hairstyle? What was I teaching him?

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Little black boy at the beach with long hair
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I tried to envision him with a closely cropped cut – without the curls that echoed his sweet and silly free spirit. In my mind’s eye, he looked harder, more stand-offish and tough. As much as I had tried to convince myself otherwise, I considered what adding those qualities to his brown skin would mean.
There’s nothing I hate more than the fact that we live in a world where a child too young to cross the street alone can be seen as threatening. That police can pump bullets into the torso of a boy who closely resembled my son with only two seconds of gathering information. Black boys aren’t granted the benefit of the doubt. And it’s my duty to parent from a place of knowing that.

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He’s 10 now and with each passing year, his unruly mass of brown hair with copper streaks has grown longer and more deeply connected to how he defines himself. As far as he knows, it’s cool; a feature that makes him unmissable even in silhouette. He likes it just the way it is and for that, I am grateful.
But the day may come when he asks to cut it, and to be honest, I don’t know how easily I’ll give in. Not because I want to control him, but because it’s the one thing to which I’ve hitched the illusion that I can control the way people see him.

His body is not an extension of mine. My white, small-statured body bears the weight of mothering a boy in a world that sees him as less than.

Why Sugar Coating the History of Slavery Is a Bad Idea If We Want to Empower Our Kids

If our kids don’t know what happened in the past, how will they ever work towards a better future and ensure that we never go back to those dark times?

“The difference between a lady and a woman back in colonial times was that ladies had more power and influence because of the number of slaves they owned.” These were the words spoken to my family while on a recent tour of the Peyton Randolph House in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia.
Peyton Randolph was elected the presiding officer of the First Continental Congress at Philadelphia in 1774 and the Speaker of Virginia’s House of Burgesses in the years leading to the Revolution. He and his wife Betty Harrison Randolph owned 27 slaves. This now historic site is set up to educate visitors about the stark contrasts between freedom and slavery at the house of one of America’s most prominent families.
As we left the tour, I pondered how I was going to explain the concept of slavery to my young white children. It is not exactly a common conversation topic at our dinner table. Nonetheless, I know deep in my heart how critical it is that they learn about this awful part of American history. If they don’t know what happened in the past, how will they ever work towards a better future and ensure that we never go back to those dark times?
I asked my 9-year-old son what he thought of the tour and if he knew anything about what was discussed. He immediately linked the idea of slavery and racism to what he learned in school about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights movement. I was proud that his school incorporated these lessons into their social studies curriculum. Not all schools are brave enough to delve into such challenging topics.
I can remember how shocked I was in college when I sat in my Women’s Studies history class to discover that much of the history I was taught in high school and earlier completely left out women’s roles in important historical events.
Given the current tension in America between people of different backgrounds, such as the horrific showing of hatred in Charlottesville, I have to wonder what role we as parents must play in order to ensure our children get an honest education about history – without frightening them too much.

Are they too young to learn about slavery?

The answer is a resounding “no” from experts at Scholastic. They explain that conversations about skin color typically start in preschool as children become more curious about other people and the world around them.
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, a professor of education at the University of Pennsylvania, said children are not waiting around for adults to talk about these issues. She found that kids are ready to discuss these topics early and are already doing so whether we realize it or not.
Unfortunately, many parents shy away from talking about the world’s ugliness with their kids, hoping that they will stay naïve and innocent for as long as possible. Thomas says this is not the best approach to take. It is more effective if we are in touch with our children earlier on and address these issues together as they grow.
It may be difficult to find the appropriate time or place to bring up slavery. Keep an eye out for opportunities that pop up, like a TV show, a book, a song, or an event that touches on the topic. Or maybe your young child notices that someone else has darker skin than they do. The more subtley you broach the topic, the easier it will be for both you and your child.
An article in Parenting magazine offered a really clever way to begin the conversation with young children. Invite them to help cook some eggs with you in the kitchen. Be sure to have some white eggs and brown eggs. Ask your child what they notice about the eggs. What is different about them on the outside?
Then crack the eggs together and ask them what they notice about the insides of the eggs. Point out how they are the same inside. Then make the link by explaining how eggs are just like people – they come in different shades, but they are the same on the inside. We should not judge someone by their appearance.

Tips for teaching children about slavery

Because talking to our kids about slavery is such a challenging task, I scoured the internet for expert advice on how best to address it. Here are some amazing tips to consider:

Examine your own biases first

Before you even begin to talk to your children about slavery and racism, take some time to look inside yourself and acknowledge your own experiences, biases, or privileges that may influence how you address these issues.
Don’t be afraid to share your own struggles about these topics with your kids. You can tell them that you are not an expert and want to work together with them to learn more. Consider taking the online test about bias created by Harvard experts.

Tell them the truth

Slavery is a very complicated issue that tends to be over-simplified to the detriment of children’s education. Be sure to use correct definitions and tell the whole story.
Many resources only cover the Underground Railroad or the Emancipation Proclamation, but there is a lot more to the history of slavery. Turn to expert resources, like the Teaching Tolerance website that will walk you through the most effective ways to talk about the details of slavery.

Avoid generalizations and stereotypes

Choose your words carefully. Not every Northerner was an abolitionist, and not every Southerner supported slavery. Although the North ended slavery decades before the Civil War, the people there continued to profit from it by manufacturing the whips, lashes, and chains used to enforce slavery in the South.
Also, be careful not to say that people were “born a slave.” Nature does not make people slaves; people enslave other people. Slaves were people treated like property and tortured for profit.

