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I love teaching my preschooler about social justice. Yes, we use words like activism, racism, sexism, and protest. I’ve just found ways to explain these big concepts to a 2.5-year-old. (Children just naturally GET concepts about unfairness and inequality.)
I know a lot of parents shy away from teaching young children about oppression and activism. I hear comments like, “I just want my child to stay a kid for as long as possible,” “Kids are too young for all that. They don’t even think about that stuff yet,” and “It will just scare them to find out about all that.” Even among parents who want to start having conversations with younger kids about our society, there’s a fear that we won’t say the right thing… or that we just don’t know what to say at all.
The problem is that research shows that kids naturally absorb stereotypes and gender roles by the age of 3. By 6 months, children can already notice race differences. Between the ages of 2-4, children of color start to internalize racism, meaning they start to believe all of the negative stereotypes people hold about their race.
Children ARE learning about oppression, whether it’s coming from us or not.
How We Can Make a Difference
The wonderful thing is that oppression is learned… so we can unlearn it!
Research shows that children who read books that challenge gender roles play with less stereotypical toys and feel inspired to claim broader career goals. Books do make a difference in empowering our kids!
Personally, I don’t want my son to really learn about oppression for the first time in high school or college. By that age, almost everything about oppression is framed in the negative. He’ll learn about wage inequality, domestic violence, concentration camps, the prison-industrial complex, kids being kept in cages, hate crimes, and so much more.
My family didn’t talk about oppression or social justice when I was growing up. I acutely remember the time in my life where I learned all of this darkness and began getting involved in activism. It was soul crushing. It took me a long time to work through that pain and disillusionment and get to a point where I felt empowered to create change.
But with our children, we have an opportunity to teach them about oppression in an empowering way from the start.
The following children’s books do talk about painful experiences. But all of them offer hope, empowerment, and affirmation. They talk about resilience in the face of adversity. They teach our children that we CAN fight for what’s right… and WIN. And they give children an opportunity to see the beauty in diversity, to read books that celebrate people of color and people who express themselves in unique ways. Our kids can be empowered to change our culture and be empathetic from the start!
Social Justice Book List for Kids
These are all books that can help you start having powerful conversations with your kids, even if you don’t know how yet. Honestly, I cried while reading most of them for the first time. I felt inspired and empowered! Let’s inspire the next generation to change the world!
Looking for ways that YOU can translate your passion for social justice into concrete teaching and parenting ideas? Find the social justice book list for adults here.
Click, Clack, Moo Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin
A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara
Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai
Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders
Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney
We Are All Born Free: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Pictures by Amnesty International
Black is a Rainbow Color by Angela Joy
Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman
M Is for Melanin: A Celebration of the Black Child by Tiffany Rose
The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson
The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family by Ibtihaj Muhammad
The Colors of Us by Karen Katz
Brave Girl : Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel
Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed
Shaking Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed the World by Susan Hood
Pink is for Boys by Robb Pearlman
My First Book of Feminism by Julie Merberg
Franny’s Father is a Feminist by Rhonda Leet
One of A Kind, Like Me / Único como yo by Laurin Mayeno
Teddy’s Favorite Toy by Christian Trimmer
I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel
My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis
The Great Big Book of Families by Mary Hoffman
Love Makes a Family by Sophie Beer
Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesléa Newman
King and King by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland
I’m always on the lookout for more books to add to my social justice collection. Right now, I’d love to find more books about able-ism, particularly one or two good ones about kids with autism. I have a few that feature children in wheelchairs, but I’d also love to find some that specifically talk about the stereotypes alter-abled people face.
What great social justice books for kids has your family been reading? What should be added to the list? Comment and let me know!