Ages 2-4 (arranged by age appropriateness)
Global Babies, by Global Fund for Children, 2007 (Ages 6 mo. to 3 yrs)
This board book for babies and toddlers shows photos of babies from around the world. Because faces are the first things infants recognize, this is a perfect first book. Older siblings will also enjoy the pictures which are a wonderful springboard for discussion.
All the World, by Liz Garten, 2010 (Ages 2-5)
Families of many ethnicities will see themselves and others respectfully reflected in this Caldecott Honor Award winner. “Charming illustrations and lyrical rhyming couplets speak volumes in celebration of the world and humankind, combining to create a lovely book that will be appreciated by a wide audience… Perfection.” — School Library Journal, starred review.
** Mixed: A Colorful Story, by Arree Chung, 2018 (Ages 2-5)
The reds, yellows and blues all think they’re the best in this vibrant, thought-provoking picture book with a message of acceptance and unity. “Laugh-out-loud fun. Prospective ninjas, take notice!” ―School Library Journal, starred review
** Our Favorite Day of The Year, by A. E. Ali Rahele Bell, 2020 (Ages 3-5)
Beautifully told and illustrated book follows five new school friends through the year as they learn about their different cultures and religions. Adding to the cultural mix, their warm and masterful teacher is Hindu. “The dual focus on friendship and diversity makes this choice a winner.” –Kirkus, starred review
** Finding Kindness, by Deborah Underwood, 2019 (Ages 3-5)
“With its positive message, simple rhymes, and eye-catching art, this is a wonderful choice for a kindness-themed storytime.” ―School Library Journal
** Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story, by Kevin Noble Maillard, 2019 (Ages 3-5)
“Fry Bread celebrates the thing itself and much, much more . . . Maillard and Martinez-Neal bring depth, detail, and whimsy to this Native American food story, with text and illustrations depicting the diversity of indigenous peoples, the role of continuity between generations, and the adaptation over time of people, place, and tradition.” ―Booklist, starred review
** I Am Every Good Thing, by Derrick Barnes, 2020 (Ages 3-6)
“A powerful celebration of Black boyhood, countering many of the negative messages that a racist society puts forth about African American boys. Here they are adventurous, polite, inquisitive, playful, creative, artistic, athletic, brave, and worthy. They are also loving, vulnerable, and reliable. The text has a cadence that demands to be read out loud, performed, sung, or shouted with joy and veracity.” ―Booklist, starred review
** Desert Girl, Monsoon Boy, by Tara Dairman, 2020 (Ages 3-6)
“A beautiful and important book about climate change featuring those who are most affected by it. Dairman draws inspiration from the Rabari people, an Indigenous tribe of nomadic herders and shepherds that live in northwest India.” –Kirkus, starred review. While the text and drawings will engage 3 year-olds, the book provides much food for thought for older children.
** Rain!, by Linda Ashman, 2013 (Ages 3-6)
Can a child’s natural exuberance on a rainy day (and perhaps a cookie) cheer up a grouchy old man who hates the rain? This beautifully illustrated book is about empathy and caring.
Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Pena, 2015 (Ages 4-7)
In this Newberry Medal winner and Caldecott Honor book, we meet CJ and his grandmother waiting for a bus after going to church. He has many questions and she answers them with patience and wisdom. Through their conversation, it is clear that their family has little income but is rich in many other ways. We don’t know where they are going until the last stop on Market Street, where they get out of the bus to volunteer at a soup kitchen. The relationship between this African-American grandma and her grandson is a model for all of us who want to help raise the next generation of global citizens.
