Social Justice 101 titles for J/YA
By: Bethany Porter, Collection Development Specialist.
If you’ve visited social media even once the past few months, you’ve noticed the increased engagement in the political process and opinions on social issues. We are asking some hard questions right now. What is actually happening? Is this ok? What can I do to help?
There’s a lot we can do to help. Teachers and librarians have been helping students discern between real and fake news with lessons on information literacy. The lessons are reliably well received, and students end up asking the same questions we struggle with as adults, always landing at “what can I do to help?”
We’ve made a list of social justice and activism titles for younger readers to keep them informed, inspired and compassionate as they navigate this new terrain.
This new picture book is delightful. It illustrates a forgotten piece of history – the time when Jackie Kennedy petitioned, fought, and advocated against the destruction of Grand Central Station in New York City in the mid-1970s. Most of the picture books I recommend have beautiful illustrations, and this one is no exception. This book is a wonderful portrayal of a former First Lady, and does a great job at showing that you don’t have to be the president to do good work. Jackie and many other concerned citizens said “no more bites out of the Big Apple,” and the U. S. Supreme court listened! Grand Central Station became a historic landmark in 1978.
I’m sure you have read this one before. Leo Lionni is a classic Picture Book author. I remember reading this book as a young child and feeling empowered – or as empowered as a Kindergartener can feel. Little Swimmy organizes a school of fish to make the shape of a big fish. All these little fish worked together to scare the big fish away. This book is a perfect one to introduce young children into activism. Sometimes just being an extra body, voice, or pair of eyes is all that is needed to change the world.
This book came out last September, and I have not been able to stop talking about it since! It is full of women who have done amazing things. Some of them are familiar (Malala Yousafzai), and some are not as well known (Enheduanna – a woman who lived in ancient Mesopotamia and is credited as the very first known author). There is a page or two dedicated to each of these women. This book is great if you want bite-sized stories about inspiring women, and it would be easy to cherry-pick sections to read-aloud in classrooms. This book features 40 stories from 30 countries. There are 200 countries in the world, so this is just a tiny representation of what women can do and have done.
Here are more great titles featuring amazing people. These are easy ways to incorporate impressive women (and kids) to your students, and these stories could even be used as jumping-off points for more detailed research projects.
This is about the National Memorial African Bookstore – a bookstore that was dedicated to promoting and providing information about Black culture. It was a meeting place for notable activists like Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali. The bookstore closed in 1975, but its legacy lives on. The Book Itch is a great book for introducing access to information to children. My favorite line is “Not every book is true…but the more you read, the easier it is to figure out for yourself what is true.”
This book is written as a comic book, so it’s approachable for kids to read about this challenging-to-teach topic. Michel Chikwanine’s life was anything but easy. He was five-years-old when he was stolen from his family to be used as a child soldier in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This was not something that happened in ancient history – Michel was taken by soldiers in 1993. He continues to speak about and against children being used as soldiers. The book contains an appendix that lists resources with more information and statistics about child soldiers, and more importantly, lists ways for you to get involved. This book was written for children, so the suggestions of ways to help are simple and accessible to everyone.
This book was even more difficult for me to read than Child Soldier. This one is a collection of stories about young women and girls who are victims of child slavery. It spans many years and decades. There are stories about women who have recently become free, and stories about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad. It also informs readers about notable abolitionist and author of “the book that started this great war” (Uncle Tom’s Cabin), Harriet Beecher Stowe. It is an introductory and straightforward approach to teaching children about the damage of slavery in our world.
This book ends with a list of resources and next steps. It contains a list of websites to use to learn more about this subject, and gives suggestions about what to do next.
There are many great books for children about protecting the environment, but this is one of my favorites. Severn Collins-Suzuki became a viral video hit with “The Girl Who Silenced the World for 5 Minutes,” where she spoke about environmental issues at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Severn continues to be an advocate for the earth, and is a member of the Earth Charter International Council. I know that sometimes children feel like they cannot contribute to causes, so books like this are important. Severn’s story shows the power that children may wield, and that even the voice of a child is a valuable contribution to a much larger conversation.
Did we miss any? Let us know your favorites in the comments.