Violence. Injustice. Hate. We’ve got to talk to kids, but how? Here’s our booklist to get crucial conversations started.
By Rachel Roseberry, Literacy Manager at ExpandED Schools.
This post is part of our LiteracyConnections blog series, where we explore the bridge between literacy and child development.
When speaking about children, James Baldwin noted that “we will all profit by or pay for what they become.” This weekend’s white supremacist rally in Charlottesville — set against a national backdrop of escalating, discriminatory rhetoric and action towards Muslims, transgender individuals, immigrants and other marginalized groups — highlights the potency of Baldwin’s words, as well as the duty of parents and educators to engage in challenging conversations with children about racism, bias and how to stand up for what’s right. In fact, we’ve provided resources in the past for having these conversations in light of national events.
Using literature as a starting point for these difficult conversations allows children to experience the lives of those who are different than them, provides them with examples of courage in the face of injustice, and helps them to understand the deep historical roots of modern events. See below for some of our favorite titles to help build empathy, facilitate understanding and encourage activism.
- Let’s Talk About Race discusses how race is a part of everyone’s story, while also showcasing the many similarities between people.
- Peace Is an Offering offers children quiet, thoughtful examples of how to build peace and community in their everyday lives.
- ¡Si, Se Puede! / Yes, We Can!: Janitor Strike in L.A., written in Spanish and English, tells the story of a mother, who works as a janitor and goes on strike for fair working conditions, through the eyes of her young son.
- Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation shares how one girl and her family successfully desegregated schools in California almost ten years before Brown vs. Board of Education.
- Child of the Civil Rights Movement is written by the daughter of a Civil Rights activist and clearly and compellingly gives an overview of this important part of American history.
- Martí’s Song for Freedom / Martí y sus versos por la libertad is a new picture book in Spanish and English verse that shares how Jose Marti took a stand against slavery in Cuba.
- Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters collects the stories of women, such as Sojourner Truth, Ella Baker, and Fannie Lou Hamer, who demonstrated courage as they fought for freedom.
- Fred Korematsu Speaks Up is a biography of activist Fred Korematsu who stood up against the discrimination faced by Japanese Americans during World War II.
- It Ain’t So Awful Falafel is the fictional story of Zomored who moves to California from Iran in the late 1970’s. As she and her family experience bigotry and discrimination, she learns about the importance of friendship and community.
- Number the Stars is a classic, Newbery-award winning story of heroism, courage, and resistance during World War II as told from the perspective of Annemarie who works to smuggle her Jewish friend to safety.
- Turning Fifteen on the Road to Freedom lets Lynda Blackmon Lowery tell her story as the youngest marcher in the voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery in her own words.
- March (Trilogy) is a collection of three graphic novels, co-written by Congressman John Lewis, detailing the story of his life at the center of the American Civil Rights Movement.
- I Am Malala (Young Readers’ Edition) is written by Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai who shares the details of her remarkable life in her own words.
- We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement that Defied Adolf Hitler gives a well-researched account of the Scholl siblings and their friends who urged others to not be silent in the face of Nazism.
- Wolf Hollow is a fictional Newbery-award-winning novel about how important it is for one person to stand up to injustice. In this case, Annabelle has to choose whether or not to stand up for the town outcast.
For more relevant texts and resources, see School Library Journal’s list of Books to Inspire a More Inclusive Society, Teaching for Change’s themed booklists, the Making a Difference collection of resources from Horn Books, a list of titles in “How to Talk to Your Kids About Charlottesville” by the New York Times Book Review, and the collection of Perspectives texts from Teaching Tolerance.