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20 Social Justice Books For Kids

March by John Lewis is one of the books for kids to read when learning social justice

It isn’t always easy to explain world events to our children. Sometimes, books serve as a way to begin the conversation. Here is a list of books to help get you started. But, you know your child best. Some children prefer to read historical fiction while others want just the facts (a pure non-fiction book). Also, be sure to ask for references from your local children’s librarian, bookseller, and your child’s teacher.

March by John Lewis is one of the books for kids to read when learning social justice

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

She is known as the “girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban.” She’s a Noble Peace Prize Winner and an inspiration to all (regardless of our age). For kids, she’s a face to put with an idea — that everyone deserves the right to an education and yet not everyone receives one. (There’s also a “Young Readers Edition” available).

Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashely Bryan

This relatively new book (published in September 2016) uses primary source documents including original slave auction and plantation estate documents. This moving book examines what it means to put a monetary value on a person, as one slave owner did.

We Are All Born Free by Amnesty International

Amnesty International has put together a book that explains the fundamental ideas behind The Universal Declaration of Human Rights that was established in 1948. An internationally-renowned artist or illustrator has illustrated each declaration. It is a way for children to see that the rights we are concerned about are rights that affect every human being on our planet.

March (Three Book Set) by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell

John Lewis, the famous Civil Rights icon and current Congressman, has been in the news quite a bit lately. This three book set, written as a graphic novel, tells the story of Mr. Lewis’s life and experiences in the Civil Rights Movement.

Uprooted — The Japanese American Experience During WW II by Albert Marrin

Uprooted is probably most appropriate for older children (middle school and above). It tells the story of a sad time in our country’s history, when American citizens of Japanese ancestry were rounded up and placed in internment camps. It takes a look at racism then and opens up the conversation about racism today.

This Land Is Our Land: A History of American Immigration by Linda Barrett Osborne

With all the talk about immigration that seems to be increasingly in our news, this book reminds its readers that immigration isn’t new. In fact, our country exists because of immigration. This book specifically looks at immigration, in terms of our government’s policies and popular opinions, from 1800 to 1965. Most appropriate for older children (middle school and above).

Child of the Civil Rights Movement by Paula Young Shelton

Paula Young Shelton was a young girl during the Civil Rights Movement. Her family was actively involved and worked with “Uncle Martin,” known to others as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This picture book is a way to help younger children understand injustices that were a part of our country, and it makes it personal. Young Paula puts a face to it — as when her family is refused service in a restaurant simply because of the color of their skin.

A Place at the Table:Struggles for Equality in America edited by Maria Fleming

This book is a collection of essays that brings to light the challenges and struggles that have faced many in our country. Many of the individuals profiled here are lesser-known, but their stories are just as important. The book is most appropriate for older children (middle school and older).

Let’s Talk About Race by Julius Lester

This book invites discussion, asking children questions as they read. The author makes connections to children about what we all have in common underneath our skin, which sometimes separates us.

Our Rights: How Kids Are Changing the World by Janet Wilson

This book allows readers to see how children are making positive changes all around the world. Profiles of children living in different countries (including the United States, India, Yemen, and more) are featured. It’s a powerful tale that shows us how each person truly can make a positive difference.

A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara

This board book is one way to make the ideas of social justice an everyday part of life. The rhyming book includes bold illustrations and alliteration, with each letter of the alphabet helping to explain the ideas behind a fair and just world.

I Have the Right to Be a Child by Alain Serres

The book’s text is based on the Convention on the Rights of the child, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1989. All children, regardless of race, religion, and home country are entitled to basic rights — the right to food, clean water, shelter, and education. And it’s a way to begin the conversation about the sad fact that many children today are not having their rights and needs met.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

It may have been a while since you’ve read this timeless classic, but now may be a good time to re-read it with your older children. Although set in a small town in Alabama during the Depression, the ideas of fairness, accusations, race, class, and justice are all just as relevant today.

This Is the Dream by Diane Z. Shore and Jessica Alexander

This rhyming book does a good job of explaining to children the injustices that African-Americans experienced. For example, the school room for African-American children is contrasted with that of white children. Illustrations include paintings as well as collages featuring historical photos. The rhyming text is effective in explaining the laws that governed our country then and how they are changed now.

We Came to America by Faith Ringgold

This children’s book is a powerful reminder that, unless we are Native Americans, we all are immigrants. Our families have come to this country for many reasons — some looking for a better life, some brought here hundreds of years ago against their will. But, all of us contribute to our country and make it what it is today.

Sylvia and Aki by Winifred Conkling

This novel is the story of two young girls in California during World War II. It is based on historical facts including Japanese internment as well as segregation in schools. Ultimately it leads to the desegregation case Mendez v. Westminster School District. The book alternates between telling Aki’s story and Sylvia’s story and their families (one Japanese-American and one Mexican-American).

This Is Me: A Story of Who We Are and Where We Came From by Jamie Lee Curtis

Author Jamie Lee Curtis and illustrator Laura Cornell team up again with a picture book that looks at immigration. What would you take if you had to leave your home and only had one suitcase to pack? What things make you you? It’s an interesting question that opens up conversation and dialogue with our children about the immigrant experience. 

Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams

Karen Lynn Williams brings her readers to a refugee camp in Pakistan. Two young girls, each only wearing one sandal because that’s all that’s available. Through the story of these two young girls, the book allows readers to learn about sacrifice, uncertainty, and life in a refugee camp through the friendship of these two young girls.

The Journey by Francesca Sanna

This picture book is based on conversations and interviews with those that have had to flee their homes. Here, the idea of “refugees” becomes real and much more personal — a family who has had to leave behind everything and travels by car, boat, and foot. The narrator states, “the farther we go … the more we leave behind.”

Outcasts United: The Story of a Refugee Soccer Team That Saved a Town by Warren St. John

This is the true story of a soccer team in a small town in Georgia. Their coach is a Jordanian woman. Their team is comprised of refugees from Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. They have left behind their homes, are trying to navigate life in a new country with new customs, and it is this soccer team that will bridge the divide. The book looks at the ideas of cultural differences, the need to get involved, building a global community, and the power of hope and determination.



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