Celebrate the positives

There are tons of awful details about how slaves were treated that we do not want to dwell on too much with our children. Be sure to also focus on some of the heroes of that time who fought for their freedom, such as Arnold Cragston, a slave by day who rowed others to freedom by night, and Milla Granson who taught fellow slaves to read and write.

Encourage them to express their emotions

Learning about slavery can be very distressing. Give your children a safe space to reflect on how it makes them feel. Their emotions can range from anger, shock, frustration, sadness, hopelessness, and fear. Then ask them to look for ways to transform those negative emotions into positives, like hope and activism.

Link history to present time

The most important reason to study the awful parts of history is to ensure that it does not repeat itself. Take time to draw links between slavery then and racism and slavery today.
Human trafficking and forced child labor are examples of how slavery is still going on today. Sadly, racism is still entrenched in American culture. Explain to your children that slavery caused racism, and people are still fighting it. (Unfortunately, there are all too many examples in the news every day to point to.)

Be a good role model

Many Americans think people are “naturally” racist, that racism is genetic. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. According to experts, humans are not born racist. Instead, racism is a product of history. Our children are watching and listening to us.
Dr. Beverly Tatum, psychologist, educator, author, and past president of Spelman College, suggests that the best way to reduce children’s prejudices is to model an inclusive home, demonstrating that we have friends of all backgrounds. She explains that “parents who have learned to lead multicultural lives, connecting with people different from themselves, are more likely to have children who develop those important life skills at an early age.”


Fortunately, we have plenty of well thought out resources to turn to when it is time to talk to our kids about slavery.


Books are a wonderful way to initiate a discussion about slavery with children. Young readers can safely experience scary, sad, and uncomfortable issues through reading. Here’s a list of recommended books for kids about slavery:

  • “Now Let Me Fly: The Story of a Slave Family” by Dolores Johnson
  • “If You Lived When There Was Slavery In America” by Anne Kamma
  • “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” by Terry M. West
  • “If You Traveled on the Underground Railroad” by Ellen Levine and Larry Johnson
  • “Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad” by Ellen Levine and Kadir Nelson
  • “Lest We Forget” by Velma Maia Thomas
  • “Unspoken” by Henry Cole
  • “Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky” by Faith Ringgold
  • “Frederick Douglas: The Last Days Of Slavery” by William Miller
  • “Nettie’s Trip South” by Anne Turner
  • “Many Thousands Gone: African Americans From Slavery To Freedom” by Virginia Hamilton et al.
  • “The Price of Freedom: How One Town Stood Up to Slavery” by Dennis Brindell Fradin, Judith Bloom Fradin, and Eric Velasquez


As children get older, it is helpful to sit with them and watch documentaries or movies that address slavery and racism. “Roots”, “12 Years a Slave”, “Amistad”, “The Underground Railroad”, and “A Woman Called Moses” are some of the most popular ones to explore.
Common Sense Media also has an online database of suggested African-American experience films.

Field Trips/Museums

Visiting hands-on exhibits like the one at Colonial Williamsburg offers experiences that your children will remember forever. Here are some museums to visit that address slavery:

Hope is on the horizon

The best news of all is that after our visit to Colonial Williamsburg, my son found the idea of slavery so ridiculous and unbelievable. The concept of treating people differently because of the color of their skin is so foreign to him. He plays with kids of all backgrounds at school and would never dream of it being any other way.
We can only hope that this next generation will be color blind and never put up with intolerance of any kind.

Why Colorblind Isn't the Goal When Teaching Kids About Diversity

As uncomfortable as the subject is, in today’s “us” versus “them” culture, parents need to engage kids in age-appropriate conversations about diversity.

It was another routine weekday morning of volunteering with preschoolers while their parents attended a community class.
I sat beside a child playing with well-worn plastic kitchen toys. Pretend spaghetti was “cooked” and had to be fed to recruits from the doll collection. I held out a little black baby doll to the three-year-old chef.
Pushing the doll away, the child said, “I don’t want her. She’s dirty. She has a dirty face.”
My heart stopped. I wondered if the child had noticed my brown skin. Did she think I was dirty, too? Or, worse still, did she think my kids, born and raised in America, hadn’t taken showers either?
As an Indian immigrant in the U.S., I’ve had minor brushes with racism. But this remark had come from a cherubic three-year-old. The issue wasn’t the child. The issue was that her parents had probably assumed that their child didn’t notice skin color.
Parents are often reluctant to talk to their kids about race. The implicit understanding is that that children are colorblind, that they have an innate belief in equality. Parents simplistically believe that just because they themselves don’t hold any prejudices based on skin color, their child will automatically imbibe the same ideal. We prefer not to draw too much attention to our differences, because, after all, isn’t that what divides us?
Perhaps not. If parents don’t address race, children think of it as a taboo topic and come to their own conclusions – a composite sketch cobbled together from assumptions, the media, and friends.
The incident with the doll isn’t an isolated one. Even within my small social circle of immigrant friends, I’ve heard stories of bias from kids under the age of five. A friend’s daughter was told by her preschool classmates that she couldn’t be a princess because she was too brown. Another friend’s child has been told repeatedly that she’s ugly and needs to go back to Africa. Still another acquaintance’s child was told to bring an “American” lunch, instead of his “smelly” food – or else no one would be his friend.
This is heart-breaking stuff, and we can’t sweep it under the carpet. According to studies quoted by the authors of the book “Nurture Shock”, babies as young as six months old are already noticing differences in skin color. In another study from the University of Texas, children as young as three attributed positive traits to those from their own race and negative characteristics to those who looked different.
As uncomfortable as the subject is, in today’s “us” versus “them” culture, parents need to engage with kids – even preschoolers – in age-appropriate conversations about diversity.
Yet, like every other aspect of parenting, what we do speaks far louder than what we say. Our kids are watching us, picking up cues from our body language and facial expressions. If we walk into an ethnic neighborhood and comment that it smells, that’s exactly what our kids are going to believe. If all our friends look like us, think like us, and talk like us, our kids will be most comfortable with homogeneity.
Sometimes, though, while you would love to find a friend from a different ethnicity, maybe it’s just not practical based on where you live. In that case, be intentional about reading books that include diverse characters, incidents that awaken your child’s sense of empathy and justice, or even sense of wonder about cultures around them.
Picture books like “The Name Jar”, the 1962 classic “The Snowy Day”, or “God’s Dream” by Archbishop Desmond Tutu can get the conversation started, even with kids who are not yet in elementary school.
Introduce them to Sesame Street shows that take on complex topics with sensitivity, like the episode where Whoopi Goldberg and Elmo have a little tête-à-tête about skin color.
Explicit, age-appropriate, value-based conversations around these books and shows can help answer kids’ questions instead of creating an uncomfortable silence around the issue of diversity.
If your child happens to make a racially-insensitive remark, don’t go all “How could you say that?” on them. Try to find out where they could have picked up a certain opinion. Ask why they think, for instance, the doll is dirty. Then explain to them the simple but indisputable truth that there is strength in diversity.
In the words of Maya Angelou, “It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.”

