21 Books for Woke Kids

It's time to have some tough conversations with our kids. These books can help.

It is a challenging time to be a parent right now. Thousands of families have lost their homes in the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. Los Angeles is burning. White supremacists are marching in plain view on our city streets. The president has just declared that children of immigrants should be punished for the “crime” of growing up American. Climate change is real. Bigotry is on the rise. And on top of all this, the unthinkable threat of nuclear war is getting more real every day.

How do you help your children make sense of all this? How do we raise a generation of kids to be better humans than our current leaders are proving themselves to be? I try to live by a “Teach your children well” mindset, but man, it’s tough to parent from the fetal position, which is where I end up after reading the headlines. Where do I even begin?

Last month, Vanity Fair published an article entitled “Why Generation X Might be Our Last, Best Hope.” While the premise leans heavily on stereotypes—Baby Boomers and Millennials are so self-absorbed that only the detached irony of the Breakfast Clubbers can save us—the underlying message is on point: Each generation is influenced by the one that comes before it, and must be held accountable to the generations that follow.

As a Gen X parent with aging boomer parents, millennial colleagues, and a child in elementary school, I find myself smack dab in the middle of the generational crossroads. I have a unique privilege in that my influence still moves in two directions. I can engage older family members and friends in debate. I can vote and march and make a difference in my community. I can lead younger folks by example. And I can do my best to raise an educated, open-minded, compassionate child.

If I could point a megaphone in both directions across the generation gap, I would shout this: It’s not about you. It’s about all of us. It’s about learning from our past mistakes and creating a better future for everyone. As parents, it’s our responsibility to prepare our children for the world they will inherit. We have to have hard conversations with our kids about what’s going on right now, how we got here, and what we need to do to make things right. 

The books on this list will help you tackle those tough topics. It’s never too early to begin teaching tolerance and kindness. And it’s also never too late. There’s a reason Crosby, Stills & Nash changed up the hook in the second verse of Teach Your Children Well:

Teach your parents well,
Their children’s hell will slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picks, the one you’ll know by.
Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you will cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.

Every generation can learn something from this reading list. When your kids are done with the books, pass them along to your parents. Or, here’s an idea, arrange them prominently on the coffee table if any intolerant relatives are coming over for Thanksgiving. Then hold them accountable.


Featured illustration: Kaylani Juanita

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About Guinevere de la Mare

Guinevere de la Mare

Guinevere de la Mare is a writer based in San Francisco and the founder of Silent Book Club, an international network of book lovers who host introvert happy hours in more than 40 cities. Her first book, I’d Rather be Reading (Chronicle Books), is a love letter to books and readers.

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