Books for the Arts and Social Justice

Annie’s Plaid Shirt by Stacy B. Davids – Annie is miserable. She feels weird in dresses. Why can’t her mom understand? Gender, identity, individuality, tolerance, and self-esteem. Watch the summary.

Chrisantemum by Kevin Henkes The young character loves her name until she gets teased about it at school. Then a fantastic music teacher does the right thing. Listen to it here.

Fascinating by Richard MichelsonA boy named Leonard loves the performing arts. Leonard’s Jewish Ukranian immigrant parents feel out of place in America and do not understand his dream of becoming an actor. Watch a description of Leonard Nimoy’s bio here.

I Never Saw Another Butterfly – Poetry by Jewish children in concentration camps. There is a one-act play by Celeste Raspanti and several videos with the poems, visuals, and music. Here is a summary of the book with a lesson plan.

I See Me. Black Women A to Z – Help preschool and older girls build a positive  identity. Here is a video with music on this book “about the lives of Black women that challenged and shaped America.”

The Streets Are Free by Kurusa – Story about self-determination. Venezuelan children get their friends and family involved until the whole barrio unites to create a space of their own. Spanish version known as La Calle Es Libre.

La Mariposa – Francisco Jiménez’s eloquent biographical short story is about a migrant child struggling with a new life and a new language. Read a summary here.

La Peineta Colorada by Fernando Picó- Historical fiction picture book in Spanish. A girl and an old woman aid a fugitive slave in Puerto Rico. For 5th grade and older.

Prince Cinders by Babette ColeA prince who did not follow the gender-role script, yet lived happily ever after. Hear it here.

Princess Smartypants by Babette ColeA princess who defied gender stereotypes to win herself the best possible life. Hear the book here.

Sueño de Lu Shzu by Ricardo Gómez – Picture book in Spanish about universal children’s rights. A Chinese girl who works at a sweatshop making dolls come up with a plan. This popular story has been turned into a play, and into a puppet story.

The Big Orange Splotch by D. Manus Pinkwater- When the new, artistic neighbor decides to paint a wild design on his house, the residents of his development start criticizing. A tale of creative freedom vs conformity. Hear it here.

The Boy and the Bindi by Vivek Shraya – A five-year-old South Asian boy becomes fascinated with his mother’s bindi, the red dot commonly worn by Hindu women. Gender, identity and self-acceptance. Listen to the book here.

The Boy Who Kept on Drawing – A biographical story about developing an artistic identity as a gay person (but Keith’s orientation is not mentioned in the book). Listen to the book here.

The Island by Armin Greder – A story about being an outsider, bulliying, and xenophobia. An upper elementary and middle school level Lord of the Flies. Watch a great review here.

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi- A Korean girl in a new school promises she will choose an “English” name but ends up choosing a Korean name and feeling good about it. Hear the whole story here.

The Paperbag Princess upends traditional gender stereotypes. Great antidote for Disney! You can hear the book here.

Photo of book cover

Cover of The Sweet and Sour Anial Book by Langston Hughes

The Sweet and Sour Animal Book – The words of Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes paired with the art of 1st and 2nd grade children from the Harlem School of the Arts.

The Thankful Book by Todd Parr – The author reads the whole book here, so you can be the judge on whether you would like to get this predictable book illustrated in a very accessible way.

Zoom by Istvan Banyai – Things are never as they seem in this wordless book designed to keep kids talking about close-up, far away, perspective and point of view.