Mothering White: Yes, It's a Privilege

As a mother, I must understand that yes, indeed, my white children are privileged. Their lives are inherently easier.

Mothers. We’re all different, but still we share. We share in the daily blunders of raising a child. We share in the pain of bringing a human into this painful, beautiful world. We do not share, however, the ease of mothering white.
On a couple of flights, I read “Between the World and Me” by Ta Nehisi Coates. Read it. Black, white, whoever you are – read it. Coates scribes a letter to his 15-year-old son describing his own life as a black child and young adult, and how the black body is oppressed. It reads overwhelmingly honest and in some parts bitter. Somehow, however, he manages to tell the truth without making a white middle-class mother feel as if any of this is her fault. He writes to educate.
Coates advises his son: “You have been cast into a race in which the wind is always at your face and the hounds are always at your heels. And to varying degrees this is true of all life. The difference is that you do not have the privilege of living in ignorance of this essential fact.”
White women on the other hand, do. We don’t understand the obstacles that black children face, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try. After reading, I couldn’t help but think about my own ease I have in mothering. To mother white means we simply have less worry about.
I have very little in common with Coates and his son. I am a young white mother. I am the daughter of two first-generation Greek immigrants who busted their ass to give all four of their kids a cushy life. And it was just that – cushy.
Now, as a mother of two, I find that I will have to teach my children much less than Coates. If you are white, your parenting life is easier. Period.

  • I won’t have to tell my son to change out of his baggy sweatpants.
  • I won’t have to warn my son that white women may be afraid of him while walking on the sidewalk.
  • Lectures about the police won’t go beyond “respect authority” and “do as your told.”
  • Once my kids enter their diverse middle and high schools, they will likely be given favor.
  • If my kids are well-spoken, their peers won’t call them a sell-out.
  • If they get into a prestigious university, no one will question if it was due to the color of their skin.
  • When they’re shopping, they won’t feel the clerk’s eyes burning their skin.

When I taught at an early college, I had a black young man named Ben in my classroom. He was the valedictorian of his class and he had never heard of parenthetical citations. He was bright and charismatic. You could tell he was angry because he was now aware that his education was sub-par. He had to work much harder to catch up to his peers. He did. Ben wore a dress shirt and bow tie every single day. The ladies didn’t fall for it, but all of the teachers sure did. Five years later, now a mother, I wonder about that bow tie. Did his mother encourage him to wear it because she knew what the outcomes would be?
During my undergrad, I fell in love with African American Literature and history. I devoured Malcolm X, WEB DuBois, Richard Wright, Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes and other greats. When I became a teacher, I loved teaching it. Learning about the struggle and triumph was addicting. But you know what? All of this means jack shit. Regardless of how much I read, I will never understand any of it. I endured none of it. My kids won’t endure it either.
As a mother, I must understand that yes, indeed, my children are privileged. Their lives are inherently easier.
I don’t feel awkward admitting this. I simply recognize it.
Those of us who aren’t mothering black, Muslim, Mexican, or another minority – we need to acknowledge these mothers. Yes, they are sharing in our daily struggles that all mothers share, but they have more at stake here. Their lessons will run deeper than ours. Their children will almost always have to work harder than ours.
Mothering white is a privilege, one we need to speak about and ignore how uncomfortable it may make us feel.
This article was originally published on

15 Things I Need My Brown Baby to Know

I want my daughter to be prepared for the situations she’ll encounter because of her race, and to embrace her #blackgirlmagic.

