Books to help you talk to kids about social justice issues

Nick Brooks, author of new YA thriller Promise Boys, recommends five conversation-starting books.

Books can be a great way of introducing complex issues to children, and encouraging them to see the world from different perspectives. Here, author Nick Brooks, whose taut high school thriller Promise Boys follows three teen boys of colour who must investigate their principal’s murder to clear their own names, suggests five great reads to help kids think and talk about social justice issues.

Ironically, and sadly, even in our allegedly ‘Woke Era’ there is no shortage of social issues to go around. Conflict is so embedded in our culture, we see even our leaders perpetuating harmful mindsets, perhaps in an offensive tweet or an offhand comment made in an interview, followed by a seemingly manufactured apology. Microaggressions, blind spots, and unconscious bias persist, even amongst our most allied friends, and while we have the right to finger-wag the misinformed, I tend to use these moments as teaching opportunities.

You see, I understand that the structures our societies are built on can condition us all to believe certain things about groups of people and cultures which are different from our own. This can result in stereotyping. The problem with stereotypes is they often manifest in destructive ways, in how we treat each other and see the world around us. One of the best ways to combat stereotypes and the problems they create is through. . . you guessed it, reading. 

Books are not just tools for entertainment, but also education and exposure. And while reading books that combat social issues is important for adults, it’s perhaps even more valuable to give our kids revolutionary readings at early stages of their lives so they grow up with a well-rounded understanding of the world and the people around them. This may not end social issues, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. 

One of the truly positive things to come out of our push to understand each other is the plethora of art and media that’s emerged which can be used as a tool to address various social justice issues. Now, there is no excuse for waiting to introduce kids to content that will help strengthen their world view. If you want to do your part in making this planet a better place for us all, here are five books to help you talk to kids about social justice issues early, in a push to foster the best citizens we can.

M is for Melanin

by Tiffany Rose

In the spirit of starting kids off early, this picture book is perfect for kids 3-5 years old. M is for Melanin is an alphabet book that not only teaches kids their ABCs but celebrates Black children by offering a special affirmation with each letter. As someone who just fathered two Black baby girls (twins!!), I can’t be more excited about this book. It’s so very important for Black children to be affirmed, and see their value in a world that may try to convince them they don’t have any. Did I mention Tiffany illustrated this as well!?


by David Roberts

Patriarchy, misogyny, sexism, and the list goes on, are not boogeymen, but rather faulty ideologies that live in the hearts of real men. In Suffragette: The Battle for Equality, David Roberts beautifully illustrates this as he tells the story of the women who fought for, and won, the right to vote in the United Kingdom. When it comes to raising up men who are allies to our sisters, this is a great text for kids to introduce the topic of women's suffrage and the implications of patriarchy in today’s society. 

No Big Deal

by Bethany Rutter

No Big Deal by Bethany Rutter is a body-positive YA novel about friendship and first crushes. Besides the cool pun of a title, I think a book like No Big Deal is extremely important to introduce to kids of all shapes and sizes, to either build confidence or show that we all don’t have to be shaped the same. It’s no secret that body shaming and bullying has become an increasing problem with social media, and Bethany tackles this head on with lines like, 'It's not my body that's holding me back. I think it's more of a problem that people tell me my body should hold me back.' 

Stamped (For Kids): Racism, Antiracism and You

Book cover for Stamped (For Kids): Racism, Antiracism and You

There’s no way I can leave Stamped (For Kids): Racism, Antiracism and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds off this list. This book is an essential introduction to the history of racism and antiracism, and a beautiful way to introduce heavy topics to kids. Lots of our social issues are rooted in racism and instead of banning books that teach kids the history of oppression, we should be embracing books like Stamped to give our kids the tools they need to be superb citizens. 

Promise Boys

by Nick Brooks

And last on the list (of course I had to include it) is Promise Boys, a YA mystery by yours truly, Nick Brooks. On the surface, Promise Boys is a winding mystery about the murder of a charter school principal. But as we look closer, we realize it’s set in a world where inner-city schools are grooming kids for two paths: prison or worker. A world where kids are often left without an advocate and made to fend for themselves. A world that feels a lot like our reality. At its core, Promise Boys speaks directly to the issue of miseducating our Black and Brown kids in underserved communities, and it’s a text that would help nurture conversations on systemic inequity in classrooms around the world.