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Looking for books about racism? Experts suggest these must-read titles for adults and kids

Anika Reed and Hannah Yasharoff, USA TODAY

Amid protests around the country centered on racism and police brutality and calls on social media for Americans to take action, books have arisen as an important resource to learn more and support Black-owned businesses.

Reading provides a valuable look at the past and an avenue for continued research when the protests are no longer front-page news.

"A lot of people don't really know the history of why things are the way that they are," City of Los Angeles Director of Branch Library Services Chad Helton told USA TODAY. "What I would recommend is really looking into the scholarship of Black history. That way you can really understand how racism has manifested itself and how it's become structural and institutional. ... All of what is happening is connected to systemic and institutionalized racism." 

As major online book retailers are selling out of books on fighting racism, there are other options for purchasing popular titles and exploring which published works are best for you. Services such as Audible, Apple, Amazon, Google Play, Nook and Libby also provide digital or audio copies for those who prefer or require learning with a different medium. 

Whether you're looking for titles to help expand your knowledge or searching for where to find them, we've rounded up options for beginning or continuing your reading quest:

Nonfiction reads

If you're looking for resources on how to talk about race or to brush up on history and important Black figures, experts say these books are a good place to start. 

“The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander is a “great book to read,” because it talks about the systemic problem of the criminal justice system, says Lorenzo Boyd, associate professor of criminal justice, and assistant provost of diversity and inclusion at the University Of New Haven. 

Dr. Beverly Tatum, psychologist and author of "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race" and "Can We Talk About Race? And Other Conversations About Race in an Era of School Resegregation," recommends checking out "How to Be an Antiracist" by Ibram X. Kendi, "White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism" by Robin DiAngelo or "Me and White Supremacy" by Layla F. Saad. 

"From Slavery To Freedom: A History of African Americans" by John Hope Franklin offers a comprehensive look at how the foundation of the United States has dictated racism in the present, Helton added. 

Expert recommendations, picks from the best-sellers lists and more: 

  • "White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism" by Robin DiAngelo
  • "How to Be an Antiracist" by Ibram X. Kendi
  • "Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do" by Jennifer L. Eberhardt 
  • "Raising White Kids" by Jennifer Harvey 
  • "So You Want to Talk About Race" by 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 
  • "Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption" by Bryan Stevenson
  • "The Fire Next Time" by James Baldwin
  • "Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race" by Reni Eddo-Lodge
  • "They Can’t Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, And A New Era In America’s Racial Justice Movement" by Wesley Lowery
  • "Hood Feminism: Notes From The Women That The Movement Forgot" by Mikki Kendall
  • "Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism" by bell hooks
  • "Open Season: Legalized Genocide of Colored People" by Ben Crump
  • "From Slavery To Freedom: A History of African Americans" by John Hope Franklin 
  • "The Third Reconstruction: How a Moral Movement Is Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear" by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and William Barber II
  • "Between the World and Me" by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • "Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You" by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
  • “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander

Impactful fiction from Black authors

The learning doesn't stop with nonfiction works. Black authors have made notable and creative contributions to the world of fiction writing over the years, including Pulitzer Prize-winning titles.

Real-world issues are the basis for these best-selling stories: 

  • "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf" by Ntozake Shange
  • "The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead
  • "Their Eyes Were Watching God" by Zora Neale Hurston
  • "Passing" by Nella Larsen
  • "The Bluest Eye" by Toni Morrison
  • "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker
  • "White Teeth" by Zadie Smith
  • "An American Marriage" by Tayari Jones
  • "The Mothers" by Brit Bennett
  • "Things Fall Apart" by Chinua Achebe

Help explain race to kids with these children's books

Talking to kids about complex world issues can be tough, but these books can help young people learn in a gentle, thoughtful way.

"I’ve seen a surge in different books to help with this situation," Ashay By the Bay founder and CEO Deborah Day told USA TODAY. "There’s a lot going on… Children need storybooks and they need the parents to sometimes sit down and read with them. That’s just that closeness – that opportunity is a great way to begin the healing process."

For preschool and elementary school-age kids, Dr. Tatum recommends sharing "Something Happened in Our Town" by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins and Ann Hazzard. For teenagers, Angie Thomas' "The Hate U Give" is a good place to start, she told USA TODAY. 

Best-selling stories to help younger kids: 

  • "The Colors of Us" by Karen Katz
  • "Let’s Talk About Race" by Julius Lester
  • "The Skin I’m In: A First Look at Racism" by Pat Thomas
  • Sesame Street's "We're Different, We're the Same" by Bobbi Jane Kates
  • "Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story about Racial Injustice" by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard
  • "I Am Enough" by Grace Byers
  • "Happy in Our Skin" by Fran Manushkin and Lauren Tobia
  • "Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement" by Carole Boston Weatherford and Ekua Holmes
  • "Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America" by Jennifer Harvey
  • "Daddy Why Am I Brown?: A healthy conversation about skin color and family" by Bedford F. Palmer
  • "A Terrible Thing Happened" by Margaret Holmes
  • “Antiracist Baby" by Ibram X. Kendi

For teens: 

  • "The Hate U Give" by Angie Thomas
  • "Harbor Me" by Jacqueline Woodson
  • "This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do The Work" by Tiffany Jewell and Aurelia Durand
  • "Brown Girl Dreaming" by Jacqueline Woodson
  • "Dear White People" by Justin Simien

'First look for sameness': Kristen Bell's new children's book urges kids, adults to focus on commonality

Black-owned bookstores to support

Bigger retailers may be selling out of the book you're interested – but don't forget about local shops! These bookstores run by Black owners also offer a slew of titles if you're looking to shop local. 

Mahogany Books: Bookstore based in Washington, D.C. 

Ashay By The Bay: San Francisco Bay Area kids bookstore

Harriett's Bookshop: Philadelphia-based store named after Harriett Tubman

Semicolon Bookstore: Chicago's only Black woman-owned independent bookstore

The Lit Bar: Bronx-based bookstore and wine bar

Sister's Uptown Bookstore: Family owned and operated bookstore and community space in Manhattan

Sankofa: Washington, D.C.-based bookstore that celebrates Pan-African culture and offers book clubs and children's events

Hakim's BookstorePhiladelphia's first and oldest African American bookstore specializing in Black history

Cafe con Libros: Feminist, independent bookstore based in Brooklyn, New York

More: Inside historic Black bookstores' fight for survival against the COVID-19 pandemic

Contributing: Sara M. Moniuszko, USA TODAY. 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Books on racism: Anti-racism titles for adults, kids amid protests