** Julian is a Mermaid, by Jessica Love, 2018 (Ages 4-7)
Julian is mesmerized by mermaids, Julian wants to be a mermaid, Julian’s grandmother knows exactly what to do! This book is empowering for children who are gender non-conforming or different in any way—and empowering for their grandparents as well. The illustrations are beautiful and uniquely suited to the story. “Groundbreaking…here’s a happy picture book that challenges traditional gender stereotypes, rendering one boy free to be himself.” —San Francisco Chronicle
** Sulwe, by Lupita Nyong’o, 2019 (Ages 4-8)
From Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o comes a powerful picture book about colorism, self-esteem, and learning that true beauty comes from within. Sulwe has skin the color of midnight. She is darker than everyone in her family. She is darker than anyone in her school. Sulwe just wants to be beautiful and bright, like her mother and sister. Then a magical journey in the night sky opens her eyes and changes everything. “A thoughtfully layered text and powerful illustrations address this sensitive topic [of colorism] in a uniquely nurturing way.” ― Kirkus, starred review
Ages 5-8 (arranged by age-appropriateness)
The Day You Begin, by Jacqueline Woodson and Rafael Lopez, 2018 (Ages 5-7)
In the lyrical voice that has won her many awards, the author addresses young children’s fear of new situations. The book is written like a collage of different experiences, different individuals, and different fears so that all children can find themselves in this book and be reassured, and perhaps come to be more accepting of others. Also recommended by Jacqueline Woodson, Each Kindness, 2012.
** Black is a Rainbow Color, by Angela Joy, 2020 (Ages 5-8)
A young black child ponders the colors in the rainbow and realizes that while black is not a color in the rainbow, black culture is a rainbow of its own. Joy’s text describes what “Black is” physically and culturally. It ranges from the concrete, such as “the braids in my best friend’s hair,” to the conceptual: “Black is soft-singing, ‘Hush now, don’t explain’ ”—a reference to the song by Billie Holiday and Nina Simone. Joy alludes throughout the brief text to poetry, music, historical figures, and events in black history, Several pages of back-matter supply the necessary context for those who need a little extra help.–Kirkus
** Nana Akua Goes to School, by Tricia Elam Walker, 2020 (Ages 5-8)
Zura isn’t so sure she wants to bring her West African born grandmother to Grandparents Day at school because of the traditional markings on her face. “Walker writes convincingly about how difference can cause unease among children, and her story offers a compelling portrait of a grandmother whose pride and poise put that concern to rest.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review
Gracie’s Night, A Hanukkah Story, By Lynn Taylor Gordon, 2013 (Ages 5-8)
There’s lots of love in Gracie’s and Papa’s lives, but not much money. Gracie finds a resourceful way to buy Papa some well deserved Hanukkah gifts, but an encounter on a bitterly cold night opens her eyes and alters her plans. This book about generosity speaks to everyone.
Dreamers, by Yuyi Morales, 2018 (Ages 5-8)
Yuyi Morales, a Caldecott award winning author, shares her own story of immigrating to the US. “(She) tells, through illustrations that seem to dance and sing, the story of crossing borders on a bridge of language with her young son. Together they discover picture books and public libraries, and the gifts they brought with them — open hearts, art, poetry and stories — blossom.”—The Washington Post, Best Books of 2018
Malala’s Magic Pencil, by Malala Yousafzai and Kerascoët, 2017 (Ages 5-8)
Malala tells the story of her own childhood to young children in a voice that is both engaging and appropriate to their age. She tells of wishing for a magic pencil that could help people, and coming to realize over time that she could work to help fix the problems she saw around her without a magic pencil. While there are many books about Malala, this one is special in that she is speaking directly to her young audience.
Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music, by Margarita Engle and Rafael López, 2015 (Ages 5-8)
Newberry Honor winning author Margarita Engle tells an empowering story of a Cuban girl who refused to accept that girls cannot be drummers, based on a real-life story. This award winning book has magical illustrations.
I Walk with Vanessa: A Story About a Simple Act of Kindness, by Kerascoët, 2018 (Ages 5-8)
This book without words is about a child who is bullied and about how a simple act of kindness can change everything for that child. It explores themes of kindness, acceptance and standing up for others. “A good choice for young children who can work out for themselves what has happened, what Vanessa’s new friend does, and why it works.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
The Most Magnificent Thing, by Ashley Spires, 2014 (Ages 5-8)
A wonderful story about a young girl’s struggle to invent and build a “magnificent thing,” about her frustration which morphs into anger, and ultimately about perseverance and success.
