What to Read When You Want Your Kids to Grow Up to Be Good

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Talking to kids about what is happening in America right now is really hard. How do you explain hate to a three-year-old? How do you tell a six-year-old that they need to stand up for other kids in school? How can you explain to an eight-year-old why you are marching in the streets while maintaining grace and dignity (and without all those swears that flow freely these days)?

Don’t ask us. Our Managing Editor’s four-year-old son has been known to say “dat fucking guy” after overhearing her comment on the news.

Instead, turn to these amazing picture books, which are the perfect fodder for creating meaningful conversations about the way America is now and the ways we hope to make it better.

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I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsberg Makes Her Mark written by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley
Get to know celebrated Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg—in the first picture book about her life—as she proves that disagreeing does not make you disagreeable!

 

She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World written by Chelsea Clinton, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger
Chelsea Clinton introduces tiny feminists, mini activists, and little kids who are ready to take on the world to thirteen inspirational women who never took no for an answer, and who always, inevitably and without fail, persisted.

 

Super Manny Stands Up written by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin
New York Times bestselling author Kelly DiPucchio and illustrator Stephanie Graegin bring a lionhearted new hero to life in this tender, sparkling story about standing up for what’s right—and finding your inner superpowers.

 

Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters written by Barack Obama, illustrated by Loren Long
In this tender letter to his daughters, President Barack Obama has written a tribute to thirteen groundbreaking Americans and the ideals that have shaped our nation. This beautiful book celebrates the characteristics that unite all Americans. It is about the potential within each of us to pursue our dreams and forge our own paths.

 

Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries who Shaped Our History… and Our Future! written by Kate Schatz, illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl
The list of great women included spans several centuries, multiple professions, and twenty-six diverse individuals. There are artists and abolitionists, scientists and suffragettes, rock stars and rabble-rousers, and agents of change of all kinds. The book includes an introduction that discusses what it means to be “rad” and “radical,” an afterword with twenty-six suggestions for how you can be “rad,” and a Resource Guide with ideas for further learning and reading.

 

A is for Activist written and illustrated by Innosanto Nagara
An ABC board book written and illustrated for the next generation of progressives: families who want their kids to grow up in a space that is unapologetic about activism, environmental justice, civil rights, LGBTQ rights, and everything else that activists believe in and fight for.

 

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls co-written by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo
Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls is a children’s book packed with one hundred bedtime stories about the lives of one hundred extraordinary women from the past and the present, illustrated by sixty female artists from all over the world.

 

Skin Again written by bell hooks, illustrated by Chris Raschka
Celebrating all that makes us unique and different, Skin Again offers new ways to talk about race and identity. Race matters, but only so much—what’s most important is who we are on the inside. Looking beyond skin, going straight to the heart, we find in each other the treasures stored down deep. Learning to cherish those treasures, to be all we imagine ourselves to be, makes us free. Skin Again celebrates this freedom.

 

It’s Okay to Be Different written and illustrated by Todd Parr
It’s Okay to Be Different cleverly delivers the important messages of acceptance, understanding, and confidence in an accessible, child-friendly format. The book features the bold, bright colors and silly scenes that made Todd a premiere voice for emotional discussions in children’s literature. This book will inspire kids to celebrate their individuality through acceptance of others and self-confidence.

 

Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh
Almost ten years before Brown vs. Board of Education, Sylvia Mendez and her parents helped end school segregation in California. An American citizen of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage who spoke and wrote perfect English, Mendez was denied enrollment to a “Whites only” school. Her parents took action by organizing the Hispanic community and filing a lawsuit in federal district court. Their success eventually brought an end to the era of segregated education in California.

 

Should I Share My Ice Cream? written and illustrated by Mo Willems
Gerald is careful. Piggie is not. Piggie cannot help smiling. Gerald can. Gerald worries so that Piggie does not have to. Gerald and Piggie are best friends. In Should I Share My Ice Cream? Gerald has a big decision to make. But will he make it in time? Using vocabulary that is perfect for beginning readers, Mo Willems has crafted a funny story about the challenges of doing the right thing.

 

You Are Not Small by Anna Kang, illustrated by Christopher Weyant
Two fuzzy creatures can’t agree on who is small and who is big, until a couple of surprise guests show up, settling it once and for all! The simple text of Anna Kang and bold illustrations of New Yorker cartoonist Christopher Weyant tell an original and very funny story about size—it all depends on who’s standing next to you.

 

Blueberry Girl by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Charles Vess
Neil Gaiman wrote Blueberry Girl for a friend who was about to become the mother of a little girl. Here, he and beloved illustrator Charles Vess turn this deeply personal wish for a new daughter into a book that celebrates the glory of growing up: a perfect gift for children embarking on all the journeys of life, for their parents, and for everyone who loves them.

 

The Paper Bag Princess written by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko
This bestselling modern classic features a princess who rescues a very snooty—and ungrateful—prince.

 

Rosie Revere, Engineer written by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
Where some people see rubbish, Rosie Revere sees inspiration. Alone in her room at night, shy Rosie constructs great inventions from odds and ends. Hot dog dispensers, helium pants, python-repelling cheese hats. Rosie’s gizmos would astound—if she ever let anyone see them. Afraid of failure, she hides them away under her bed. Until a fateful visit from her great-great-aunt Rose, who shows her that a first flop isn’t something to fear—it’s something to celebrate.

 

Mighty, Mighty Construction Site written by Sherri Duskey Rinker, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
All our favorite trucks are back on the construction site—this time with a focus on team-building, friendship, and working together to make a big task seem small! Down in the big construction site, the crew faces their biggest job yet, and will need the help of new construction friends to get it done. Working as a team, there’s nothing they can’t do!

 

The Story of Ferdinand written by Munro Leaf, illustrated by Robert Lawson
All the other bulls run, jump, and butt their heads together in fights. Ferdinand, on the other hand, would rather sit and smell the flowers. What will happen when Ferdinand is picked for the bullfights in Madrid?  The story of Ferdinand has inspired, enchanted, and provoked readers ever since it was first published in 1936 for its message of nonviolence and pacifism.

 

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type written by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin
Farmer Brown has a problem. His cows like to type. Farmer Brown thinks it’s odd when he hears typing sounds coming from the barn. But his troubles really begin when his cows start leaving him notes. First they demand better working conditions, then they stage a strike. Come join the fun as a bunch of literate cows turn Farmer Brown’s farm upside down!

 

The Lorax written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss
Long before “going green” was mainstream, Dr. Seuss’s Lorax spoke for the trees and warned of the dangers of disrespecting the environment. In this cautionary rhyming tale we learn of the Once-ler, who came across a valley of Truffula Trees and Brown Bar-ba-loots, and how his harvesting of the tufted trees changed the landscape forever.

 

Yertle the Turtle written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss
Dr. Seuss presents three modern fables in the rhyming favorite Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories. The collection features tales about greed (“Yertle the Turtle”), vanity (“Gertrude McFuzz”), and pride (“The Big Brag”). In no other book does a small burp have such political importance!

 

Everyone Poops written by Taro Gomi, illustrated by Amanda Mayer Stinchecum
Because it’s true: everyone poops.

 

The Animal Family written by Randall Jarrell, illustrated by Maurice Sendak
This is the story of how, one by one, a man found himself a family. Almost nowhere in fiction is there a stranger, dearer, or funnier family—and the life that the members of The Animal Family live together, there in the wilderness beside the sea, is as extraordinary and as enchanting as the family itself.