2017 Activist Kids Books Shout Outs!

This has been a busy year for social justice children’s book creators. Undoubtedly the Trump campaign, election, and the racism, sexism, xenophobia and hate it has unleashed has highlighted the need to address social justice issues with our children. But a movement was already in the making, as many of these books were in the works even before Trump becoming president seemed a real threat. And of course many of the authors and illustrators who launched their books this year are people who have been tilling this ground for years. In either case, our folks have been hard at work, and we didn’t want to even try to make a comprehensive list of all the great social justice themed books that came out this year*. So instead, we asked M is for Movement editorial board members, other authors, illustrators, librarians, educators, and scholars “what were your favorite social justice and activist themed children’s books to come out this year?”

Below you will find their responses. Add yours in the comments!

Board Books and Picture Books:

A Different Pond

By Bao Phi
Illustrated by Thi Bui

It’s a gift to witness Bao Phi’s storytelling spread from spoken word to children’s books in this beautifully told and illustrated story. Drawn from his childhood, A Different Pond peels back layers of a family’s experience that many readers will relate to. It touches a wealth of experiences—immigrant, refugee, Asian Pacific American, and the realities of the working poor. If the book doesn’t directly reference you or your family’s lived experience, it will strengthen your Solidarity Heart.

Recommended by Janine Macbeth, M is for Movement editorial board member, author of Oh, Oh, Baby Boy, and founder of Blood Orange Press

 

Benny Doesn’t Like to Be Hugged

By Zetta Elliott
Illustrated by Purple Wong

Benny is one of the newest picture books from prolific author Zetta Elliott. I have never seen a picture book with a young Black child or children of color dealing with autism and it is great! It flows in rhyme form and gently describes what the main character Benny likes and dislikes with just the right amount of words. For children who ask why Benny feels this way there is an author’s note that the parent can explain to the child. If there is a kid who already understands, it is a great resource for positive reinforcement and information. Purple Wong who illustrates the book really captures the emotion, mood, and action of this child’s life!

Recommended by Robert Liu-Trujillo, M is for Movement editorial board member and author and illustrator of Furqan’s First Flat Top

 

I Am Not A Number

By Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer
Illustrated by Gillian Newland

This is a very important book that gives a glimpse inside what it was like to live in a residential boarding school.

Recommended by Carole Lindstrom, author of Girls Dance, Boys Fiddle

 

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History

By Vashti Harrison,
author and illustrator

What started as a drawing challenge during Black History Month to illustrate an African American woman each day of February is now a beautiful compilation of forty portraits and mini biographies. Introducing kids to trailblazers in so many fields—including Rebecca Lee Crumpler who became the first African American woman physician in 1864, Bessie Coleman, the first African American woman pilot in 1921, and writer Gwendolyn Brooks, the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1950—these moving accounts describe bravery, creativity, and strength in the face of injustice. This book will inspire people of all ages.

Recommended by Alison Goldberg, M is for Movement editorial board member and author of I Love You for Miles and Miles

 

Martí’s Song for Freedom / Martí y sus versos por la libertad

By Emma Otheguy
Illustrated by Beatriz Vidal
Spanish translation by Adiana Dominguez

This bilingual biography in verse pays tribute to José Martí, inspiring writer and courageous freedom fighter from Cuba. The story recounts Martí’s childhood in Cuba, his passion to end slavery, and his lifelong work for Cuban independence. Otheguy’s language is lovely—“He chased the river/as it swelled with the rains/and rushed on to the saltwater sea”—and seamlessly excerpts from Marti’s poem, Versos sencillos. An afterward provides additional biographical information. 

Recommended by Alison Goldberg, M is for Movement editorial board member and author of I Love You for Miles and Miles

 

Milo’s Museum

By Zetta Elliott
Illustrated by Purple Wong

Milo’s Museum is top of my list because it opens the door to age-appropriate conversations with young children about representation, institutional racism, youth activism, museum studies, lessons from family, and community engagement. In addition, it challenges the norm of most books about youth activism which highlight a young person “against the world”—even her or his own family. Milo’s Museum shows that young activists can be (and often are) supported and informed by elders in their family and community.

Recommended by Deborah Menkart, Executive Director of Teaching for Change. SocialJusticeBooks.org, a project of Teaching for Change, curates multicultural and social justice book lists on a range of topics.

 

The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet

By Carmen Agra Deedy
Illustrated by Eugene Yelchin

The new, repressive mayor of La Paz, Don Pepe, outlaws first singing, then all noise. Seven silent years pass until a cheeky gallito raises his voice against oppression: “I sing for those who dare not sing—or have forgotten how.” Lively illustrations and sounds-effects-friendly text encourage young activists to make some noise.