** We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, by Traci Sorell, 2018 (Ages 5-9)
The word otsaliheliga (oh-jah-LEE-hay-lee-gah) is used by the Cherokee Nation to express gratitude. Written by a Cherokee poet, this book follows a contemporary Cherokee family throughout the year, expressing gratitude with each season with their community. A Cherokee syllabary with words written phonetically and with Cherokee characters is included. It appeared on many best book lists in 2018 and received two honor awards in 2019.
Tar Beach, by Faith Ringgold, 1991 (Ages 5-9)
This classic Caldecott Medal winning book “…recounts the dream adventure of eight-year-old Cassie Louise Lightfoot, who flies above her apartment-building rooftop, the ‘tar beach’ of the title, looking down on 1939 Harlem. Part autobiographical, part fictional, this allegorical tale sparkles with symbolic and historical references…. The spectacular artwork resonates with color and texture.”–Horn Book, starred review
Mama Miti, by Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Kadir Nelson, 2010 (Ages 5-9)
There are many biographies written for children about Wangari Maathai (Mama Miti), the Nobel Prize-winning founder of the Greenbelt Movement in Kenya. What makes this one special, in addition to the powerful story, are the beautiful illustrations by Kadir Nelson. Reading this book aloud is as much a treat for adults as for children.
Nelson Mandela, by Kadir Nelson, 2013 (Ages 5-9)
The strength of Kadir Nelson’s emotionally packed illustrations perfectly match the importance of Nelson Mandela’s as a change-maker. Told in a simple and truthful voice that is accessible to children as young as age 5.
One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia, By Miranda Paul, 2015 (Ages 5-9)
“As a girl, Ceesay realized that the goats on which her village relied were dying because they were eating plastic bags…. So Ceesay figured out how to use crochet…to make purses out of the plastic bags. The simple but lyrical text conveys this beautiful, thought-provoking tale of ecological awareness and recycling.” — School Library Journal, Starred review
Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote; a Migrant’s Tale, by Duncan Tonatiuh, 2015 (Ages 6-9)
When Pancho Rabbit’s father, who has been picking carrots and lettuce in the North to support his family, fails to come home when expected, Pancho sets out to find him. He meets a Coyote—literally and figuratively—who helps him but at too great a price. Luckily, Pancho Rabbit’s father finds him just in time. This award-winning picture book rings true, and the animal characters make it less scary than human characters would.
Ages 8-12 (arranged by age-appropriateness)
Her Right Foot, by Dave Eggers and Shawn Harris, 2018 (ages 7-10)
A clever, funny book about the Statue of Liberty and the message that its right foot, which is stepping forward, sends. While it can be understood by child as young as five, the humor and informational content is best appreciated by children from 7-10.
Emmanuel’s Dream, by Laurie Ann Thompson and Sean Qualls, Illustrator, 2015 (Ages 8-12)
The inspiring true story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, a physically handicapped boy in Africa who proves he can do what other children can, and more! In 2001, he bicycled 400 miles across Ghana, changing the perceptions about people with disabilities. He continues to work for disability rights today.
** The Undefeated, by Kwame Alexander, 2019 (Ages 7-11)
Acclaimed author Kwame Alexander teamed up with equally acclaimed illustrator Kadir Nelson to create this 2020 winner of a Caldecott Medal and Newberry Honor Award, written in free verse. Best when read and shared aloud, “Alexander’s poetry possesses a straightforward, sophisticated, steady rhythm that, paired with Nelson’s detail-oriented oil paintings, carries readers through generations…An incredible connector text for young readers eager to graduate to weighty conversations about our yesterday, our now, and our tomorrow.”—Kirkus, starred review
** Wishtree, by Katherine Applegate, 2017 (Ages 8-12)
From the award-winning author of The One and Only Ivan comes this unusual story, told from the point of view of Red, a very old oak tree and home to many neighborhood animals. Red is known to humans as the Wishtree– people tie their wishes to it each spring. But when a Muslim family moves into town, some of the messages turn hurtful. Trees have deep roots and this story gives us insight into the roots of a community and what they do to help their own.
