A is for Activist
This ABC book is written and illustrated for the next generation of progressives: families who want their kids to grow up in a space that is unapologetic about activism, environmental justice, civil rights, LGBTQ rights, and everything else that activists believe in and fight for. This engaging book carries huge messages as it inspires hope for the future, and calls children and parents to action.
Last Stop on Market Street
Matt de la Peña
Every Sunday after church, CJ and his grandma ride the bus across town. But today, CJ wonders why they don’t own a car like his friend Colby. Why doesn’t he have an iPod like the boys on the bus? How come they always have to get off in the dirty part of town? Each question is met with an encouraging answer from grandma, who helps him see the beauty—and fun—in their routine and the world around them.
Horton Hears a Who!
Most of us remember the words of the kind-hearted elephant in this Dr. Seuss classic: “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” But another takeaway worth discussing with young readers is the fact that the whole town of Whoville was saved by the determination and action of one little Who. One person can indeed make a difference, especially when that one person joins in with all his neighbors and friends.
I Am Jazz
From the time she was two years old, Jazz knew that she had a girl’s brain in a boy’s body. She loved pink and dressing up as a mermaid and didn’t feel like herself in boys’ clothing. This confused her family, until they took her to a doctor who said that Jazz was transgender and that she was born that way. Jazz’s story is based on her real-life experience and she tells it in a simple, clear way that will be appreciated by picture book readers, their parents, and teachers.
Rad Women Worldwide
Rad Women Worldwide tells amazing tales of perseverance and radical success by pairing well-researched biographies with powerful and expressive cut-paper portraits. The book features an array of diverse figures who lived from 430 BCE to 2016, spanning 31 countries around the world, from Hatshepsut (the great female king who ruled Egypt peacefully for two decades) and Malala Yousafzi (the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize) to Poly Styrene (legendary teenage punk and lead singer of X-Ray Spex) and Liv Arnesen and Ann Bancroft (polar explorers and the first women to cross Antarctica). An additional 250 names of international rad women are also included as a reference for readers to continue their own research.
Bud, Not Buddy
Christopher Paul Curtis
It’s 1936, in Flint, Michigan at the height of the Great Depression. Times may be hard, and ten-year-old Bud may be a motherless boy on the run from a rotten foster home, but Bud’s got a few things going for him. He’s got a suitcase filled with special things. His momma never told him who his father was, but she left a clue: flyers advertising the musician Herman E. Calloway and his famous band. Bud’s got an idea that those flyers will lead him to his father. Once he decides to hit the road to find this mystery man, nothing can stop him—not hunger, not fear, not vampires, not even Herman E. Calloway himself.
Wonder Movie Tie-In Edition
R. J. Palacio
August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. In a world where bullying is an epidemic, this is a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance. R.J. Palacio has called her debut novel “a meditation on kindness” and her bestseller has inspired an entire #ChooseKind movement with a movie adaptation coming soon.
Brown Girl Dreaming
Raised in South Carolina and New York, Jacqueline Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African-American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
Following the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August, a photo surfaced of a demonstrator dressed as Wonder Woman holding a sign that reads, “I can’t believe I am still protesting Nazis.” That’s exactly how I feel including Anne Frank’s diary on this book list. I can’t believe that in 2017, the President of the United States defended racists and neo-Nazis, saying there were “two sides” to the story. Let’s be very clear on the issue: Six million people—including hundreds of thousands of innocent children like Anne Frank—were murdered by Nazis because they were Jewish. There are not “two sides” to genocide. There is never any excuse for racism. In the Declaration of Independence, the founding fathers declared that “All men are created equal” and have the “unalienable” right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” By that logic, there is nothing more patriotic than tolerance. God bless America.
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.
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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