W. Kamau Bell Wants to Help Kids of Color Find Books to Inspire (Exclusive)

ColorPop Books, a new project that provides curated book bundles, aims to help children of color see themselves on the page

<p>Suzi Pratt/Getty</p> W. Kamau Bell in January 2023, Park City, Utah

Suzi Pratt/Getty

W. Kamau Bell in January 2023, Park City, Utah

A 2022 study found that only 39% of children’s books published in the U.S. feature at least one character of color. According to a report by the children’s publisher Scholastic, children of color thrive when they’re able to read books that include characters who look like them — and as we all know, reading not only builds literacy skills, it also influences a child’s capacity for empathy and positive self-identity.

A new online bookshop that offers curated book bundles aims to fill that gap and help families provide a wider range of books for their children. ColorPop Books, a project created by the education non-profit DonorsChoose, launches today.

According to DonorsChoose board member W. Kamau Bell, the program will help parents like him and his wife.

“I know that my three Black daughters, mixed-race Black daughters, respond to books that reflect their lives and with characters that look like them or have similar life experiences,” he says. “And so if my daughters are doing it, more kids should have access to this because not every kid has the access to a great dad like me.”

Related: W. Kamau Bell Fears Response to Bill Cosby Docuseries: 'Not Sure How I Will Come Through This'

For Bell, a comedian, director and producer, the work being done by ColorPop Books is a natural fit for busy families like his own.

“I think we live in a golden age of media,” he says. “And what that means is that there's more choices out there, but then the problem is there's so many choices, we don't know where the choices are.” 

The ColorPop Book Bundles include selections that promote pride, such as the Black Joy Book Bundle and the Latinx Voices Book Bundle. There are also bundles aimed at sparking interest, such as the Girls in STEM Book Bundle, and another that offers solace to kids facing difficult times, called the Grief Book Bundle.

<p>ColorPop Books</p> A selection of books offered by ColorPop Books

ColorPop Books

A selection of books offered by ColorPop Books

“I was a big reader,” Bell says. “My mom said I was reading the back of cereal boxes, I was that kid.” But he struggled to find Black characters in the books he saw. Instead, he says, “I had to sort of make characters Black in my mind. So for example, Spider-Man was...well before Spider-Man was actually Black in the comic books, Spider-Man was Black to me. He was just like, Peter Parker felt like he was Black to me. Weirdly, the main character from The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield, was Black to me just because...that's how I read the book now.”

Still, he adds, it really helps when kids can see someone who looks like them in the pages of a book.

“If you hand my kids a book and it's a little White boy on the cover, they're not going to respond to it right away," Bell says. "They're not going to try to make that character fit them. They're going to be like, 'no, let me find the book with a little Black girl on the cover.'”

<p>Getty</p> A child reads a book


A child reads a book

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And although Bell says he’s “terminally online,” researching potential books to offer his daughters, he knows that not all parents have that kind of time.

“So I think that's why ColorPop is great because it's like, we've done the legwork for you,” he adds.

Related: Spark a Lifelong Love of Reading With the Best Book Subscriptions for Kids

Beyond just getting these books in front of children who need and want them, Bell says, it’s important to signal to the publishing industry that diverse books can sell.

“You need publishers to see them sell and to see that, which is why you're seeing more of these books,” he says. “I think it's great that when my daughter goes to a great good place for books here in the Bay Area, and this is not a Black bookstore, it's just a neighborhood bookstore, there are several books that have the cover faced out that feature characters who look like her and several books with characters with covers out that don't feature characters like her. So clearly there has been evidence in the publishing industry that these books sell.”

As for the experience parents and children can have when using ColorPop, Bell adds, “I'm hoping that it becomes known as an easy one-stop shop. Again, not every parent has the time or interest or ability to do the kind of searches that I do. And I hope this becomes easily accessible for parents who want to find these kinds of books.” 

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