Expanding Social Awareness and Teaching Activism through Your Summer Reading

Widen Your Family’s Circle of Concern through Children’s Literature

When we consider our child’s daily interactions with others, they may not get the kind of exposure to various skin tones, cultures, differing belief systems, or other income levels to expand their circle of concern. We want to raise socially aware and inclusive kids who are able to make connections with or act kindly to a person of any age, gender, ability, color, culture, or creed, but our neighborhood may not be conducive to forging those important connections. Ah, but the world of children’s literature can…and in the comfort of our very own homes. 

Consider that story can act as a central builder of empathy, the skill of seeking to understand others’ thoughts and feelings. And empathy can be exercised and practiced and honed in our kids. In addition, the conversation of racial injustice can become uncomfortable with an accompanying range of big, complex feelings so books help provide a gateway aiding us in those necessary conversations. Deepen your own trusting relationship by reading and discussing together. Yes, point out differences and be certain to articulate the strengths of those differences. And then, also discover how many truly important commonalities there are between these characters from all parts of your city or the world and you! 

Picture Books:

One Day, So Many Ways
By Laura Hall, Illustrated by Loris Lora

Discover what daily life is like for kids all around the world! Meet children from over 40 countries and explore the differences and similarities between their daily routines. Over 24 hours, follow a wide variety of children as they wake up, eat, go to school, play, talk, learn, and go about their everyday routine in this stunning retro-style illustrated picture book. Gorgeous illustrations! This book is a must have. Published by Quarto Group.

The Skin You Live In

By Michael Tyler, Illustrated by David Lee Csicsko

With the ease and simplicity of a nursery rhyme, this lively story delivers an important message of social acceptance to young readers. Themes associated with child development and social harmony, such as friendship, acceptance, self-esteem, and diversity are promoted in simple and straightforward prose. Vivid illustrations of children’s activities include a wide range of cultures.

A Kids Book about Racism

By Jelani Memory

Yes, this really is a kids book about racism. Inside, you’ll find a clear description of what racism is, how it makes people feel when they experience it, and how to spot it when it happens. This is one conversation that’s never too early to start, and this book was written to be an introduction for kids on the topic. This book helps young children learn about racism and how it hurts people and supports parents in raising this vital conversation in the preschool years.

We Are Family

By Patricia Hegarty, Illustrated by Ryan Wheatcroft

Through illness and health, in celebration and disappointment, families stick together. Some families are made up of many people, and some are much smaller.

Sometimes family members look like each other, and sometimes they don’t! But even though every family is different, the love is all the same. Illustrations many varied types of families.

First Chapter Books/Early Readers:

Max Loves Muñecas 

by Zetta Elliott

Max wants to visit a beautiful boutique that sells handmade dolls, but he worries that other children will tease him. When he finally finds the courage to enter the store, Max meets Senor Pepe who has been making dolls since he was a boy in Honduras. Senor Pepe shares his story with Max and reminds him that, “There is no shame in making something beautiful with your hands.”

Lola Levine Is Not Mean 

by Monica Brown

Lola loves writing in her diario and playing soccer with her team, the Orange Smoothies. But when a soccer game during recess gets “too competitive,” Lola accidentally hurts her classmate Juan Gomez. Now everyone is calling her Mean Lola Levine! Lola feels horrible, but with the help of her family and her super best friend, Josh Blot, she learns how to navigate the second grade in true Lola fashion–with humor and the power of words. 

The Year of the Book (one in a series) 

by Andrea Cheng

In Chinese, “peng you” means friend. But in any language, all Anna knows for certain is that friendship is complicated. When Anna needs company, she turns to her books. Whether traveling through “A Wrinkle in Time,” or peering over “My Side of the Mountain,” books provide what real life cannot—constant companionship and insight into her changing world.

Middle Grade Novels:

Merci Suarez Changes Gears 

By Meg Medina (Latinx)

Thoughtful, strong-willed sixth-grader Merci Suarez navigates difficult changes with friends, family, and everyone in between in a resonant new novel from Meg Medina. In a coming-of-age tale full of humor and wisdom, award-winning author Meg Medina gets to the heart of the confusion and constant change that defines middle school — and the steadfast connection that defines family.

Inside Out and Back Again

by Thanhha Lai

A Newberry Honor Book, this moving story of one girl’s year of change, dreams, grief, and healing. Inspired by the author’s childhood experience as a refugee–fleeing Vietnam after the Fall of Saigon and immigrating to Alabama–this coming-of-age debut novel told in verse has been celebrated for its touching child’s-eye view of family and immigration.

Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World

by Ashley Herring Blake (LGBTQ)

When a tornado rips through town, twelve-year-old Ivy Aberdeen’s house is destroyed and her family of five is displaced. Ivy feels invisible and ignored in the aftermath of the storm–and what’s worse, her notebook filled with secret drawings of girls holding hands has gone missing. Mysteriously, Ivy’s drawings begin to reappear in her locker with notes from someone telling her to open up about her identity. Ivy thinks–and hopes–that this someone might be her classmate, another girl for whom Ivy has begun to develop a crush. Will Ivy find the strength and courage to follow her true feelings. 

Amal Unbound

by Aisha Saeed (Pakistani)

Life is quiet and ordinary in Amal’s Pakistani village, but she had no complaints, and besides, she’s busy pursuing her dream of becoming a teacher one day. Her dreams are temporarily dashed when—as the eldest daughter—she must stay home from school to take care of her siblings. Amal is upset, but she doesn’t lose hope and finds ways to continue learning. Then the unimaginable happens—after an accidental run-in with the son of her village’s corrupt landlord, Amal must work as his family’s servant to pay off her own family’s debt. 

Young Adult Novels:

The Poet X 

by Elizabeth Acevedo (African American)

A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo. Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking until she finds poetry.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

by Erika L. Sanchez (Latinx)

Perfect Mexican daughters do not go away to college. And they do not move out of their parents’ house after high school graduation. Perfect Mexican daughters never abandon their family. That was Olga’s role. 

 Was Olga really what she seemed? Or was there more to her sister’s story? And either way, how can Julia even attempt to live up to a seemingly impossible ideal? But Julia is not your perfect Mexican daughter.

American Panda 

by Gloria Chao (Asian American)

At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents’ master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?

Enjoy expanding your children’s reading possibilities while also expanding your families’ circle of concern!

* Special thanks to Kimberly Allison and her school, Columbus Academy’s SEED diversity council for her/their outstanding recommendations!

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