For Children’s Book Week, we wanted to put together a list of books for tiny activists that is a little different. Introducing thoughtful, sometimes radical, ideas to kids is important - but not telling them exactly what to think is just as important. It’s much more meaningful and powerful if the idea and urge for justice comes from their own feelings of right and wrong. The following books are primarily allegorical and allow kids to think through important topics and make their own conclusions.
THE PAPER BAG PRINCESS
story by Robert Munsch, art by Michael Martchenko
This take on a fairy tale ending is clever, empowering, and totally refreshing. The beginning of The Paper Bag Princess appears to be the classic prince battles a dragon tale, until princess Elizabeth must go rescue prince Ronald from the dragon’s lair. Not only does Elizabeth have to outsmart the dragon to get to the prince, once she does, she realizes that the prince is not the boy she thought he was: he is unkind and materialistic. In reaction to this realization, she happily leaves on her own, as a strong, empowered, independent princess.
by Charlotte Zolotow, pictures by William Pène Du Bois
A young boy named William loves to play with trains and basketballs, but wants a doll more than anything else. No one around him will allow it because dolls aren’t for boys, until his wise grandmother intervenes. This book challenges the gendering of toys for children in a thoughtful, gentle way that will lead to many more discussions around gender stereotyping of children (such as the pink/blue gendering of color).
THE STORY OF FERDINAND
by Munro Leaf, drawings by Robert Lawson
This classic story tells of a sweet, pacifist bull named Ferdinand who refuses to compete in the Spanish bull fights. Although he is strong and tough, he has no interest in fighting, even as all of the bulls his age battle one another to prepare for the bull fights. Ferdinand ultimately succeeds in avoiding the violence, and spends the rest of his days peacefully sitting under his favorite tree smelling his favorite flowers. Ferdinand’s story speaks to the difficulty of doing what you believe is truly right when under the influences of peer pressure and cultural expectations.
THE WUMP WORLD
written & illustrated by Bill Peet
The Wumps live on a tiny world all to themselves. They are happy, healthy, and content, until a group of monsters called the Pollutians invade Wump world to develop, pollute, and destroy the land. An obvious parallel emerges between Pollutians and humans, Wump world and Earth. It’s an introduction to pollution that is easily accessible, but there are also subtle themes that can be discussed with little ones: like the displacement and extinction of animals (and other cultures) by human expansion and colonization.
by Dr. Seuss
Dr. Seuss does a masterful job at tackling the difficult themes of unchecked capitalism, greed, and the damage this does to humans, animals, and the Earth. The Once-ler founds a wildly successful business knitting thneeds from the tufts of the Truffula trees. Although the Lorax pleads with him to stop, the Once-ler is motivated by money and continues to grow his business until all the creatures are forced to leave their homes and all the Truffula trees have been cut down. It is in this moment that the Once-ler finally realizes the unimaginable destruction he has caused, all for wealth that means nothing to him once the plants and animals of the land have disappeared. In addition to the obvious real life applications of this story, the ending is a great moment to discuss how one person can make a difference in what feels like an impossibly large problem.
by Dr. Seuss
This short but powerful Dr. Seuss tale examines issues of class and prejudice in a surprisingly accessible way. There are two groups of Sneetches: those with a star, and those without. Those with a star treat those without a star horribly, until Sylvester McMonkey McBean appears and offers to sell the starless Sneetches some stars. This begins an endless cycle of adding and removing stars to try to retain an artificial difference between the two groups of Sneetches, until finally the Sneetches run out of money, the man leaves, and the Sneetches unite as one. In the end, the Sneetches find strength in equality. And Mr. McBean offers an entrance into some incredibly complex issues, such as how some people profit from (and therefore encourage) the existence of prejudice and hate in the world.
THE BUTTER BATTLE BOOK
by Dr. Seuss
War is never a simple topic, but The Butter Battle Book does an especially good job at showing how tiny disagreements or misunderstandings are often at the heart of hate and violence. Two groups of creatures, the Yooks and the Zooks, intensely disagree about what side of their bread should be buttered. A wall is built between them, and mistrust and hate breed between the two groups as they enter into an arms race. The absurdity and futility of war and constant escalation is clear as the book closes on a moment where the Yooks and the Zooks are threatening to destroy each other, all to prove that their way of eating butter is the right way.
HIROSHIMA NO PIKA
by Toshi Maruki
This book is heartbreaking, intense, and incredibly relevant. Toshi Maruki follows a family in Hiroshima on the morning that the atomic bomb was dropped, what they call the morning of the Flash. In terms of difficult subject matter, this seems almost unbeatable, but Maruki respectfully embraces the sadness of such an unimaginable tragedy without overwhelming the reader. Because the story centers on Mii, a seven year old girl, and her parents, it becomes relatable on an individual level that will speak to little readers.