We’ve all read the “Things I Want My Daughter to Know” lists, and I was prepared to give you another one. Then I looked at my precious child and remembered the reason I started my blog.
The website is about her – my beautiful brown baby. I want her to have a record of my love and dreams for her. I want to do all I can – outside of coddling her – to help her have the best life.
I’d be doing her a disservice by writing a generic list.
I’m raising a little Black girl, and my advice needs to reflect that. Yes, people are people and women are women, so some generic guidance applies. But I want my daughter to be prepared for the situations she’ll encounter because of her race, and to embrace her #blackgirlmagic.
So here it is: 15 Things I Need My Brown Baby to Know.
1 | You’re not pretty for a Black girl. You’re beautiful, and your race isn’t a factor. Truth be told, your appearance isn’t a factor. You’re beautiful because of your heart and soul. Nothing you do to your outside will change that.
2 | You don’t have to represent all Black people, regardless of what others might think. Make decisions that will reflect the best you, and let the rest of us worry about ourselves.
3 | If a boy says you’re too dark, light, short, tall, thick, or thin for him to like you, then he never deserved your attention.
4 | You should make friends with people of all shapes, sizes, and colors.
5 | You shouldn’t try to hide your intelligence to fit in. Real friends will accept you for who you are, and they’ll love that you’re brainy.
6 | You must create your own definition of success. You’ll never be happy trying to live up to someone else’s expectations.
7 | What I said about success? It goes for beauty, too.
8 | You will fail at lots of things, lots of times. That’s okay. What’s not okay is to never try because you’re afraid of failing.
9 | I want you to learn to swim. I want you to try ballet and karate, math club and soccer. We might sign you up for golf or archery. I want you to get comfortable being the only Black girl in the room – it’ll happen more often than you think. Embrace those moments as your time to shine.
10 | It’s okay to cry. You’re allowed be angry. Go ahead – live loudly. Don’t let anyone write you off as the “stereotypical Black woman” because you’re not demure.
11 |Don’t apologize for saying no. It’s your right. And never apologize for being strong. It’s what you are.
12 | Society might not acknowledge your accomplishments. Don’t let that stop you from feeling amazing about what you’ve done.
13 | Don’t ever be afraid or ashamed to ask me for help.
14 | You should smile from your heart every day. Don’t do it because someone told you to. Do it because you woke up. God gave you another day, and that’s worth at least one smile, right?
15 | No matter how far apart we are, if you call for me, I’m coming to you.

50 Picture Books to Celebrate Each of the United States

This Independence Day, read your way around the United States with these books from the 50 states and the nation’s capital.

The season of family vacations, cross-country road trips, and Independence Day celebrations is here. Read your way around the United States with these books from the 50 states and the nation’s capital.



by Nikki Giovanni, Illustrated by Bryan Collier

Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on a city bus sparks the Montgomery bus boycott.


The Salmon Princess: An Alaska Cinderella Story

by Mindy Dwyer

With a boot for a glass slipper and an eagle spirit for a fairy godmother, this classic tale is set in a southeastern Alaska village.


Mule Train Mail

by Craig Brown

Anthony Paya leads mail-carrying mules to the Supai post office at the bottom of the Grand Canyon in this nonfiction narrative.


Fiddlin’ Sam

by Marianna Dengler, Illustrated by Sibyl Graber Gerig

In this family memoir, a fiddler travels the Ozarks playing music and looking to pass his talents on to the next generation.


Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation

by Duncan Tonatiuh

Sylvia Mendez’s family fights for her right to attend a local school, and in doing so, desegregates schools across California.


Grandfather’s Christmas Tree

by Keith Strand, Illustrated by Thomas Locker

A grandfather explains how his parents’ settling in Colorado in 1886 led to family Christmas traditions that continued for generations.


Snowflakes Fall

by Patricia MacLachlan, Illustrated by Steven Kellogg

A tribute to the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown is told through a story of falling snow that could just as easily be about the changing seasons as it is about loss and renewal.


No Kite in Sight: A Delaware Beaches Mystery

by Denise Blum, Illustrated by Nathan Rea

A brother and sister travel Delaware beaches in search of their missing kite.



by Donald Crews

Donald Crews writes an account of childhood visits to his grandparents’ farm in Cottondale.


Here Come the Girl Scouts!: The Amazing All-True Story of Juliette ‘Daisy’ Gordon Low and Her Great Adventure

by Shana Corey, Illustrated by Hadley Hooper

This biography details Juliette Gordon Low’s upbringing in Victorian era Savannah and her eventual founding of the Girl Scouts.


Too Many Mangos

by Tammy Paikai, Illustrated by Don Robinson

Kama and Nani share mangos from their grandfather’s tree with the neighbors, and each neighbor shares something in return.


P Is for Potato: An Idaho Alphabet

by Stan and Joy Steiner, Illustrated by Jocelyn Slack

This rhyming book teaches the alphabet through the culture and landscape of Idaho.


Murphy’s Ticket: The Goofy Start and Glorious End of the Chicago Cubs Billy Goat Curse

by Brad Herzog, Illustrated by David Leonard (forthcoming July 2017)

A goat is kicked out of a 1945 World Series game at Wrigley Field, and an ensuing curse is blamed for the Cubs’ mishaps for decades, until their 2016 World Series win.


Casper and Catherine Move to America: An Immigrant Family’s Adventures 1849-1850

by Brian Hasler, Illustrated by Angela M. Gouge

A family emigrates from Switzerland to Southern Indiana in the mid 1800s.


Tomás and the Library Lady

by Pat Mora, Illustrated by Raul Colón

Based on the life of writer Tomás Rivera, Tomás travels to Iowa for his parents’ migrant farm work and falls in love with the local public library.


Aunt Minnie and the Twister

by Mary Skillings Prigger, Illustrated by Betsy Lewin

When a tornado strikes, Aunt Minnie and her nine adopted nieces and nephews use their damaged farmhouse as an excuse to build a much needed addition.


The Last Black King of the Kentucky Derby

by Crystal Hubbard, Illustrated by Robert McGuire

Jimmy Winkfield, who grew up in an 1880s sharecropping family, goes from a child who loves horses to winner of the Kentucky Derby.


The Story of Ruby Bridges

by Robert Coles, Illustrated by George Ford

This biography details Ruby Bridges’ experiences as one of the first black children to integrate into a white school in New Orleans.


