Repository logo

The influence of children’s literature on their understanding of race and racism at an independent school in KwaZulu-Natal.

Thumbnail Image



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Despite being exposed to racism in their everyday lives, young children are often left out of discussions about race. Recently located literature within the field of social justice education reveals that these discussions are not out of their grasp, issuing a call for methods to be developed to allow children to learn about race through informed discussions between teachers and learners. These informed discussions have a role to play in the interruption and avoidance of reproducing systems of inequity and oppression, such as racism. Drawing on concepts from racial identity theory, Paulo Freire and Rudine Bishop, this study focused on and aimed to investigate how children’s literature influences primary school learners’ understandings about race and racism. Further, the study aimed to uncover what the learners’ understanding of race and racism were; what learning was made possible about race and racism using children’s literature; and how the participants used their learning to negotiate their own racial identities in their homes and school. The authentic voices of 18 Grade 5 learners from an independent school in KwaZulu-Natal were gleaned through participatory mini-workshops and focus group discussions in this action research study. The findings indicated that the children’s literature used in the study functioned as metaphorical windows, doors and mirrors to influence the learners’ understandings of race and racism, depending on the identities of the learners. The books became windows, providing views into the racial experiences of others; doors through which learners could step into the worlds presented; and mirrors to reflect learners’ experiences back at them. Based on the key findings, this study argues two points. First, that children’s literature can be used to develop learners’ understandings about race and racism in ways which are affirming of their own racial identities as well as those of their peers. Second, I argue that access to learning opportunities needs to be provided in schools through children’s literature so that learners can develop the ability to challenge dominant negative and oppressive ideas that surround race and racism, as well as racial relationships, towards transformation that is desperately needed in South Africa.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.