Finding the perfect gift can be hard, but there are tons of social justice focused books to give to the special people in your life this year. Here’s a roundup of some good ones we’ve come across for kids, teens, and adults.
Civil Rights Then and Now: A Timeline of the Fight for Equality in America “presents the reader with facts, biographies, and landmark supreme court cases in an easily digestible manner and within a historical context. The minor editorializing helps to guide readers to understand the events that have shaped the United States and then challenges them to become advocates for change. Included in this book are vocabulary lists, questions for comprehension and discussion, and even essay/journaling prompts. This information-packed social justice book and the civil rights timeline introduces readers to a selection of many critical civil rights movement events in black history.”
Benny Doesn’t Like to be Hugged “A little girl uses rhyming verse to describe the unique traits of her autistic friend. Benny likes trains and cupcakes without sprinkles, but he can also be fussy sometimes. The narrator doesn’t mind, however, because ‘true friends accept each other just the way they are.’ A gentle story encouraging children to appreciate and accept our differences.”
PRIDE: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag, “Young readers will trace the life of the Gay Pride Flag, from its beginnings in 1978 with social activist Harvey Milk and designer Gilbert Baker to its spanning of the globe and its role in today’s world. Award-winning author Rob Sanders’s stirring text, and acclaimed illustrator Steven Salerno’s evocative images, combine to tell this remarkable – and undertold – story. A story of love, hope, equality, and pride.”
Stolen Words “The story of the beautiful relationship between a little girl and her grandfather. When she asks her grandfather how to say something in his language, Cree, he admits that his language was stolen from him when he was a boy. The little girl then sets out to help her grandfather find his language again. This sensitive, beautifully illustrated picture book explores the intergenerational impact of Canada’s residential school system, which separated young Indigenous children from their families.”
Skin Again “Celebrating all that makes us unique and different, Skin Again offers new ways to talk about race and identity. Race matters, but only so much–what’s most important is who we are on the inside. Looking beyond skin, going straight to the heart, we find in each other the treasures stored down deep. Learning to cherish those treasures, to be all we imagine ourselves to be, makes us free.”
What Does A Princess Really Look Like? “Mark Loewen tells an important story that celebrates girl power and moves us to value the courage, determination, kindness, assertiveness, and “smarts” over beauty. What Does a Princess Really Look Like? challenges gender stereotypes showing girls it’s not how they look but what they do for others that matters. In this story, Chloe sets out to craft her very own princess. Chloe learns that princesses are smart, kind but assertive, brave, strong and determined. In the end, Chloe’s dads help her understand what princesses are not: Perfect. Chloe learns that her imperfections make her uniquely who she is.”
Malala’s Magic Pencil “As a child in Pakistan, Malala made a wish for a magic pencil. She would use it to make everyone happy, to erase the smell of garbage from her city, to sleep an extra hour in the morning. But as she grew older, Malala saw that there were more important things to wish for. She saw a world that needed fixing. And even if she never found a magic pencil, Malala realized that she could still work hard every day to make her wishes come true.”
American Street “Pushcart-nominated author Ibi Zoboi draws on her own experience as a young Haitian immigrant, infusing this lyrical exploration of America with magical realism and vodou culture. On the corner of American Street and Joy Road, Fabiola Toussaint thought she would finally find une belle vie—a good life. But after they leave Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud American cousins; the grittiness of Detroit’s west side; a new school; and a surprising romance, all on her own.”
Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen “Jazz Jennings is one of the youngest and most prominent voices in the national discussion about gender identity. At the age of five, Jazz transitioned to life as a girl, with the support of her parents. A year later, her parents allowed her to share her incredible journey in her first Barbara Walters interview, aired at a time when the public was much less knowledgeable or accepting of the transgender community. This groundbreaking interview was followed over the years by other high-profile interviews, a documentary, the launch of her YouTube channel, a picture book, and her own reality TV series–I Am Jazz–making her one of the most recognizable activists for transgender teens, children, and adults.”
The Sun Is Also a Star “Natasha is a practical young woman trying to keep her family from being deported in a matter of hours. Daniel is a poet at heart, but on this day he is dutifully making good on his familial commitment to a college interview. The two are inexplicably drawn to each other and somehow their paths keep converging. The novel is told in alternating points of view, and one of the special touches of Yoon’s book are the chapters narrated by people who are unintentionally part of Natasha and Daniel’s story, mirroring our almost spooky interconnectedness.”
