Social justice books for kids develop empathy and build shared background knowledge around topics like refugee and immigrant experiences, racism, bias, poverty, and hunger. Plus, great social justice books highlight for kids the simple power of kind deeds that help others thrive.
Here are more than 25 social justice books for kids in grades K-12 to share in the classroom.
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Social Justice Books for Elementary School Kids
1. Imagine a Wolf by Lucky Platt
When you think of a wolf, what do you picture? Probably not the demure narrator of this book who loves to knit. This book can be enjoyed on many levels and is a great conversation starter about what it’s like for those who experience bias.
2. Noodlephant by Jacob Kramer
Introduce so many elements of social justice efforts with this engaging parable. Noodlephant loves pasta—hence her nickname. When the kangaroos start making one unfair law after another, Noodlephant stands up for everyone’s right to enjoy pasta. Also, check out the sequel, Okapi Tale.
3. Tani’s New Home: A Refugee Finds Hope & Kindness in America by Tanitoluwa Adewumi
This true story is so relatable for kids. Learn about Tani’s family’s experience as Nigerian refugees coming to the United States and how playing chess helped Tani finally feel at home again. Especially inspiring is how this family worked to help others in need as they became able.
4. Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush’s Incredible Journey by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes
In this true story, an Iraqi family brings their beloved family cat when they leave their home as refugees, only to have it get lost during the boat crossing to Greece. A worldwide reunification effort leads to a happy ending. In addition to learning about the resilience of refugees, students will learn how compassionate aid workers and citizens can make a difference by helping one family at a time.
5. One Green Apple by Eve Bunting
When Farah joins her new American class, she feels alone in a crowd. Then she finds common ground with her classmates over the familiar experience of making apple cider on a field trip. The kindness of new friends helps her feel more at home.
6. Born Ready: The True Story of a Boy Named Penelope by Jodie Patterson
The author, a celebrated LGBTQI rights activist, wrote this story to honor her son Penelope. Penelope knows he’s a boy, and, with his family’s support, he bravely persisted in showing the world his authentic self. Share this to show students that working for social justice means working to enable all people to thrive—as themselves.
7. Steamboat School by Deborah Hopkinson
In Missouri in 1847, one teacher uses his passion for education to motivate reluctant James to learn. When a new state law forbids educating African American students, the school community determinedly builds a new floating school just across state lines.
8. Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood
This captivating true story stars Ada Ríos, who lives in a small town in Paraguay built atop a landfill. Her dream of playing the violin seems unlikely until an innovative music teacher helps students build instruments out of trash and changes everything.
9. Gifts From the Enemy by Trudy Ludwig
This is the powerful story based on From a Name to a Number: A Holocaust Survivor’s Autobiography by Alter Wiener. During Alter’s Nazi imprisonment, surprise displays of kindness alter the course of his experience.
10. Lulu and the Hunger Monster by Erik Talkin
An expensive car repair exhausts Lulu and her mom’s food budget. It’s so hard for Lulu to concentrate at school with the “Hunger Monster” looming—until she works up the courage to talk to her teacher about it. His referral to a food pantry really helps. This important book can get your class talking about social justice efforts to help those who experience food insecurity.
11. Somos como las nubes / We Are Like the Clouds by Jorge Argueta
This collection of poetry teaches students about the experiences of the thousands of children who leave Central America on foot to seek a safer home in the United States.
12. Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney
Every class should hear the tale of Alice Rumphius, who wanted to “do something to make the world more beautiful.” This classic book reminds us that everyone deserves to experience beauty. You might pair it with a title about cultivating beauty in a more modern, urban setting, such as Hey, Wall: A Story of Art and Community by Susan Verde.
13. Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai is an inspirational and relatable figure for young people. This biography helps students understand her transition from dreaming of a better world as a child to taking action.
14. Thurgood by Jonah Winter
With a unique format and amazing illustrations, this biography of Thurgood Marshall gives older elementary students countless examples of social justice work and the reasons it’s needed. It also gives a great introduction to the role of lawyers in social justice work and may inspire kids to join the debate team and pursue a career in law themselves!
15. What We Believe: A Black Lives Matter Principles Activity Book by Laleña Garcia
This unique social justice book for kids is more than a workbook—it’s a framework for introducing kids to the tenets of Black Lives Matter and social justice work in general.
