Guide to Literature for Young Children

The following books make great catalysts for conversation with young children about respect for differences, inclusion and exclusion, and the value of participation.

Picture Books

The Bus Ride, by William Miller. (New York: Lee and Low books, 1988) 
A black child protests an unjust law in this story loosely based on Rosa Parks' historic decision not to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955. (Kindergarten and Up).

Candy Shop, by Jan Wahl , illustrated by Nicole Wong. (Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge, c2004). 
Daniel, a young African American boy, loves being a cowboy and wears his cowboy outfit even when he goes shopping with Aunt Thelma in their diverse urban neighborhood. When they get to Daniel's destination of choice, the Candy Shop, a big crowd has gathered to read the ugly words written on the sidewalk (not shown) in front of Miz Chu's store. Daniel feels that he should do something, so he gets a bucket and a brush and washes the words away. (Kindergarten and Up).

The Christmas Menorahs: How a Town Fought Hate, by Janice Cohn. (Morton Grove, Ill.: A. Whitman, 1995). 
This beautifully illustrated book describes how people in Billings, Montana joined together to fight a series of hate crimes. (1st Grade and Up).

The Day Gogo Went to Vote: South Africa, April 1994 by Elinor Batezat Sisulu; Illustrated by Sharon Wilson. (Boston: Little, Brown, 1996).
Set in South Africa in April, 1994, this poignant story introduces readers to six-year-old Thembi and her gogo (great-grandmother). Although Thembi's grandmother is old and frail, she is determined to take part in this historic vote, with Thembi's company on the long journey. (Kindergarten and Up).

Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles; illustrated by Jerome Lagarrigue. (New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2001).
In 1964, Joe is pleased that a new law will allow his best friend John Henry, who is colored, to share the town pool and other public places with him, but he is dismayed to find that prejudice still exists. (2nd grade and Up).

Paths to Peace: People Who Changed the World, by Jane Breskin Zalben. (New York: Dutton Children's Books, c2006).
This handsome volume highlights 16 individuals who have worked to improve conditions for others through their words and actions. Included are writers, philosophers, Civil Rights advocates, and politicians, many of whom are Nobel Peace Prize recipients. (4th Grade and Up).

Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story, by Ken Mochizuki, Illustrated by Dom Lee. (New York: Lee & Low Books; May 1997).
Five years old at the time, Hiroki Sugihara tells the poignant story of how his father saved the lives of 10,000 Jews while he was serving as a Japanese diplomat in Lithuania in 1940. Going against the explicit orders of his government, he sat night after night hand writing exit visas for people trying to escape from the Nazis. (2ndGrade and Up).

Remember: The Journey to School Integration, by Toni Morrison. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004). This powerful book tells the story of the struggle for school desegregation through photographs, with text by Toni Morrison. (1st Grade and Up).

Sofie and the City, by Karima Grant. Illustrated by Janet Montecalvo. (Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press, 2006).
When Sofie calls her grandmother in Senegal on Sundays, she complains about the ugliness and strangeness of the city she now lives in, but her life changes when she makes a new friend. (Kindergarten and Up).

Through My Eyes, by Ruby Bridges. (New York: Scholastic, 1999). Ruby Bridges recounts her brave actions to integrate her elementary school. Photos, quotations, and Bridges' own words make this a moving and engaging book. (Kindergarten and Up).

Books for Beginning Readers

Cracking the Wall: The Struggles of the Little Rock Nine, by Eileen Lucas. (Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, 1997).
An easy-to-read book that describes the struggles of the Little Rock Nine to integrate Central High School. 1st-3rd grades.

I Am Rosa Parks, by Rosa Parks (Puffin Books, 1999). A lively autobiography that describes segregation and the bus boycott. (1st-3rd Grades).

Intermediate Readers-Fiction Chapter Books

Mississippi Trial, 1955, by Chris Crowe (New York: Penguin, 2003). A 16-year-old white boy returns to Mississippi to visit his racist grandfather who raised him. He finds himself surrounded by controversy in the midst of the lynching of Chicago teenager Emmett Till. Written from the perspective of a white teenager who deals with racism and his role as a bystander, this novel lays the basis for discussions of the need for whites to be allies against racism. (6th grade and Up).

A Real American, by Richard Easton. (New York: Clarion Books, 2002). Eleven-year-old Nathan is increasing lonely when other native-born families move from his town in Pennsylvania and Italian immigrants move in to work in the coal mines. Despite his parents' and the townspeople's anti-immigrant sentiments, Nathan befriends Arturo, who works with his brother and father in the mines. When Arturo is injured and there is threat of a strike, Nathan's family comes to the support of the immigrants. The attitudes toward immigrants are similar to those sometimes encountered today. (4th Grade and Up).

The Watsons Go to Birmingham, bChristopher Paul Curtis (Scholastic, 1995). Fourth grader Kenny Watson tells the story of his family in Flint, Mich., and their trip to Birmingham during the tumultuous year of 1963. Funny, riveting, and genuine, this story will bring this aspect of the civil rights struggle alive for students. (4th Grade and Up).

Nonfiction, Biographies, Memoirs

Days of Courage: The Little Rock Story, by Mel Williges (Steck-Vaughn Co., 1996). Part of a series of non-fiction children's books edited by Alex Haley, this book describes the struggle by high school students to integrate Little Rock's Central High School. (4th Grade and Up).

Oh, Freedom! Kids Talk about the Civil Rights Movement with the People Who Made It Happen, by Casey King and Linda Barrett Osborne. (Econo-Clad Books, 1997). A student-friendly collection of oral histories, mostly in interview format, with people who participated in the Civil Rights Movement. The book grew out of an assignment from a fourth-grade teacher who worked with students and parents over seven years to collect hundreds of stories. Useful both for its content and as a model for doing oral history interviews. (4th Grade and Up).

We were there, too!:Young People in U.S. History, by Phillip Hoose. (New York : Melanie Kroupa Books/Farrar Straus Giroux, 2001). This book surveys important events in American history and examines the lives of dozens of youth who played a part in them. From the Revolutionary War to the civil rights movement and beyond, We were there, too! profiles young upstanders who helped to shape our nation.

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