I am not American. I am not Black. I am not the target age for a children’s picture book. But none of this lessened the impact That Flag by Tameka Fryer Brown—an outstanding writer, by the way—had on me as a reader. The story follows two best friends, one Caucasian (Bianca) and one African American (Keira), who do everything together at school but cannot spend time together afterwards, even though they’re neighbours. Why? Bianca’s family flies a confederate flag. A trip to the museum, where there is an exhibit on Black history and civil rights in the States, helps Keira realize why that flag is such a big deal… and why she can’t be friends with someone believes it only signifies southern pride. Is there any hope for these two ex-besties?
Nikkolas Smith, an artist specializing in bringing Black stories to life through artivism (art + activism), illustrates That Flag with vibrant colours and soft strokes that help the reader focus on the most important details. Every page captures the range of emotions that Keira feels as she learns about her country’s racist history and sees it reflected not only in old photographs but even in her best friend’s yard.
“But how will we explain slavery and racial violence to (white) kids? What about their innocence?” some might ask. There is no better answer than what the author includes in her Author’s Note at the end of the book: “If human beings can learn to be racist, we can also learn not to be. In fact, your generation could grow up to be the fairest, most inclusive generation our nation has ever seen… especially if we adults do our part and tell your more truths about more things.”
Amidst heated debates and book bans in the United States, authors like Tameka Fryer Brown stand tall and show the world that stories like the one in That Flag need to be shared, not removed from classroom and library shelves. It’s up to us as adults to make a better world for our kids, yes, but also give them the tools they need to build a future where everyone feels heard, respected, and safe.