“Before we begin, let’s get something straight. This is not a history book. I repeat, this is not a history book.” So opens Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. This is the young readers edition (they call it the remix) of Kendi’s National Book Award winner Stamped from the Beginning. Reynolds, the Library of Congress’ National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, also narrates the audiobook.
A history book is usually “one that feels like a list of dates” containing a “paragraph that’s read during Black History Month (Harriet! Rosa! Martin!).” This book, however, is “directly connected to our lives as we live them right this minute.”
Stamped tells a history of America from the 1400s to the present, with stories we have all heard and many we have not. History and nonfiction can be challenging for young readers, but Reynolds and Kendi do an excellent job of transforming complex historical ideas into a book that young readers can both understand and enjoy. The book places historical figures into one of three camps: segregationists, assimilationists, and the anti-racists. They describe the segregationists as haters, the assimilationists as fake friends, and the anti-racists as lovers or your “ride or die” buddies. Some people may fit into just one category, and some people may move between different categories. For example, W.E.B. Du Bois moved from an assimilationist to an antiracist by the end of his life.
This book is written to move away from the “single story” that we’re often accustomed to seeing in textbooks and history lessons. Instead, the authors want readers to get a better idea of who these historical figures were both as people and in context of their era, as well as how their actions hold up with today’s eye looking back at history. This “remix” of Stamped is seriously a grand slam of a book, and would be a great book to add to middle and high school classrooms.