Reading diverse, honest literature is an incredibly important experience for a child. When introduced to new languages, distant lands, cultural traditions and different world experiences, students can develop into empathetic citizens. Reading about social justice and social inequalities can be transformative for a classroom and school community.
Books about social justice provide students with a better understandings of how others go through the world. The books in this post give insight into what it feels like to be a refugee, to encounter racism, or to be of a different economic class. Some of the characters in these books feel like an outsider in our “cookie-cutter world” and it’s healthy for students to discuss these similarities and our differences. It’s our similarities make us relatable and our differences that make the world interesting and inspiring.
10 Social Justice Books for Kids!
1. When Stars Are Scattered
by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed
“Heartbreak and hope exist together in this remarkable graphic novel about growing up in a refugee camp, as told by a Somali refugee to the Newbery Honor-winning creator of Roller Girl.“
2. Drum Dream Girl
by Margarita Engle
“Girls cannot be drummers. Long ago on an island filled with music and rhythm, no one questioned that rule — until the drum dream girl. She longed to play tall congas and small bongós and silvery, moon-bright timbales. She had to practice in secret. But when at last her music was heard, everyone sang and danced and decided that boys and girls should be free to drum and dream.”
3. Julian is a Mermaid
By Jessica Love
“While riding the subway home from the pool with his abuela one day, Julián notices three women spectacularly dressed up. Their hair billows in brilliant hues, their dresses end in fishtails, and their joy fills the train car. When Julián gets home, daydreaming of the magic he’s seen, all he can think about is dressing up just like the ladies in his own fabulous mermaid costume: a butter-yellow curtain for his tail, the fronds of a potted fern for his headdress. But what will Abuela think about the mess he makes — and even more importantly, what will she think about how Julián sees himself?”
4. Under My Hijab
By Hena Khan
Grandma’s hijab clasps under her chin. Auntie pins hers up with a whimsical brooch. Jenna puts a sun hat over hers when she hikes. Iman wears a sports hijab for tae kwon do. As a young girl observes the women in her life and how each covers her hair a different way, she dreams of the possibilities in her own future and how she might express her personality through her hijab.
5. Little Melba and her Big Trombone
By Katheryn Russell-Brown, Frank Morrison (Illustrator)
“Melba Doretta Liston loved the sounds of music from as far back as she could remember. As a child, she daydreamed about beats and lyrics, and hummed along with the music from her family’s Majestic radio. At age seven, Melba fell in love with a big, shiny trombone, and soon taught herself to play the instrument. By the time she was a teenager, Melba’s extraordinary gift for music led her to the world of jazz. She joined a band led by trumpet player Gerald Wilson and toured the country. Overcoming obstacles of race and gender, Melba went on to become a famed trombone player and arranger, spinning rhythms, harmonies, and melodies into gorgeous songs for all the jazz greats of the twentieth century. “
6. Shades of People
by Sheila M. Kelly and Shelley Rotner
“Cocoa, tan, rose, and almond-people come in lots of shades, even in the same family. This exploration of one of our most noticeable physical traits uses vibrant photographs of children and a short text to inspire young children both to take notice and to look beyond the obvious.”
6. Somos como las nubes / We Are Like the Clouds
By Jorge Argueta
“Why are young people leaving their country to walk to the United States to seek a new, safe home? Over 100,000 such children have left Central America. This book of poetry helps us to understand why and what it is like to be them.
This powerful book by award-winning Salvadoran poet Jorge Argueta describes the terrible process that leads young people to undertake the extreme hardships and risks involved in the journey to what they hope will be a new life of safety and opportunity. A refugee from El Salvador’s war in the eighties, Argueta was born to explain the tragic choice confronting young Central Americans today who are saying goodbye to everything they know because they fear for their lives. This book brings home their situation and will help young people who are living in safety to understand those who are not.”
For learning about Economic Class
7. Chair for My Mother
By Vera B Williams
“After their home is destroyed by a fire, Rosa, her mother, and grandmother save their coins to buy a really comfortable chair for all to enjoy. A Chair for My Mother has sold more than a million copies and is an ideal choice for reading and sharing at home and in the classroom. “A superbly conceived picture book expressing the joyful spirit of a loving family.”
8. Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez
By Kathleen Krull and Yuyi Morales
“Cesar Chavez is known as one of America’s greatest civil rights leaders. When he led a 340-mile peaceful protest march through California, he ignited a cause and improved the lives of thousands of migrant farm workers. But Cesar wasn’t always a leader. As a boy, he was shy and teased at school. His family slaved in the fields for barely enough money to survive.
Cesar knew things had to change, and he thought that–maybe–he could help change them. So he took charge. He spoke up. And an entire country listened.”
9. Si, Se Puede! Yes, We Can! Janitor’s Strike in L.A.
By Diana Cohn and Francisco Delgado
“¡Sí, Se Puede! / Yes, We Can! is a bilingual fictional story set against the backdrop of the successful janitors’ strike in Los Angeles in 2000. It tells about Carlitos, whose mother is a janitor. Every night, he sleeps while his mother cleans in one of the skyscrapers in downtown L.A. When she comes home, she waves Carlitos off to school before she goes to sleep. One night, his mamá explains that she can’t make enough money to support him and his abuelita the way they need unless she makes more money as a janitor. She and the other janitors have decided to go on strike.”
By Leo Lionni
“Deep in the sea lives a happy school of fish. Their watery world is full of wonders, but there is also danger, and the little fish are afraid to come out of hiding . . . until Swimmy comes along. Swimmy shows his friends how—with ingenuity and team work—they can overcome any danger.”
- Interested in finding other books on Social Justice? Check out SocialJusticeBooks.org for more inspiring literature!
- Interested in finding bookstores like this in NYC? Check out Boogie Down Books.com in the Bronx and definitely follow them on instagram for inspiring events!
- Interested in free books for your students or kids?! Check out Unlockhearts.com! An amazing resource for bringing books into low income homes! You can also DONATE and give NYC readers money to build a personal library!