“Adults struggle to discuss race and racism. But what if we were discussing race since we were kids? What if we were learning about racism since we were kids?”
This is the question posed by Ibram X. Kendi, the award-winning author, activist and historian whose many groundbreaking books on race and antiracism in America include the 2016 National Book Award-winning tome, Stamped from the Beginning. In 2020, that bestseller spawned yet another from acclaimed Young Adult author Jason Reynolds, who “remixed” Kendi’s extensive historical analysis for Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, a book which became part of the antiracist zeitgeist following the extrajudicial killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and more this spring.
Now, Stamped will have an even greater potential impact—from the beginning. Renowned educator, academic author, and co-founder and co-facilitator of the Institute for Racial Equity in Literacy Dr. Sonja Cherry-Paul has adapted this essential reading for an even younger audience with Stamped (For Kids), revisiting this non-revisionist history of race in America with a chapter book designed for readers ages 7-10, accompanied by a teachable curriculum.
“I can’t convey how excited I am for the arrival of Stamped (For Kids),” says Kendi in a statement provided to The Root, while Reynolds adds: “What’s most important is to remember there is no age requirement to begin the conversation around race in America, though I understand how it could be uncomfortable, and sometimes difficult to find the language. Stamped For Kids is meant to serve as support, a resource for discourse. An antiracist building block for children.”
As Dr. Cherry-Paul explained to The Root, her involvement with the project was organic. She’d already engaged with the text when a chance meeting coincided with Little, Brown and Company’s Books for Young Readers imprint approaching her to develop “a guide that would support educators in talking and teaching about race and racism and would support students as they journey through this text.” The prospect was exciting—though as Reynolds also admitted of his adaptation process during his recent appearance on The Root Presents: It’s Lit!, Dr. Cherry-Paul had some hesitation in further distilling this important work for an even younger audience.
“Abridging Stamped was definitely stressful,” she shared via email. “I love Jason’s work so much; it felt wrong to change anything about it. And then, how do you decide to leave out any of Ibram’s scholarship in a book on race? But of course, things would have to change to make the work accessible to younger children.”
Still, she knew this work was what the moment demanded. “Having the pandemic as well as continued police brutality and the election be the backdrop to this writing was heavy. It all felt so urgent. This abridgment was definitely informed by this. It had to be. And it felt like the most important thing I could be doing,” she continued. “It added pressure, but it made me want to speak to children even more. Especially because I know that many teachers and caregivers find it challenging to talk to young children about race and racism. There is a tendency to silence it. And this spring and summer, for many, was an awakening. Suddenly there were so many educators and parents who wanted to talk about race and racism and didn’t feel equipped to do so. I kept thinking about the power, purpose, and possibilities of Stamped (For Kids) and the difference it could make.”
Ultimately, she says, “[Reynolds] provided a clear and powerful road map. And I definitely tried to hug the road as much as possible. At times, I just needed to take a different path, because traveling with younger kids is a bit different than older ones. But I needed to make sure we arrived at the same destination. I had to point things out more, give reminders, provide examples, and make comparisons to help younger kids grasp the concepts and hold onto them. And carry those understandings with them across the book.”
In taking yet another new approach to this wealth of information and literally turning it into a teachable moment, Dr. Cherry-Paul approached the text with the intention of inspiring deeper dialogues and “self-examination and interrogation” among younger readers.
“I tried to write curriculum that wasn’t a literal teaching of the book, but to instead create opportunities for students to be in conversation with one another about what they were reading; a conversation that might go in many different directions,” she explained. “I wanted to create invitations for students to continue to grapple with ideas they’re reading about and to connect them with their lives today.”
A longtime advocate of book clubs who has previously written about the power of the format in the classroom, Dr. Cherry-Paul also approached Stamped with this type of engagement in mind, as well as opportunities for students to journal independently, “to write the things they may not, for a variety of reasons, say out loud,” she said.
“I provided several possibilities so that the students could steer the discussions themselves,” she added. “I wanted to create opportunities for there to be a more fluid power dynamic between teachers and students, as I knew in many ways, teachers and students would all be learning and unlearning a lot about race and racism together, at the same time, thanks to the genius of Stamped.”
Understanding that kids are multitaskers with a grasp on technology most of us haven’t even acquired as adults, Dr. Cherry-Paul envisions a multi-pronged approach to engaging with Stamped (For Kids). “They can be in conversation and checking out a reference on their phones and computers. So the curriculum includes opportunities for just that—for students to talk, to investigate, and learn more about people and events raised in the book.”
One of Dr. Cherry-Paul’s most powerful suggestions is one that can take place at school or at home (since home is where most schooling is taking place, at present). “One thing I suggest is that each club creates an antiracist timeline based on what they’re reading and learning,” she advised. “So that the work of antiracism is always right there in front of them, like a lighthouse, guiding them and helping them to think about how they want to be in the world.”
Regardless of where or how children engage with the powerful pedagogy of Stamped, Dr. Cherry-Paul is excited to have put her own stamp on this antiracist literary legacy for perhaps our most impressionable generation.
“Jason wrote Stamped and it reads like he’s in the room speaking directly to kids, having this incredible conversation with them and you just know the kids are right there, riveted. And he included those powerful moments for older kids to pause and breathe,” she shared. “I thought about what that would look like for young children: How can I be conversational with them and hold their attention? To anticipate where and how often they’d need to pause and process? And in those moments, what might they be thinking or asking?
“It was also really important that young children would have the experience of reading a book about the history of race and racism and all of the unsettling truths about this and see Blackness affirmed,” she continued. “That they’d learn about the resistance and brilliance of Black people and the richness of Black history as they acquire tools to talk about race, identify how racism works systemically, and the ways they can make choices in their lives that can disrupt racism.”
Stamped (For Kids): Racism, Antiracism, and You will be released in May 2021 and is available for preorder now. In the meantime, you can view Reynolds’ BookTube episode in which he discusses STAMPED Remixed with other literary YouTubers, like Jesse Bowties of ‘Bowties & Books’, and Danielle Bainbridge of ‘Origin of Everything’.