Book Review: For Beautiful Black Boys Who Believe in a Better World by Michael W. Waters and Keisha Morris

(I received a free ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you #NetGalley and thank you Flyaway Books!)

I enjoyed For Beautiful Black Boys Who Believe in a Better World. It’s a picture book full of important messages about social activism centering on Jeremiah, a young African American boy as he becomes aware of racial injustice and police brutality. For Beautiful Boys references the murders of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, the Charleston Nine, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and Jordan Edwards as well as the shooting of five Dallas police officers, so be aware of that going in. We see how the violence impacts Jeremiah’s own family and their activism and how Jeremiah comes to terms with it all. I loved that Jeremiah’s parents are both loving, present figures in his life who give him time to process (“But Jeremiah didn’t want to talk anymore” is the refrain) and listen and empathise when he is ready to talk about it. Best of all, they explain and model how to create social change by voting, organising in their community, speaking out and protesting.

All of this information is presented in a very simple, easy-to-understand way for kids and is paralleled with Jeremiah’s decision to grow locs (i.e. a long-term goal he can work towards with help). I liked that analogy; it makes activism for social change feel accessible and possible while getting across the point that change does not happen overnight. The discussion guide at the end also offers lots of tips and resources for care-givers broaching the topics of race, violence and “change-making” with children, which is great to see (though the fact such conversations are necessary is terrible and deeply wrong). Also, the world needs more books centering and affirming (dark-skinned) black boys, so thank you Michael Waters! The illustrations by Keisha Morris are also gorgeous! I would absolutely recommend For Beautiful Black Boys to families, schools and pre-schools, whether or not its readers are American or people of colour (I am not!), since its messages hold true wherever (or whoever) you are.

My only critique is that, other than the Charleston Nine, racism and (domestic and state) violence against women of color is not mentioned. I recognise that this is probably due to the author’s focus on “Beautiful Black Boys” and Jeremiah’s perspective, but it’s still disappointing. Featuring a woman or girl among the victims of police brutality discussed in the book (and there are many to choose from, like Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor and Aiyana Jones) would have been a great opportunity to increase their visibility and start new conversations about the intersection between racism and sexism (#IntersectionalFeminism; #SayHerName). Perhaps Waters or Flyaway Books could return to this topic in a sequel? I hope so!

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