How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child “This profoundly moving memoir is the remarkable and inspiring true story of Sandra Uwiringiyimana, a girl from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who tells the tale of how she survived a massacre, immigrated to America, and overcame her trauma through art and activism. Sandra was just ten years old when she found herself with a gun pointed at her head. She had watched as rebels gunned down her mother and six-year-old sister in a refugee camp. Remarkably, the rebel didn’t pull the trigger, and Sandra escaped. Thus began a new life for her and her surviving family members. Eventually, they moved to America, only to face yet another ethnic disconnect. In this memoir, Sandra tells the story of her survival, of finding her place in a new country, of her hope for the future, and how she found a way to give voice to her people.”
Harbor Me “It all starts when six kids have to meet for a weekly chat–by themselves, with no adults to listen in. There, in the room they soon dub the ARTT Room (short for “A Room to Talk”), they discover it’s safe to talk about what’s bothering them — everything from Esteban’s father’s deportation and Haley’s father’s incarceration to Amari’s fears of racial profiling and Ashton’s adjustment to his changing family fortunes. When the six are together, they can express the feelings and fears they have to hide from the rest of the world. And together, they can grow braver and more ready for the rest of their lives.”
Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions “A few years ago, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie received a letter from a dear friend from childhood, asking her how to raise her baby girl as a feminist. Dear Ijeawele is Adichie’s letter of response… fifteen invaluable suggestions–compelling, direct, wryly funny, and perceptive–for how to empower a daughter to become a strong, independent woman. From encouraging her to choose a helicopter, and not only a doll, as a toy if she so desires; having open conversations with her about clothes, makeup, and sexuality; debunking the myth that women are somehow biologically arranged to be in the kitchen making dinner, and that men can “allow” women to have full careers, Dear Ijeawele goes right to the heart of sexual politics in the twenty-first century. It will start a new and urgently needed conversation about what it really means to be a woman today.”
Between the World and Me “In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden? Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son.”
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism “In this “vital, necessary, and beautiful book” (Michael Eric Dyson), antiracist educator Robin DiAngelo deftly illuminates the phenomenon of white fragility and “allows us to understand racism as a practice not restricted to ‘bad people’ (Claudia Rankine). Referring to the defensive moves that white people make when challenged racially, white fragility is characterized by emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and by behaviors including argumentation and silence. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium and prevent any meaningful cross-racial dialogue. In this in-depth exploration, DiAngelo examines how white fragility develops, how it protects racial inequality, and what we can do to engage more constructively.”
So You Want to Talk About Race “In So You Want to Talk About Race, Editor at Large of The Establishment Ijeoma Oluo offers a contemporary, accessible take on the racial landscape in America, addressing head-on such issues as privilege, police brutality, intersectionality, micro-aggressions… Perfectly positioned to bridge the gap between people of color and white Americans struggling with race complexities, Oluo answers the questions readers don’t dare ask, and explains the concepts that continue to elude everyday Americans.”
Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide “With Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn as our guides, we undertake an odyssey through Africa and Asia to meet the extraordinary women struggling there, among them a Cambodian teenager sold into sex slavery and an Ethiopian woman who suffered devastating injuries in childbirth. Drawing on the breadth of their combined reporting experience, Kristof and WuDunn depict our world with anger, sadness, clarity, and, ultimately, hope. Through these stories, Kristof and WuDunn help us see that the key to economic progress lies in unleashing women’s potential. They make clear how so many people have helped to do just that, and how we can each do our part.”
Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement “Reflecting on the importance of Black feminism, intersectionality, and prison abolitionism for today’s struggles, Davis discusses the legacies of previous liberation struggles, from the Black Freedom Movement to the South African anti-Apartheid movement. She highlights connections and analyzes today’s struggles against state terror, from Ferguson to Palestine. Facing a world of outrageous injustice, Davis challenges us to imagine and build the movement for human liberation.”
Also, don’t forget to check out our previous post “5 Books All Parents Should Read Now to Learn About Racial Justice” for even more recommendations.
I haven’t actually read all of the books on this list yet myself, but they have been recommended to me by members of our community. This is by no means a comprehensive list – there are many other great books that cover topics of justice and represent diversity. This list is just a place to start. I would love to hear your thoughts if you read any of them.
What other books should be on this list? Comment below!