20 empowering children's books that celebrate diversity and social justice.

20 empowering children's books that celebrate diversity and social justice.


For many of us, stories shape our world — starting from a young age.

Books can take us to places we’ve never been. They teach us how other people think, live, dream, and thrive.

Make believe hits overdrive with “Alice in Wonderland.” Image by iStock.

And stories that highlight diversity, fairness, and empathy can even change people’s minds about tough issues.

But while fiction books with diverse casts of characters are on the rise overall, many books still don’t include any specific cultural content. And according to data from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, parents and teachers are still more likely to find a book starring an adventurous animal or automobile than a child of color.

Illustration by David Huyck in consultation with Sarah Park Dahlen and Molly Beth Griffin.

After the election, kids (and their families) need to see examples of diversity and fairness more than ever. In the weeks immediately following the presidential election, the Southern Poverty Law Center recorded more than 700 incidents of harassment, intimidation and violence around the country. It’s happening at schools, places of worship, businesses, and on the street.

That’s why hundreds of children’s authors and illustrators joined forces to stand up to fear and bigotry with stories.

From the dollhouse to the White House, kids need to see themselves and people from diverse backgrounds and experiences saving the day, working hard, loving fiercely, and overcoming obstacles.

Image by iStock.

These creative professionals signed their names to a powerful statement that promises to work harder to bring more diverse kids stories to the world. The statement was written by the founders of the Brown Bookshelf, a site that signal boosts African-American authors and illustrators.

Together, these writers and illustrators pledged to use their talents “to help eliminate the fear that takes root in the human heart amid lack of familiarity and understanding of others; the type of fear that feeds stereotypes, bitterness, racism, and hatred; the type of fear that so often leads to tragic violence and senseless death.”

These authors and illustrators will “plant seeds of empathy, fairness, and empowerment through words and pictures.” They’ll be ink and paper reminders that each life is valuable and precious, regardless of origin, skin color, religion, gender, or orientation.

The list of pledgers includes several notable authors, illustrators, and influencers too.

National Book Award recipient Jacqueline Woodson; best-selling author Daniel José Older; Newbery Medal winner Marilyn Nelson; and author/actor/host LeVar Burton all pledged their support. As of this writing, the statement is supported by more than 700 authors and illustrators.

Quotation from Woodson’s “Brown Girl Dreaming.” Woodson at the 32nd Annual Lab School of Washington Gala honoring Outstanding Achievers with Learning Differences. Photo by Riccardo Savi/AP.

Their mission is incredible, and fighting hate with empathy in stories and books has never been more important.

To start, here’s a list of books for children of all ages that promote diverse experiences, kindness, hope. and empathy. I can’t wait to see the new books that will join these ranks in the coming year.

Image designed by Michael Calcagno, Upworthy.

Preschoolers (ages 2-4)

Counting on Community” by Innosanto Nagara

I Know a Lot!” by Stephen Krensky, illustrated by Sara Gillingham

Round Is a Tortilla: A Book of Shapes” by Roseanne Thong, illustrated by John Parra

Little Kids (ages 5-7)

This Day in June” by Gayle E. Pitman, illustrated by Kristyna Litten

Last Stop on Market Street” by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson

I Love Saturdays y domingos” by Alma Flor Ada, illustrated by Elivia Savadier

Fish for Jimmy: Inspired by One Family’s Experience in a Japanese American Internment Camp” by Katie Yamasaki

Big Kids (ages 8-9)

Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah” by Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Sean Qualls

Thunder Boy Jr.” by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Yuyi Morales

Penny and the Magic Puffballs” by Alonda Williams, illustrated by Tyrus Goshay

Inside Out and Back Again” by Thanhha Lai

Tweens (ages 10-12)

Cool Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Growing Up Latino in the United States” edited by Laurie M. Carlson

Ghost” by Jason Reynolds

Flying Lessons & Other Stories” edited by Ellen Oh

The Tequila Worm” by Viola Canales

One Crazy Summer” by Rita Williams-Garcia

Teens (ages 13+)

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” by Benjamin Alire Saenz

I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World (Young Readers Edition)” by Malala Yousafzai, with contributions from Patricia McCormick

March: Book 1″ by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell

American Born Chinese” by Gene Luen Yang

Whether you’re a parent, teacher, or just someone who wants to make sure the next generation arrives at adulthood being empathetic and kind, that all begins with stories.

There’s never a bad time to let children know how loved and valued they are. Change starts now.


We weren’t paid or asked by Amazon or publishers to include any of the books on this list. We simply enjoy them and thought you might too.

Many thanks to Michael Calcagno for assistance with the visual elements in this post.

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