The Wicked Big Toddlah

by Kevin Hawkes

A giant baby gets into even bigger trouble in this humorous tale set in the woods of Maine.


Beddy Bye in the Bay

by Priscilla Cummings, Illustrated by Mary Dunn Ramsey

A rhyming bedtime story explains how and where various Chesapeake Bay creatures sleep.


Dear Mr. Blueberry

by Simon James

It’s summer in Nantucket, and Emily and her teacher exchange letters concerning a whale Emily insists is living in her pond.


Mail by the Pail

by Colin Bergel and illustrated by Mark Koenig

Mary sends her father – a sailor on a freighter in Lake Michigan – a birthday card, highlighting how mail is delivered on the Great Lakes.


Mississippi Going North

by Sanna Anderson Baker, Illustrated by Bill Farnsworth

A family canoes the Mississippi River in northern Minnesota, enjoying the beauty of nature.


Freedom School, Yes!

by Amy Littlesugar, Illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Told from the perspective of a brave young girl is a fictionalized account of the Mississippi Freedom School Summer Project in 1964.


Stand Straight, Ella Kate: The True Story of a Real Giant

by Kate Klise, Illustrated by M. Sarah Klise

Born in rural Missouri in 1872, Ella Kate Ewing grows to be eight feet, four inches tall and learns to accept her height and use it to her advantage.


Bug Feats of Montana

by Deborah Richie Oberbillig, Illustrated by Robert Rath

This informational book details Montana’s weirdest and most fascinating bugs.


The Huckabuck Family: and How They Raised Popcorn in Nebraska and Quit and Came Back

by Carl Sandburg, Illustrated by David Small

After a popcorn farming disaster in Nebraska, the Huckabucks head elsewhere until a sign from a squash prompts their return.


Rhyolite: The True Story of a Ghost Town

by Diane Siebert, Illustrated by David Frampton

Told in rhyming verse, Rhyolite, a once booming gold mining town, falls as quickly as it rose.

New Hampshire

Ox-Cart Man

by Donald Hall, Illustrated by Barbara Cooney

A 19th-century farmer travels to Portsmouth to sell the goods his family produced that year and buy things for the year to come.

New Jersey


by David Wiesner

A boy discovers creatures and treasures at the beach in this wordless picture book inspired by the author’s childhood summers at the Jersey shore.

New Mexico

How Chile Came to New Mexico

by Rudolfo Anaya, Illustrated by Nicolás Otero, Translated by Nasario Garcia

This bilingual book explains how Native Americans brought chile to New Mexico.

New York

Tar Beach

by Faith Ringgold

Cassie Louise Lightfoot imagines taking flight off of her Harlem apartment roof and soaring over landmarks of historical and personal significance.

North Carolina

The Sunday Outing

by Gloria Jean Pinkney, Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

Ernestine loves watching the trains on their way to and from North Carolina, and with sacrifice and her family’s help, she gets to ride the train, too.

North Dakota

A Boy Called Slow

by Joseph Bruchac, Illustrated by Rocco Baviera

A Lakota Sioux boy, named Slow after his unhurried nature, earns the new name Sitting Bull through an act of bravery.



by Robert McCloskey

Set in the fictional town of Alto, Lentil uses his harmonica to save the parade from Old Sneep, the town grump.


They Came from the Bronx: How the Buffalo Were Saved from Extinction

by Neil Waldman

White men wiped out the buffalo Comanche people depended on, but in 1905, the Bronx Zoo sends their own buffalo to repopulate the region.


Apples to Oregon: Being the (Slightly) True Narrative of How a Brave Pioneer Father Brought Apples, Peaches, Pears, Plums, Grapes, and Cherries (and Children) Across the Plains

by Deborah Hopkinson, Illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

Though more about the journey to get there than the state itself, this is a tall tale of a father and his family bringing fruit trees by wagon to Portland for that “sweet Oregon dirt.”


Saving the Liberty Bell

by Megan McDonald, Illustrated by Marsha Gray Carrington

John Jacob Mickley and his father help save the Liberty Bell from British soldiers during the American Revolution.

Rhode Island

Finding Providence: The Story of Roger Williams

by Avi, Illustrated by James Watling

Roger Williams, on trial in Massachusetts for advocating religious freedom, flees into the wilderness with help from Native Americans and eventually founds Rhode Island.

South Carolina

Circle Unbroken

by Margot Theis Raven, Illustrated by E.B. Lewis

A girl’s grandmother teaches her about the art of basket weaving and its historical roots.

South Dakota

Lakota Hoop Dancer

by Jacqueline Left Hand Bull and Suzanne Haldane, Photographs by Suzanne Haldane

Kevin Locke travels from the Standing Rock Reservation to perform the Lakota hoop dance around the world.


The Quickest Kid in Clarksville

by Pat Zietlow Miller, Illustrated by Frank Morrison

Alta and Charmaine fight over who is faster, but they come together to make it to the parade on time to see Wilma Rudolph.


The Legend of the Bluebonnet: An Old Tale of Texas

Retold and Illustrated by Tomie dePaola

When drought threatens the Comanche, a young girl makes a sacrifice to help her community.


Dinosaur Mountain: Digging into the Jurassic Age

by Deborah Kogan Ray

In 1908, Earl Douglass sets out for the Uinta Basin to find fossils and become one of the best “dinosaur hunters” of his time.


Snowflake Bentley

by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, Illustrated by Mary Azarian

Wilson Bentley, born in Jericho in 1865, develops a method for photographing snowflakes.