Recommended by Elissa Gershowitz, Executive Editor of The Horn Book, Inc.

 

Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library

By Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by Eric Velasquez

This is my favorite social justice-themed children’s book of 2017 because it celebrates libraries and book culture, which I believe to be cornerstones of democratic society.

Recommended by Emma Otheguy, author of Martí’s Song for Freedom/Martí y sus versos por la libertad

 

They She He Me: Free to Be!

By Maya Gonzalez
and Matthew SG

They She He Me (Maya’s first official collaboration with her life and Reflection Press partner Matthew) is that book on pronouns that we all have been waiting for. What is particularly exciting for me as an illustrator, is to see Maya continue to break new ground with her art as well. I’ve always loved the vibrancy of her work, and in They She He Me, she introduces a calmness that is so cohesive. Even if you don’t have kids you’ll want it for the art!

Recommended by Innosanto Nagara, M is for Movement editorial board member and author of A is for Activist, and other social justice themed children’s books. His newest is The Wedding Portrait

 

Three Balls of Wool

By Henriqueta Cristina
Illustrated by Yara Kono
Translation by Lyn Miller-Lachmann

Three Balls of Wool takes complex topics like oppression, freedom of expression, and movement building, and makes them immediate, accessible, and applicable without being didactic. As a parent, I appreciate how this book artfully captures adult emotions, and the way they inform and register in children’s lives. I love the illustrations—warm and emotive (despite the symbolic use of grey), and in a nostalgic throw-back style I associate with the 1970’s.

Recommendation by Janine Macbeth, M is for Movement editorial board member, author of Oh, Oh, Baby Boy, and founder of Blood Orange Press

 

We Say No! A Child’s Guide to Resistance

By John Seven and Jana Christy

“When you’ve had enough of biggies and maddies and meanies and bullies and baddies and grabbies and fools” begins this timely resource about resistance for kids. We Say No! emphasizes personal expression, solidarity, and the inherent power of a child’s voice, and offers many examples of how children can challenge the antagonists of the world. The playful art keeps the mood light while the directness of the text—“Yes to speaking your mind!” “Yes to tolerance!” “No to hurting the planet!” “No to fear!”—communicates the book’s messages loud and clear.

Recommended by Alison Goldberg, M is for Movement editorial board member and author of I Love You for Miles and Miles

 

The Wedding Portrait

By Innosanto Nagara,
author and illustrator

As a librarian, I have wanted a book in my toolbox that highlights ways of taking a stand and direct action on matters of social justice with examples from the past and present, explanation of protest tactics, that could be used didactically yet still be an enthralling read aloud (is that too much to ask?). The Wedding Portrait unequivocally achieves this. Vignettes of people who took action, like Bree Newsome and farmworkers in Florida, are  framed by the narrative of Nagara’s wedding where he and his wife were themselves arrested for protesting at a nuclear arms testing facility. Nagara’s distinctive rich jewel toned illustrations adds to the reading experience.  

Recommended by Liz Phipps Soreio, Cambridgeport School librarian and “Dear Mrs. Trump” letter author

 

When a Bully is President: Truth and Creativity for Oppressive Times

By Maya Gonzalez,
author and illustrator

This is a new picture book by author/illustrator Maya Gonzalez, published by Reflection Press. The book defines what a bully is not only in playground context, but throughout history, and especially when the current president and administration reflects so much of “Bully” behavior. It talks about colonization which is a heavy topic, and it also gives children hope that there have always been people who united in love to fight back! The book includes names of people who have stood up to bullies, a glossary of words, further resources, and beautifully illustrates people from the past, present and future.

Recommended by Robert Liu-Trujillo, M is for Movement editorial board member and author and illustrator of Furqan’s First Flat Top

 

When We Were Alone

By David Alexander Robertson
Illustrated by Julie Flett

A little girl’s questions (“Nókom, why do you wear so many colours?”) and her grandmother’s answers provide details about the oppressive residential schools for First Nations children in Canada (Nókom is Cree). Flett’s illustrations, with their warmth and intimacy, depict the strength and comfort offered by friendship and family.  

Recommended by Elissa Gershowitz, Executive Editor, The Horn Book, Inc.

 

Middle Grade and YA:

Crossing Ebenezer Creek

By Tonya Bolden

Crossing Ebenezer Creek can help fill the massive textbook gaps and lies about slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction. This is vital history to relearn in order to understand the political realities of race, power, and wealth that we face today. While a YA title, parents and teachers can also gain a necessary understanding of history from this painful and powerfully written book.

Recommended by Deborah Menkart, Executive Director of Teaching for Change. SocialJusticeBooks.org, a project of Teaching for Change, curates multicultural and social justice book lists on a range of topics.

