Kids and Race Book Club: We Were Eight Years in Power and Last Stop on Market Street

by Jasen Frelot

Welcome to our inaugural Kids and Race book club! Each month I will be taking a look at one book for kids and one for adults and giving you my two cents. Join us in the comments section with your own opinions and ideas for future book club books or email me at askme@talkingrace.org

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We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy, by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is essentially a historian, and in Eight Years he challenges the mistaken belief that history is over, or that we are living in a post-racial society. This book does a fantastic job covering the current state of the conversation about race in America.

Through a series of lively essays, each set against a different year of the Obama era, Coates shows how the rise of Trumpism was sadly predictable. He effectively argues that rather than being an anomaly, racism is inherent to American culture. It’s rare to have a book that has such point-on analysis of history that has happened so recently. Each individual essay is illuminating and enlightening but put together they make a powerful case that the threat of “good negro governance” is fundamentally threatening to our country’s “post-racial” identity.

Bottom Line: I strongly recommend this book to our Kids and Race audience. It is important that all of us (even Liberals) recognize our own biases and realize that we have a part to play. History is not over, and it’s incumbent upon us to talk about race, teach our kids about it, read and understand it better. Kids and Race participants will find some of the material challenging, but also helpful. Coates does a great job making his case without being accusatory. This book is one of the best analyses I’ve seen of where America is now and how we got here. The essays are in small enough chunks to be accessible for busy parents.

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Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Peña

This book does a great job of showing a Black family existing. (This might seem small, but when you consider that only 22% of picture books feature main characters of color, and that many of those are having to do with slavery or Civil Rights, this is actually huge.) It recasts things that we might consider disadvantages as actually advantages. The book opens up with a Black boy and his grandma getting on the city bus. The little boy sees his little White friend driving by in a car.

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The Black boy asks his grandma “Nana, how come we don’t got a car?” And grandma doesn’t respond, “Oh it’s because we’re poor and we’re victims of systemic oppression,” she replies that if they took a car they wouldn’t get to be around all of these wonderful people on the bus.

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On the bus they meet a wonderful array of people, including a blind man. When the boy asks, “How come that man can’t see?” His grandma doesn’t shush him. Instead she says, “Some people see the world with their ears.” The book is full of wonderful moments that show the world as it could be.

The book wraps up with the boy and his grandma stopping at a soup kitchen, and the family isn’t going to receive food, they’re going to serve others. De la Peña does a wonderful job turning our assumptions and false narratives on their head. Through his eyes, the common experience of taking the bus into something that’s divine.

Bottom Line: This book is great for kids and their grown-ups. It helps us rethink the way we see the world.