I Took a Walk

by Henry Cole

Inspired by the author’s Loudoun County childhood, a boy wanders meadows and woods spotting various creatures.


Elliot the Otter: The Totally Untrue Story of Elliot, Boss of the Bay

by John Skewes and Eric Ode, Illustrated by John Skewes

Elliot the Otter is convinced he is in charge of all the action in Puget Sound’s Elliot Bay.

Washington, D.C.

Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured White and Black America

by Carole Boston Weatherford, Illustrated by Jamey Christoph

While Gordon Parks lived in many places and excelled in many fields, this biography focuses on his work as a photographer documenting racial injustice in Washington, D.C.

West Virginia

John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads

Adapted by Christopher Canyon

In this adaptation of John Denver’s famous song, various vehicles traveling along Appalachian backdrops arrive at a family reunion.


Mai Ya’s Long Journey

by Sheila Cohen

Mai Ya journeys from a refugee camp in Thailand to Madison where she must balance her Hmong heritage and American life.


When Esther Morris Headed West: Women, Wyoming, and the Right to Vote

by Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge, Illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers

After Wyoming passes a bill allowing women to vote and hold public office, Esther Morris becomes the first female judge in the United States.

Making Your Life a Masterpiece – an Adoption Story

For the past 20 years, I have been fielding questions and comments regarding my son’s adoption. The first time it happened, I was grocery shopping with my baby when a man standing in front of me said, “Now you will get pregnant.”
I looked behind me to see if he was addressing someone else. When I saw no one, I realized he was talking to me. I must have given him a quizzical look because he elaborated: “Now that you’ve adopted, you will get pregnant. It happens all the time.”
A little flustered and in no mood to discuss my fertility with a stranger in the produce aisle, I stated that my baby was the spitting image of my husband and walked away. I generally am pretty open and honest about things, but people, there is a time and place for certain discussions.
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That may have been the first, but it was certainly not the last time I’ve had to address the issue. When my son was in kindergarten, his teacher called me up on St. Patrick’s Day to tell me that he had told the class his birth father was Irish, a story she was certain he had fabricated. I pointed out that the term “birth father” was quite sophisticated language for a five-year-old and, in fact, his story was true.
I also told her that I knew of two other adopted children in the class. This was completely untrue, but I thought trying to figure out which children were the adopted ones would keep her busy for a while – perhaps even too busy to call me again.
As my son grew (and grew and grew), it became even more apparent that he did not physically resemble us. When I am out with my son, people look at the two of us and ask, “Is your husband tall?” I am a five feet, four inches, and my son is over six foot, one, so I guess it’s a logical question. But when I reply that no, my husband is not tall, the questions continue.
At this point, I should mention that my son is half Thai (and very handsome, I have to add). You would think people would be able to put two and two together, but that’s usually not the case. If I tell people he was adopted, the questions continue further. I have been asked what country he is from. Unless Florida has seceded from the Union, I am pretty sure he was born in the United States.
My son has spent several summers working at the company where my husband is employed. Much to his amusement, people often assumed his dad was the IT guy rather than the General Counsel. I won’t even comment about stereotyping.
Then there is the ultimate adoption reflection. People have expressed their doubts about whether they would be able to love an adopted child as much as they do their biological child. To those people, I have responded with a question of my own:
“What if you discovered there had been a mix-up at the hospital, and the child you brought home was not genetically linked to you. Would you love him or her any less?”
Of course not. Love is about familiarity and commitment, the intertwining of lives, not about a genetic connection. Adoption is the term for what happens on the day you get your child. Parenthood is the term for what happens every day after that.
An adopted friend of mine once told me that your “real” mother is the one who causes you to need psychotherapy. Perhaps that is true. Despite my mistakes, I hope my three sons know that I love them with all my heart and always have their backs. I hope they hear my (cautionary) voice in their heads before they do something dumb and know how proud I am when they do their best.
It is only fair to mention that, in addition to the personal, amusing, and odd comments we have heard over the years, we’ve heard incredibly positive sentiments as well. A card we received after we brought our son home read, “Sometimes you need to color outside the lines to make your life a masterpiece.”
We colored outside the lines to help us create our family, and the result is beautiful.

Honesty is the Best Policy For Instilling Compassion

Feeling comes first from knowing.

My daughter is three (and-a-half, she’d want me to add) and my son is fifteen months. Like any mom, I hope someday they grow up to change the world, the same world I long to shelter them from right now.

But the truth is that, in order to make this world a better place, we need our children to feel burdened for a person or a cause beyond our borders of comfort. Feeling comes first from knowing. I cannot teach my children compassion for someone without giving some explanation for the suffering that person is experiencing.

Perhaps three is too young to be talking about and death and drugs and racism. Heck, if I sheltered my kids as much as I would like, they would both be home-schooled, get “Mom” tattoos, obtain degrees online, and work for me (doing what, I’m not sure, but I have a few years to figure this phantom-future-business-thing out).

But really, is three too young? I have no worries about my three-year-old planning her first drug deal. I do have worries about someone else shaping her worldview before I’ve had a chance to get started.

Friends, I hope you know that I’m not suggesting anyone start with graphic details about heavy topics like the ones aforementioned. What I am suggesting is that we consider ways to introduce our kids to the real lives of people around us.

When my husband’s grandfather was dying of cancer, it was important to us to include our daughter in loving him, even when his appearance was startlingly gaunt and we had to be completely dressed in scrubs to be around him.

When a family member, who was once addicted to drugs, got clean and stayed clean for six months and counting, I wanted my three-year-old to know that giving up that harmful medicine was a very difficult and brave thing to do.

