In 2015, President Obama shared his thoughts about how books make us better humans:
“When I think about how I understand my role as citizen…the most important stuff I’ve learned, I think I’ve learned from novels. It has to do with empathy…and the notion that it’s possible to connect with someone else even though they’re very different from you.”
Here’s a round-up of some of our favorite heavy hitters in the arena of acceptance and equality, little gems that can help kids evolve into compassionate citizens, while warming their hearts, opening their minds and kindling their sense of justice for all.
The bright colorful drawings in All Are Welcome illuminate a day in the life of a vibrant multicultural school, but it’s the powerful text repetition that really drives home the message that we all have equal value. Leave yourself some time to really unpack the vocabulary on lines such as “We’re part of a community, our strength is our diversity, a shelter from adversity, all are welcome here,” and you’ll do no less than lay out the cornerstones of civilized society for your little.
Also Great: You Hold Me Up, I am Enough, Stellaluna
Two friends look at one another’s lunches and find the other’s meal to be a little too far outside their comfort zones. It’s hummus vs. peanut butter and the whole school becomes embroiled in the drama in a way that starts to feel a little like a war and a lot like a perfect metaphor for how little things can derail our humanity. Don’t miss the author’s note from Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan at the end, which unpacks the very sweet idea of readers serving as ambassadors of hope in the world.
Also Great: Little People Big Dreams: Ella Fitzgerald, I am Enough, Gaston
Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life story illuminates a past that wasn’t nearly as equitable as it is today. The book portrays the notorious RBG as a smart, stubborn girl who changed the game for everyone by refusing to play by the rules. Illustrator Elizabeth Baddley’s masterful renderings of facial expressions take the story to the next level, and the whole book can be used as a lens into our ever-evolving justice system. Empowering and engaging, I Dissent is sure to inspire.
Also Great: Island Born, Carmela Full of Wishes, The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family, A Fine Dessert
Brad Meltzer’s Ordinary People Change the World series is a fun, friendly introduction to historical luminaries. I Am Martin Luther King, Jr. tells the story of a young, clumsy and infinitely relatable Martin as he grapples with his first experience with prejudice. As Martin’s life unfolds, young readers will learn about America’s charged racial history in a way that keeps them cheerfully turning pages without pulling any punches.
Also Great: Who Was Rosa Parks, The Story of Ruby Bridges, No Small Potatoes, Julian is a Mermaid
Newberry Award winning author Katherine Applegate is a master at getting inside the heads of unlikely subjects, and Wishtree is no exception. Told from the point of view of a red oak tree who observes the racial tensions that follow when a Muslim family moves into an old, established neighborhood, the book is minimal, powerful and a perfect choice for a family read aloud.
Also Great: Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13, Hidden Figures, Inside Out and Back Again, Amina’s Voice
Eleven-year-old Isabella is many things: black and white and wealthy and poor and thoroughly stressed out from code-switching between her divorced, racially divided parents. Her stepbrother and friends help to ease her identity crisis, but hate crimes at her school and firsthand police violence test her ability to navigate in a world that seems even more devastatingly divided than that of her parents. Bestselling author (and former high school English teacher) Sharon Draper weaves a masterful tale set at the intersection of the personal and the political.
Also Great: Other Words For Home, Bud Not Buddy, Home of the Brave, The New Kid, American Born Chinese