Social Justice Books for Middle and High School Kids
16. From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks
With her strong sense of justice, can-do attitude, and penchant for baking desserts, Zoe Washington is a protagonist for readers to emulate. Readers will learn alongside Zoe about racial justice and the United States criminal justice system as she tries to give her incarcerated father the justice he deserves.
17. Front Desk series by Kelly Yang
Mia and her friends all face challenges, discrimination, and uncertainty as kids of immigrant families—and they all have tons of heart and positive energy as they work to change what they can. Readers will be rooting for these middle schoolers, who are inspiring examples of how social justice action is for all ages.
18. When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed
This graphic novel tells the story of two brothers from Somalia growing up in a refugee camp in Kenya. Based on the experiences of Somali refugee Omar Mohamed, this book will stay with readers long after they close it.
19. and 20. Amina’s Voice and Amina’s Song by Hena Khan
If you’re looking for social justice book club books for kids, these are well-loved by many. Amina, who is Pakistani and Muslim, faces the same challenges many of our students do around balancing her family’s culture with her identity as an American. In the first title, vandalism at Amina’s family mosque makes this even more challenging. In the inspiring sequel, Amina grapples with how to best share her Pakistani heritage with her American classmates.
21. Dear Martin by Nic Stone
This is a modern-day classic and must-read for kids and adults. Justice McAllister is a model student. He’s also a student of color with questions about how to apply Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s teachings to the present day. So, he starts writing to him.
22. Refugee by Alan Gratz
Three powerful narratives about the experiences of refugee youth combine to offer students an unparalleled perspective. Josef is a Jewish boy whose family rushes to escape Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Isabel and her family leave Cuba on a raft in 1994. Mahmoud’s family escapes Syria on foot in 2015. Students will be forever changed by these stories and how they unexpectedly converge in the end.
23. Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart
Lily Jo McGrother’s gender assigned at birth was male. Navigating eighth grade as a girl who looks like a boy is tough. Dunkin Dorfman is new at school and coping with bipolar disorder. When the two teens meet, they couldn’t have predicted the impact they’d have on each other’s lives.
24. Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans by Don Brown
The circumstances and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina are important social justice case studies for kids. This riveting nonfiction title is a great starting place.
25. Miracle’s Boys by Jacqueline Woodson
This story of three brothers coming together to cope in challenging times builds students’ empathy for so many common circumstances: parental loss, incarceration, the intricacies of life in urban neighborhoods, and more.
26. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
This collection of poems gives students an important insight into life for young people of color in the 1960s and 1970s—set against the backdrop of finding one’s own identity.
27. The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin
Spark lots of student discussion as they learn about an explosion at a segregated Navy base during World War II. Following the blast, 244 men faced dire consequences after protesting the unjust and dangerous conditions at the docks.
28. The Only Road by Alexandra Diaz
Inspired by actual events, this story introduces students to Jaime, a Guatemalan 12-year-old who bravely flees his dangerous home to try to reach his older brother in New Mexico. Build students’ background knowledge about the circumstances that may cause someone to have to flee their home and the harsh experiences of immigrants when they arrive in a new place.
29. Sylvia & Aki by Winifred Conkling
The fight to obtain an education is one all students can (and need to) understand. These two protagonists, Sylvia Mendez and Aki Munemitsu, find their stories unexpectedly intertwined due to the discrimination they experience. Age-appropriate historical context builds important background knowledge about WWII Japanese internment camps and the Mendez vs. Westminster School District California court case, a precedent-setting “separate but equal” case to Brown vs. Board of Education.
Try these teaching ideas around social justice inquiry:
Read-alouds: Quite often, a current event might spur questions and discussion in class, revealing a need for a short story or picture book to read aloud together and address the issue in greater depth. For example, a discussion about the fight for equality in education might call for sharing a book like Separate Is Never Equal, which sheds light on the lengths families had to go to for access to equal education.
Book clubs: Middle school students love social-issues book clubs that focus on topics like income equality and fair working conditions (Uprising) or civil rights (The Watsons Go to Birmingham). As a culminating activity to such book clubs, my students will book-talk their group’s selection to the rest of the class and teach their classmates about the issue.
Opportunities for writing: Last year, we borrowed the “writing to think” idea as envisioned by Katherine Bomer in her book The Journey Is Everything. Using the chart below to anchor our thinking, we wrote about what the social justice books we read made us wonder about. Writing and sharing our ideas in this way allowed my students a way to think about how they would work toward making our world a better place.
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