And when I heard that my little community has its own secret KKK chapter, I knew without a doubt that my children must be aware of both the history and the current state of racism in this country. We’ve come a long way, but that doesn’t mean discrimination and cruelty are beyond touching the people around us.

My daughter and I had one such conversation just this afternoon. It started while reading a book from the library, “Freedom Summer” by Deborah Wiles. It’s about two friends – one white and one black – in the 1960’s. The white boy loves to include his black friend and would visit the candy store to buy treats for them both. But even after segregation is banned, the community’s refusal to accept the ban stuns him. I could barely get the words out when I read the angry cry of injustice the African American boy tells his white friend, “I want to do everything you can do.”

It was thoughtful of his friend to buy popsicles for them to share, but he shouldn’t have needed to do it in the first place.

Unlike our little family clichés, these conversations seem to penetrate her heart. They evoke questions and reflection that shift her attention from self-gratification to concern for others.

Oh, by the way, did I mention that my son is adopted? That he is black and the rest of us are white? It explains why race is such an important conversation to me, right?

Soon after he was born, I had several friends recommend that I not talk to my daughter about the differences between her and my son. That way she could be innocently “color blind.”

So I didn’t for a little while. But it didn’t feel right.

I don’t want her to be “color-blind” and assume everyone is treated the same. I want her eyes to be open and her heart to be ready to defend anyone that is being picked on for being different, whether it’s for the color of their skin, the way they walk, what they wear, or how they speak.

These are the conversations that get their wheels turning, that ignite passion, and mobilize compassion into action.

Set those shelters on fire, friends. Whatever issues are in your community or family, it’s impossible to keep these things from your kids. Let’s start talking, let’s start stirring compassion in their hearts.

Even now.

Mom, Mermaids Can't Be Brown

She was simply telling me the way of the world as her toddler eyes saw it.

I was burying my daughter’s legs on the beach when inspiration struck. “Look, you’re a mermaid!” I exclaimed, fashioning a crude tail out of the sand. And that’s when M broke my heart.
“But, Mom, mermaids can’t be brown.” She wasn’t even angry, my little half “pink” (as she calls me), half Puerto Rican child. She was simply telling me the way of the world as her toddler eyes saw it.
I have seen her scream for an hour in response to the perceived injustice of being denied a third popsicle. But third popsicles exist in the world of possibilities after all. Brown mermaids evidently do not. Hence this tired resignation, this easy acceptance of something unacceptable.
I was stunned. Certainly nobody in her personal life has ever said anything to her that would convey this kind of attitude. We lived in a diverse and warmly affirming community in Decatur, Georgia, where she went to a diverse and warmly affirming school surrounded by diverse and warmly affirming teachers at all levels of experience.  
When we moved from Decatur, it was to the site of the mermaid debacle – the island of Puerto Rico. Here, surrounded by a loving extended family, where she and her father were the ethnic majority, she still somehow voiced this opinion of otherness. More than otherness, of being less than.
I wondered then about media influences on her perceptions. Until M was two, we scrupulously followed the American Medical Association’s guidance for no screen time. Since her second birthday, we have undeniably been more lenient, though we still carefully control the messages she receives.   
Hers is a world not just of Cinderella, but of Tiana and Pocahontas, of Doc McStuffins and her physician mother. M’s toys are the usual range of anthropomorphic animals complemented by baby dolls of multiple ethnicities. I consumed myself with figuring out the origins of her mermaid comment so we could rid ourselves of that poison.
M’s father suggested this was just one of the random things that she spouts out, and that she latched on to it because of the reaction it provoked. After all, she has claimed that Maleficent was preventing her from taking a bath or that Captain Hook gave her the candy that she knew she wasn’t allowed to eat before dinner. She recently jokingly threatened to bite off my nose. She does say random things. She’s three.  
I might have been able to accept that explanation were it not for an incident a few weeks before the mermaid one. One night, as we snuggled close for her bedtime stories, M commented, “Mom, it’s hard being two things. I wish I was just pink, like you.” At that time, her remark felt more like developmentally normal maternal identification than anything else. But now I wasn’t so sure.
I had thought I was aware of white privilege before, was adept at seeing the doors that I walk through that might otherwise be closed. But I have never felt my privilege like I felt it that day on the beach in Puerto Rico, when I realized that the child I had helped create sees her dreams more limited than mine. Not opportunities or aspirations, but actual dreams, those effervescent bubbles of hope and comfort to which we should all feel unreservedly entitled. It felt like a gut punch to the core, and the ache is with me still.
The crisis passed. Over time, M no longer bemoaned the fact that she was brown. She didn’t care that her father and I don’t match each other. She learned to make her own mermaid tails in the sand. We learned more Spanish and explored further on the island. We ate seafood at a restaurant while watching the fresh catch brought in straight from the boats. M found a family of snails at her great-grandmother’s house. Everything was as it should be in our little corner of the world.

or now, that’s enough. But the world feels so angry these days. Everything feels so divisive. I can’t shake my anxiety. I dread the day she begins to wonder why so many people who look like me hate so many people who look like her.

My Pregnant Body: Confronting Shape, Race, and a New America

Being in a body that temporarily feels as though it’s not my own, changing in ways that garner attention and judgement has given me new awareness.

As I write this, I’m in my seventh month of pregnancy. My torso is roughly the size and shape of a pumpkin ready to be plucked from the vine. I feel bigger by the day.

Before I can mentally acclimate to each day’s increased girth, I must physically adjust to what feels like an ever-widening circumference and the ways in which I must fill and move through space differently: new maneuvers to roll out of bed, a wider stance when bending over my son’s crib in the morning to greet him. It is a distinct state of being a woman that I have, in all honestly, cherished.

