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A Kindergarten Teacher’s Favorite Black Authors

A square children’s book titled Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut sits on a book shelf. The cover features a Black boy with crowns around his head. The book sits against a library shelf surrounded by other children’s stories.
Katie Quinn
Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes available at Daniel Boone Regional Library on February 7. The book is by a favorite author of Dawnavyn James.

Children read. And what they read shapes how they see the world.

For one Columbia kindergarten teacher - that means including children’s books by Black authors into the mix of stories she's exploring with her young students.

KBIA's Katie Quinn sat down with kindergarten teacher Dawnavyn James to discuss her favorite stories.

Dawnavyn James is in a short sleeve yellow button down dress and red lipstick. She holds in one hand 3 large books next to her face. James stands against a bright blue background.
Provided by Dawnavyn James.

Dawnavyn James: One of my favorite authors is Derrick Barnes. He has a lot of books that I've used in my classroom. I have three that I use right now I have one called Crown, one called I Am Every Good Thing. And the other is King of Kindergarten.

Katie Quinn: I would love it if you could dive deeper into what Crown is about.

Dawnavyn James: So, Crown is all about just the experience of being in a barbershop and all the people that you meet in there, and just how good the character feels at the barbershop.

Katie Quinn: Let's say I'm a parent who wants to include more Black characters and history into my child's reading, you know, where should I start?

Dawnavyn James: I would highly recommend The ABCs of Black History. Just because the kid, your kid would have a lot of options. And that book in the illustrator is amazing, like, has so many colorful pictures.

“And the books that I try to bring into my classroom, don't just empower and celebrate and educate my Black students. But it educates all of my students, no matter their background and where they come from.”
Dawnavyn James

And it just features so many things. I think that's a great start. It talks about, you know, Martin Luther King, the Harlem Renaissance voting, and it talks about, you know, Africa and how Black people are not just in America or in Africa, they're all around the world. Just a one place to get started, and then expand from there.

Katie Quinn: And where do you find these books?

Dawnavyn James: Yes. So I have found so many at Skylark Bookshop downtown. They have such a good collection of children's books in general, but especially books that feature Black characters, or Black authors and illustrators.

Katie Quinn: Could you maybe read just a little bit from The ABCs of Black History?

Dawnavyn James: I have it right here. "So B is for beautiful. I'm talking to you, your voice, your height, your hair, your hue. B is for brave for bright for bold, for brotherhood for believing." And so it's just like, there's so many different things that describe one letter, like E is for explore and education.

Katie Quinn: And for my last question, why do you think Black children's stories are important?

Dawnavyn James: I think Black children's stories are important because it allows not only Black children, but other children to see that. All kids, I mean, all kids are living life and doing fun things. That's why I like the King of Kindergarten because it's just a normal boy, who's Black and he's getting ready for the first day of kindergarten.

Which, I have kids like that. We're all getting ready for kindergarten. And I just think it highlights who they are. And oftentimes we get just so stuck in tradition in books we've always read for years. And the books that I try to bring into my classroom, don't just empower and celebrate and educate my Black students.

But it educates all of my students, no matter their background and where they come from. I know this because you know, they are able to make connections and relate to it and have these discussions about it.

A photo of Skylark Bookshop’s front window. There are two large white shelves displaying a variety of books. The name Skylark Bookshop is printed at the top of window.
Katie Quinn
Skylark Bookshop on Ninth Street on February 7. The bookstore features multiple Black authors and children’s stories.

Want more book recommendations? Here’s the reading list of Dawnavyn James:

  • Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes
  • I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes
  • The King Of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes
  • ABCs of Black History by Rio Cortez
  • Born on the Water by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson
  • Your Legacy: Reclaiming of our Enslaved History by Schele Williams
  • The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander
  • What Color Is My World?: The Lost History of African-American Inventors by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Raymond Obstfeld
  • We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson
  • Timelines from Black History: Leaders, Legends, Legacies by DK
  • Africa, Amazing Africa: Country by Country by Atinuke
  • M is for Melanin: Celebrating the Black Child by Tiffany Rose
  • Black is a Rainbow Color by Angela Joy
Katie Quinn works for Missouri Business Alert. She studied radio journalism and political science at the University of Missouri- Columbia, and previously worked at KBIA.