 

Dear Martin

By Nic Stone

A powerful story about a teenager named Justyce McAllister who is forced to confront racism both at school and at home. It examines important issues like racial profiling, nonviolent social change, Black Lives Matter, and social justice, and helps YA readers understand that being “color-blind” does not solve anything, and we must talk about race in order to acknowledge the real problems in our world.

Recommended by Supriya Kelkar, author of Ahimsa

 

Dig Too Deep

By Amy Allgeyer

This is a young adult book that deals with fracking and the devastation this can cause to a community living with the repercussions.

Recommended by Carole Lindstrom, author of Girls Dance, Boys Fiddle

 

Fred Korematsu Speaks Up

By Laura Atkins
and Stan Yogi
Illustrated by Yutaka Houlette

What a unique and valuable book with its use of poetry, expository writing and primary documents like photographs, art and letters.  Often, when we learn about an historical figure or event, it can be presented in a time vacuum with little context. Atkins and Yogi do an amazing job of building empathy, historical context and background knowledge of and even what feels like  a personal relationship with Fred Korematsu. The current political climate makes this book and Korematsu’s life long fight for civil rights  all the more poignant. You can read this book straight through or “dip in” and don’t miss the resources and ideas for young activists at the back of the book.

Recommended by Liz Phipps Soreio, Cambridgeport School librarian and “Dear Mrs. Trump” letter author

 

The Hate U Give

By Angie Thomas

An incredible, gut-wrenching, book about 16-year-old Starr Carter, who witnesses the fatal shooting of her unarmed friend by a police officer. It is a book that can lead to important, necessary discussions about race in America.

Recommended by Supriya Kelkar, author of Ahimsa

 

March

By John Lewis and Andrew Aydin
Illustrated by Nate Powell

This graphic novel in three volumes tells the story of the now Congressman John Lewis and his role in the Civil Rights Movement. A must for people that enjoy comics and care about social justice and history.

Recommended by Duncan Tonatiuh, author and illustrator of Separate is Never Equal, Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote, and many more books. His most recent is Danza!.

 

Midnight Without A Moon

By Linda Williams Jackson

A middle grade historical fiction that reaps a truck load of laughter as spunky Rose Lee and her friend, Hallelujah, run through the fields of the Mississippi Delta doing what kids love—talking, playing and dreaming of a future. The novel also yields tears and a great dose of understanding as Rose Lee, growing up in the segregated South is awaken to the evils of lynching (Emmett Till) and the courage it takes for a school girl to rally against injustice. Wouldn’t it be best to just leave Mississippi in the 1950’s? Midnight is a book about making difficult choices and learning how to lead.

Recommended by Alice Faye Duncan, Children’s Librarian and author of Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968

 

Mother of the Sea

By Zetta Elliott

Mother of the Sea weaves an unflinching depiction of the Middle Passage with immortal dignity and even magic. In under 50 pages, Zetta Elliott tells our past of being stolen and enslaved in a nuanced and humanizing voice that navigates oppression, and wields mystery, organizing, and liberation. This book has the potential to surface deep analysis and even healing were it adopted into middle and high school curriculums with thought and care.

Recommended by Janine Macbeth, M is for Movement editorial board member, author of Oh, Oh, Baby Boy, and founder of Blood Orange Press.

 

Piecing Me Together

By Renée Watson

Watson’s beautiful book challenges assumptions of race, class, and the value of good intentions. Jade is a relatable, complex heroine who will inspire readers to ‘be the change they want to see’ in their own daily lives.

Recommended by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, author of 8th Grade Superzero and co-author of Two Naomis

 

Rad Women Worldwide

By Kate Schatz
Illustrated by Miriam Stahl

With their signature great visuals and accessible storytelling (I read it to 5 and 6 year olds), this consciously curated lineup of amazing, radical, and ground-breaking women takes on the very important project of expanding our kids’ understanding of the world.

Recommended by Innosanto Nagara, M is for Movement editorial board member and author of A is for Activist, and other social justice themed children’s books. His newest is The Wedding Portrait.

 

Rise of the Jumbies

By Tracey Baptiste

Baptiste’s deliciously creepy sequel offers even more thrills than the first, and she tackles the history and legacy of the slave trade with respect, heart, and authenticity. Corinne’s resourcefulness and persistence will have readers cheering her on at every turn.  

Recommended by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, author of 8th Grade Superzero and co-author of Two Naomis

 

 

 

*Some books we listed have late 2016 publication dates. Felt close enough.
DISCLAIMER: This is not meant to be a comprehensive list of all the social justice and activist themed books that came out in 2017, or an M is for Movement editorial board endorsement of all the books listed. Opinions expressed are those of the recommenders, as always.