I’ve observed such women my entire life. We live with these bodies, these fecund distortions of what is the typical body – what a first-grader might draw if that is her only instruction – as evidence of the miracle of nature and reproduction. That a woman can house a growing other within herself for 40 weeks, and that her body can adapt to the requirements of such a task – no, that her body is designed to do just that – is a miraculous truth of nature and of our lives.

I, as such a woman with an odd-looking, yet ordinary changing daily shape, am never far from this wonder as I encounter myself in the mirror in the morning, or in a window reflection on my way into the grocery store, or as I contort to navigate around desks in my classroom. My body – the strangeness of it, the unwieldiness of it, the incredible gravity of it – is always on my mind.

I highly doubt that my size and shape is much on the minds of anyone else I may interact with these days, but I have not gotten used to the ways in which I am exposed as a pregnant body while in public. Unless I go to great efforts, I cannot hide this detail from the world. 

As a woman who also walks around with a particular ring on a particular finger, I don’t feel the threat of judgment that some pregnant women might, for example. But I am insecure at times. I do, however infrequently, wonder about judgments being placed on me.

Does the grocery store employee judge me for the six-pack of Fat Tire, marshmallows, and Ben & Jerry’s that comprise my order? Does something inside her wonder if the beer is for me and if she should make a joke about ice cream for dinner, hoping it will make me reconsider having ice cream for dinner for the sake of my unborn child who has no choice in the matter? Do the people at the gym consider my 30 minutes on the elliptical and 30 minutes throwing weights around as allowing my vanity to put at risk the “delicate” life I carry?

As a member of the majority class and race for my entire life, I have rarely, if ever, experienced such corporeal exposure. Sure, I had a period of neon pink hair in my teens, but, if I ever felt the need to retreat from whatever it was that my hair announced to the world, or whatever category it placed me in, it was easy enough to put on a hat. If I ever felt ridiculed, ostracized, or particularly burdened by this physical characteristic – one that I chose – I could always just dye it back to a color that did not elicit questions. Problem solved.

My body, and the fundamental shapes and colors that comprise it, has never been notable, has always fallen within the realm of “same,” “us,” “normal,” and, therefore, unremarkable. Because I have never really been the physical “other,” I’ve rarely had to confront just what it means to be the “same.”

Now, in this short window of time in which my midsection stretches skin forward like a bullfrog throat filling with air, I am, in the smallest of ways, experiencing being the physical other. The cultural context of this fact is mingled with a social and political discourse that I cannot believe. That America is in desperate need of a movement called Black Lives Matter is, in itself, sad for those of us who agree with the sentiment and see recent injustices against the black community as direct results of pervasive institutionalized racism.

It is unbelievable to me that America is empowering a political demagogue who dog whistles to those who sympathize with the worst of our nation’s history: the Ku Klux Klan. I cannot compare how I feel about my pregnancy in this writing to the deeper implications of how the poet Sharon Olds describes a young black boy on a subway as “wearing / red like the inside of the body / exposed.”

I cannot compare how I feel about my pregnancy in this writing to what I read on the pages of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ sobering book “Between the World and Me” as he instructs his teenage son, and me, about the assaults against the black body in America. In this way, my consideration of the current state of my body and the ways in which it exposes me pales, mightily, in comparison to those who exist bodily and hourly as “other.”

But still. My changing form, my enlargement, my sense that I have lost any control I once had over the shape of my body, has allowed me to consider what it might be like to be in a state of constant physical exposure. To have a body, a physical presence, a set of features or characteristics that are not so temporary or easy to hide or change or predict reactions to.

It also allows me to consider, daily, what is causing this change to my body. There is an entity pushing itself forward against its protective sac, the three layers of my uterine wall, and the fat and muscles between the outermost layer and my belly skin. It claims more room as its own body changes, becoming more and more the shape that we all recognize as fundamentally human. More than just human, my son, like his mother and father, will most likely enter this world with the characteristics of a person who fits most easily into it. He will fall within the realm of “same,” “us,” “normal,” because he will be male, middle-class, white and, as such, unexposed.

Knowing the very little that I know about the experience of black Americans, I can only make assumptions about what it must feel like to be always visible. I can only make assumptions about the weight and consequence of that visibility, one in which what is seen is unknown or misunderstood at best; feared or hated at worst.

How do I prepare the son harbored inside me for a world that already has rules about the shapes and colors and features he will carry through it? How and when and why and to what degree do I share with him the realities of his world that I do not fully know myself and that he is unlikely to be confronted with because he is not black and he is not other? Why is it so important that I do so?

My husband and I were playing with our 22-month-old in our backyard the other day. We reached the property line behind our house, which is a paved alley that separates ours from the next backyard. A teenaged boy, maybe 13, was walking up the alley, and we both noticed him. He was black, and in that moment I had to wonder if I noticed him because of that fact.

As I watched him pass, I simultaneously wondered who he was and where he was going, and questioned myself for doing so. If he were white, would I have spent any mental energy on him at all, or would he have occupied my observations as a bird does, a presence that is so commonplace in my world – the world of my backyard, the world of my daily life – that it requires no extra thought, that it appears, but nearly invisibly so? My additional attention to this black boy made my fourth thought one of guilt, but it did not erase whatever had shaped my first three curiosities.

After my son is born, I will return to the size and shape that have so far protected me from judgments, perceived or real, and that carry me through life relatively unexposed and, therefore, complacent in my sameness. But I should remember, for the sake of both of my sons, what it feels like to be other in this world into which they will grow.