by Allison Banta
My children have this innate kid-ability, a delightful maneuver where they always save their most challenging questions to be presented during parent work calls. Or at bedtime. Or when we’re racing to get out the door. If you’re a caregiver, parent, or teacher, you probably know what I’m talking about. Tiny people just seem to have a sixth sense for when our brains have gone into auto-pilot mode, and that is precisely when they are most likely to inquire about societal injustice and ethical dilemmas. Waiting in line at a packed restaurant? Chatting with a new acquaintance? Singing the last bedtime lullaby? Never. Fails. This is inevitably when they’re going to ask things like “Hey, why does everyone not have enough food though? There’s whole lots in the grocery store!” or “Parents don’t go to jail, right mom?” or “Is America fair, mom? Because we’re supposed to be fair.” Or “but can’t all the people with no houses just share those big hotels? Can’t the President pay for it?”
More than a few times, I’ve shushed or hurriedly sidestepped in a wild attempt to delay answering – at least until I have time to THINK ACTUAL THOUGHTS. Often, this lands me at my local bookstore or library the next day, searching for help. When I don’t know the best way to talk about something, I look for a book. When I don’t fully understand something, I look for a book. When I can’t find the right words myself, I can be found at the library, head tilted to the right, scanning shelves of titles.
Thankfully, it appears that a host of authors are either parenting their own curious activists, or else the curious activists have themselves grown into authors. Children’s literature has grown to include so many topics of social justice; gender inequality, food insecurity, voting rights, climate change, racism, LGBTQ+ rights, neurodiversity, immigration, and so many more. This is good news for parents and teachers, because books are a great way to approach complex topics with kids. Stories hold their attention and showcase concrete examples. Reading a story can take an abstract concept and turn it into something a child can understand and make sense of. If you have your own curious little activists in the making, check out this list of our favorites from your local library or favorite bookstore.
*We love all of these for ages 5+, but you know your audience best; a parent pre-read is always a good choice.
- Maddi’s Fridge, by Lois Brant
- Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de La Pena
- Rainbow: A First Book of Pride, by Michael Genhart
- This Day in June, by Gayle E. Pittman
- Uncle Bobby’s Wedding, by Sarah S. Brannen
- Our Skin: A First Conversation about Race, by Jessica Ralli and Megan Madison
- The Story of Ruby Bridges, by Robert Coles
- The Proudest Blue, by Ibtihaj Muhammad
- All Are Welcome, by Alexandra Penfold
- Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights, by Rob Sanders
- Lubaya’s Quiet Roar, by Marilyn Nelson
- We Are Water Protectors, by Carole Lindstrom
- Sometimes People March, by Tessa Allen
- The Case for Loving, by Selina Alko
- Rocket Says Clean Up, by Nathan Bryan
- The Fog, by Kyo Maclear
- What is a Refugee, Elise Gravel
- Carmela Full of Wishes, by Matt de La Pena
- Eyes That Kiss in The Corners, by Joanna Ho
- A is for Activist, by Innosanto Nagara
For more ways to bring social justice to the little ones in your life, sign up for the LJL newsletter here.