** The Banana-Leaf Ball: How Play Can Change the World, by Katie Smith Milway 2017 (Ages 8-12)
Separated from his family when they were forced to flee their home, a young East African boy named Deo lives alone in the Lukole refugee camp in Tanzania. Based on a true story, Katie Smith Milway’s inspiring tale shows how a desperate situation can be improved by finding common ground through play.
** New Kid, by Jerry Craft, 2019 (Ages 8-12)
This graphic novel tells the story of Jordan Banks, who experiences culture shock when his parents enroll him at an elite private school with very little diversity. Can Jordan learn to navigate his new school culture while keeping his neighborhood friends and staying true to himself? The book won the 2020 Newbery Medal (a first for a graphic novel), a Coretta Scott King Award, and a Kirkus Award. The sequel, Class Act (2019), is also recommended.
If The World Were A Village, 2nd Edition by David Smith, 2011, updated 2020 (Ages 8-12)
This fascinating book is packed with worldwide data about how people live, their religions, ages, what they eat, and just about everything else a child might want to know. By comparing the world to a village of 100 people, the data are easily accessible to children, and the acrylic paintings which form the background to the data draw in readers of all ages. Other recommended books by David Smith are: If America Were a Village, and Our Better Angels: Stories of Disability in Life, Science, and Literature.
One Well by Rochelle Strauss, 2007 (Ages 8-12)
Strauss speaks to access to water as an equity issue as well as an environmental one. “Looking at all the water on Earth—in the atmosphere, the oceans, lakes, ponds, rivers, and rain as “One Well” into which all life dips to survive—Strauss presents a timely discussion of the use and abuse of a not-so-limitless resource…. Included is a section for children on “Becoming Well Aware,” and notes for adults about helping youngsters (and themselves) to consider the quality and quantity of the water passing through their lives.”—Patricia Manning, formerly at Eastchester, NY Public Library in School Library Journal.
** Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness, by Anastasia Higginbotham, 2020 (ages 8-12)
Think of this book as a conversation starter about race and racism, especially for white children who are not likely to experience racism directly. “An honest explanation about how power and privilege factor into the lives of white children, at the expense of other groups, and how they can help seek justice.”—The New York Times
** Song for a Whale, by Lynne Kelly, 2019 (Ages 8-12)
An award-winning story of a deaf girl’s connection to a whale whose song can’t be heard by his species, and the journey she takes to help him. Twelve-year-old Iris is a tech genius, but she’s the only deaf person in her school so people often treat her like she’s not very smart. When she learns about Blue 55, a real whale who is unable to speak to other whales, Iris understands how he must feel. She’s determined to invent a way to “sing” to him, but how will she play her song for him when he’s 3000 miles away “This finely crafted novel affectingly illuminates issues of loneliness, belonging, and the power of communication.” —Publishers Weekly
** The Bridge Home, by Padma Venkatraman, 2019 (Ages 10-12)
Four homeless but determined children in India make a life for themselves in this stirring novel that touches themes of extreme poverty, and caste, and resilience. “The individual children and their tightknit relationship are portrayed with conviction and finesse. Written in the form of a letter from Viji to her sister, the affecting narrative transports readers to a faraway setting that becomes vivid and real. While the young characters face unusually difficult challenges, together they find the courage they need to move forward. The author of A Time to Dance, Venkatraman offers an absorbing novel of love, loss, and resilience.”— Booklist, starred review
** Other Words for Home, by Jasmine Warga, 2019 (Ages 10- 13)
This Newberry Honor Award winner, written in free verse, tells the story of Jude, a young teen-age Syrian refugee in Cincinnati. “Through Jude’s eyes readers see firsthand what it is to leave behind one’s beloved home and family as many refugees do every single day. Young readers will laugh with Jude, cry with her, and root for her every step of the way. A beautiful, powerful, and necessary book.” (Aisha Saeed, New York Times bestselling author of Amal Unbound.)
