Educator, parent and consultant Britt Hawthorne, author of Raising Antiracist Children, recommends starting early with our children to create homes “rooted in justice, compassion and love.” Here are a few recommendations for growing readers and their families that affirm identities, celebrate diversity and highlight justice. This selection offers a range of options to engage young readers.
In Juna and Appa, a heartwarming book by Jane Park with illustrations by Felicia Hoshino, Juna helps her father, Appa, at their dry-cleaning shop. When a customer berates Appa for losing a fancy jacket, Juna uses her imagination to search for the jacket, running into different fathers in the animal kingdom. These animals help Juna remember the special relationship she has with Appa, including the sacrifices they make for each other.
“This book is Jane Park’s beautiful love letter to the children who grow up working in their family’s stores, just like she did.”
In Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre, author Carole Boston Weatherford introduces the story of an American tragedy to young readers. With elaborate illustrations by Floyd Cooper, the book reviews incidents leading up to the 1921 event, and offers the concepts of self-sufficiency, exploration, segregation, racial violence and resilience. Its age-appropriate narrative also reminds readers of their responsibility in creating an anti-racist, nonviolent society, while also evoking pride and hope.
“This short book ‘is a great primer’ in helping young readers conceptualize how the past shapes their world today.”
It Feels Good to Be Yourself: A Book About Gender Identity by Theresa Thorn and illustrated by trans artist Noah Grigni helps young readers understand gender expression and affirms the spectrum of gender identities. The book includes a glossary, a note to readers about pronouns and a list of additional resources that focus on gender identity. Enchanting illustrations will delight young readers as they learn that all people are valued just the way they are.
“This beautiful book is a great introduction to the many expressions of gender in the world.”
In Separate Is Never Equal, Duncan Tonatiuh tells the real story of the Mendez family’s fight in the late 1940s to desegregate schools in California, which would then allow their children to attend quality schools rather than the ramshackle place where children of Mexican families were forced to attend. Using accessible language and art gallery-worthy illustrations, Tonatiuh shows young readers some of the ways that people fight for justice.
“This work makes it easier for young readers to understand a complex situation through the author’s use of straightforward illustrations and language.”
Rap a Tap Tap: Here’s Bojangles—Think of That! by Leo and Diane Dillon, includes the authors’ rich illustrations combined with wonderful rhymes that are sure to capture the imaginations of young readers. This 2002 publication provides a compelling introduction to the artistry of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, a tap-dancing legend who broke racial boundaries in the U.S. entertainment industry—on the vaudeville stage, on Broadway, on radio and in Hollywood—throughout the early 20th century.
“This lovely and lively book will delight young readers and introduce them to an artist with an important place in the history of U.S. popular culture.”
Jo Jo Makoons: The Used-to-Be Best Friend is the first in a series written by Native author Dawn Quigley and illustrated by Tara Audibert that features Jo Jo Makoons Azure. Seven-year-old Jo Jo, a member of the Ojibwe Nation, is engaging, smart, funny and attends first grade on the reservation where she lives with her family. The book illustrates the importance of culturally relevant teaching practices, and young readers will certainly recognize themselves in the thoughts and feelings Jo Jo expresses as she moves throughout her busy days.
“Jo Jo and her best friends will make readers—young and old—eager for the next issue in this series.”
Readers of Healer of the Water Monster by Brian Young will find it easy to immerse themselves in Nathan’s world as he unexpectedly befriends a Water Monster, a Navajo Holy Being, while staying with his grandmother and uncle on the Navajo Reservation. This book explores universal coming-of-age themes such as bravery and friendship while helping readers learn more about the contemporary Navajo Nation, including Navajo science, spirituality, language and culture, along with the challenges the Navajo people face.
“Brian Young’s ability to center a Diné perspective of the world radiates throughout this powerful novel.”
Cynthia Leitich Smith, a Muscogee Creek author, writes Sisters of the Neversea to provide readers with a refreshing counternarrative to the harmful stereotypes about Native people in J.M. Barrie’s version of Peter Pan. Smith’s version centers on Lily, a Muscogee Creek girl, and her white stepsister, Wendy, who travel to Neverland. Upon arrival, Lily and Wendy find that they will have to rely on each other, their inner strength and creative thinking to save themselves.
“Smith combines universal themes of family and identity with dashes of fairy dust, swashbuckling pirates, and unpredictable obstacles to create a mesmerizing adventure for young readers.”
Keylonda Wheeler writes in the introduction to Nia Skye’s Friend on Wheels that, “it’s so important that disabled people are shown in everyday reading just living their lives.” In this charming book—the first in a series titled The Inclusive Krewe—Wheeler accomplishes that goal by highlighting the friendship between two kindergarten-aged girls who learn from each other as they arrange playdates and engage in fun family activities. Steffi Stanley’s delightful illustrations make this story pop.
“Wheeler’s work models inclusiveness is the most wonderful way. Children will love this story!”
My Maddy by Gayle E. Pitman, Ph.D., and illustrated by Violet Tobacco tells the story of a child and their nonbinary parent, Maddy. Age-appropriate examples of ordinary things that are neither one thing nor the other—for instance, hazel eyes, which are neither green nor brown but a combination of both—allows young readers to gain an understanding of gender expansiveness. Filled with colorful illustrations, this book also includes a substantial note to readers addressing questions that may arise from the reading.
“My Maddy is an engaging story for children and adults alike.”