Books to help children find hope and strength in stressful times: A librarian’s list
By Karen MacPherson
As an inveterate bibliophile, I naturally turn to books in times of stress, and because I’m a children’s librarian, those books tend to be ones written for kids. Children, too, are seeking guidance as they navigate these challenging and sometimes confusing times. Books can help.
Here’s a list of titles to nurture hope in kids and adults, while also inspiring them into activism to make that hopeful world a reality. My idea was to choose books for younger readers that focus on kindness, peace and feeling good — and proud — about who you are. For older readers, I looked for books about diverse people, including kids who have overcome sometimes overwhelming odds to make a difference in the world. My choices draw heavily on “Unity.Kindness.Peace.,” a list published a few days after the November election by the Association for Library Service to Children. Given time and space constraints, I’ve had to leave out many wonderful books, so head to your local public library and seek out children’s librarians, experts eager to help you find just the right title.
YOUNGER READERS (Ages 3 to 7):
“Because Amelia Smiled,” by David Ezra Stein (Candlewick)
Because Amelia Smiled, by David Ezra Stein (Candlewick): One smile has international consequences in a book that celebrates the power of love and hope.
Can I Play Too? , by Mo Willems (Disney/Hyperion): Elephant and Piggy must wrestle with the question of what to do — and how they should act — when Snake, who has no arms or legs, asks to play catch.
Counting on Community , by Innosanto Nagara (Triangle Square): In this counting book, readers learn many ways that community is important, such as working together in a community garden and protesting injustice.
“If You Plant a Seed,” by Kadir Nelson (Balzer + Bray)
If You Plant a Seed , by Kadir Nelson (Balzer+Bray): A food fight breaks out when a rabbit and a mouse refuse to share the bounty of their vegetable harvest with a flock of birds. Things look grave until the mouse realizes that sharing just might be a better solution.
Last Stop on Market Street , by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson (Putnam): During a bus ride, a young boy in the inner city learns to appreciate his Nana’s ability to find — and celebrate — beauty anywhere. The picture book won the 2016 Newbery Medal and for its illustrations, a 2016 Caldecott Honor.
“The Lion & the Mouse,” by Jerry Pinkney (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
The Lion and the Mouse , by Jerry Pinkney (Little, Brown): Setting Aesop’s beloved fable in the African Serengeti, Pinkney’s illustrations — and nearly wordless text — give this classic a powerful new twist. This book won the 2010 Caldecott Medal.
The Peace Book , by Todd Parr (Little, Brown): In his cheerful style, Parr defines the meaning of peace for very young children, from “offering a hug to a friend” to “keeping the streets clean” to the concluding message that “peace is being who you are.”
“The Story of Ferdinand,” by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson (Grosset & Dunlap)
The Story of Ferdinand , by Munro Leaf, illustrated by Robert Lawson (Grosset & Dunlap): This classic tells the story of a peace-loving bull who is mistakenly thought to be a tough, violent animal but proves otherwise when he’s put to the test in the bull ring.
OLDER READERS (Ages 5 to 12)
A Is for Activist , by Innosanto Nagara (Triangle Square): This unusual, beautifully illustrated book offers ways to identify and promote activism through each letter of the alphabet.
Drum Dream Girl , by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael López (HMH): Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a Chinese-African-Cuban musician, won international acclaim for her drumming, but only after overcoming Cuba’s ban on women drummers.
“Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah,” by Laurie Ann Thompson and Sean Qualls (Schwartz & Wade)
Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah , by Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Sean Qualls (Schwartz & Wade): Born with a deformed leg, the determined Yeboah became a renowned athlete, winning fame for a 400-mile journey in his native Ghana to campaign for equal rights for the physically disabled.
Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez , by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Yuyi Morales (HMH): Krull tells Chavez’s compelling story with emotion and compassion, as she details what led him to push for the creation of the National Farm Workers Association.
“I Am Jazz,” by Jessica Herthel, Jazz Jennings and Shelagh McNicholas (Dial )
I Am Jazz , by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas (Dial). Jazz Jennings, who knew from age 2 that she was really a girl in a boy’s body, has become a young spokesperson for the transgender community.
Malala: A Brave Girl from Pakistan/Iqbal: A Brave Boy From Pakistan , by Jeanette Winter (Beach Lane): The stories of two brave Pakistani children who refused to accept the limitations set by the Taliban. Both were attacked for their outspokenness; one died and the other lived.
“Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story,” by Ruby Bridges (Cartwheel)
Ruby Bridges Goes to School , by Ruby Bridges (Scholastic): In 1960, 6-year-old Ruby Bridges was thrust into the national spotlight when she became the face of school desegregation efforts in New Orleans.
Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation , by Duncan Tonatiuh (Abrams): The Mendez family led a successful fight to desegregate the California schools nearly a decade before the U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education outlawed segregated schools.
Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down , by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney (Little, Brown): On Feb. 1, 1960, four young African American men took a seat at a “whites only” Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C., inspiring others to do the same throughout the South.
The Storyteller’s Candle , by Lucia Gonzalez, illustrated by Lulu Delacre (Lee & Low): A Puerto Rican family newly arrived in the United States finds refuge at their nearby public library, where the children’s room was presided over by Pura Belpré, the first Puerto Rican librarian in New York’s public library system.
“Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement,” by Carole Boston Weatherford and Ekua Holmes (Candlewick )
Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement , by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (Candlewick): In emotionally searing poems, Weatherford takes readers through the momentous life of civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer. The book won a 2016 Caldecott Honor.
Karen MacPherson is the children’s and teen services coordinator for the Takoma Park, Md., library, the only independent community public library in the state.
Published December 2016