Amal Unbound, by Aisha Saeed, 2018 (ages 10-13)
The story of a young Pakistani girl, “this beautifully crafted and moving story will encourage middle grade readers to ponder such issues as indentured servitude, class, and resistance. Saeed’s well-developed narrative will evoke empathy for all those around the world like Amal, who are not guaranteed freedom or education.” —School Library Connection, starred review
Front Desk, by Kelly Yang, 2018 (Ages 10-13)
After school, 10 year-old Mia works at the front desk of a motel where her immigrant parents clean rooms, and where the family lives. Her parents hide immigrants there— unknown to the evil manager—by letting them stay in empty rooms. This debut story, which got rave reviews, weaves a compelling plot with many social issues. A sequel, Three Keys, is also recommended
Listen, Slowly, by Thanhhà Lai, 2016 (Ages 10-13)
A 12 year-old Vietnamese-American girl is taken to Vietnam to be a companion to her grandmother while her father, a doctor, works in rural Vietnam. Initially angry about not being able to stay home during summer vacation, Mia comes to understand her grandmother and the war that changed her family’s life, and to appreciate her rich background. We also recommend Thanhhà Lai’s earlier novel, Inside Out and Back Again, which won a National Book Award and a Newberry Honor Award.
Touching Spirit Bear, by Ben Mikaelsen, 2010 (Ages 10-13)
In his Nautilus Award-winning classic Touching Spirit Bear, author Ben Mikaelsen delivers a powerful coming-of-age story of a boy who must overcome the effects that violence has had on his life. An angry teenage boy grievously injures a schoolmate and faces serious jail time. He is offered a Native American “Circle Justice” opportunity to spend time on a remote deserted island instead. He chooses that punishment, planning to escape. Instead, he is mauled by a bear and left for dead. When rescued and healed, he returns to the island to finish his year in isolation and reflect on the roots of his anger and how he can take responsibility for his actions and his life. A Sequel, Ghost of Spirit Bear, is also highly rated.
Rad Women Worldwide,by Kate Schatz, 2016 (Ages-18)
Rad Women Worldwide follows the format of Rad American Women A-Z, but with forty biographical sketches of women from every continent and era. Women from developing countries are well represented here. Those of us who learned world history in a time when male Europeans and royal families dominated the history books, have as much to learn from Rad Women Worldwide as do the children in our lives. Also by Kate Schatz: Rad Girls Can: Stories of Bold, Brave, and Brilliant Young Women, 2018
Wonder, By R.J. Palacio, 2012 (Ages 8 and up)
In addition to making numerous best book lists, this book about a child born with a facial deformity and the response of others to him, is the #4 bestselling children’s book on Amazon, with over 11,000 reviews averaging 5 stars! (It has also been made into a movie). The potential for discussion at any age from about 8 up is so powerful that it is hard to assign an age range. “Wonder is essentially … a wonder. It’s well-written, engaging, and so much fun to read that the pages almost turn themselves. More than that, Wonder touches the heart in the most life-affirming, unexpected ways… Do yourself a favor and read this book – your life will be better for it.” – Nicholas Sparks
Wonder Girls: Changing our World, Paola Gianturco and Alex Sangster, (Ages 8- Adult)
This amazing book, written collaboratively by photojournalist Paola Gianturco and her 11-year-old granddaughter, documents the work of fifteen activist groups worldwide led by girls under the age of 18. These girls are working on equal rights, education, ending child marriage, domestic violence, and other urgent issues in their communities. The work of these young activists is inspiring, as is the quality of the photographs and the writing. All royalties from the book go to The Global Fund for Women which in turn makes grants to activist women and girls in 177 countries.