I don’t know if I will ever have children, but if I do, or if any of my younger family members express interest in reading, I will be sure to direct them to these books. These aren’t just books I love… they are books that I really think taught me something or changed my perspective on an issue.
I’ve started my list with books for younger readers and worked my way up to books that I hope to share with them as they mature.
The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop – This book is near and dear to my heart. It is one of the first books that introduced me to the fantasy genre, helped develop my love of reading, and is a book that I will carry with me until the end of my days.
Synopsis: William has just received the best present of his life—an old, real-looking stone and wooden model of a castle, with a drawbridge, a moat, and a finger-high knight to guard the gates. He’s certain there’s something magical about it, and sure enough, when he picks up the tiny silver knight, it comes alive in his hand! Sir Simon tells William a mighty story of wild sorcery, wizards, and magic. And suddenly William is off on a fantastic quest to another land and another time—where a fiery dragon and an evil wizard are waiting to do battle.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling – Of course this series is going to end up on my list. Am I crazy? I can’t wait to share Harry Potter with a new generation of readers. This whole series is full of powerful messages about love and friendship, and will be likely be changing lives forever.
Synopsis: [Is this really necessary?] You’re a wizard, Harry!
Wonder by R.J. Palacio – I love that Wonder is already being shared in school classrooms. It’s such a heartwarming and important story that teachers are using to combat bullying. I’m not sure how I feel about the movie adaptation, since it’s still such a new book. I would hate for the film to overshadow the book in any way because I really do think that reading encourages you to see things from the perspective of the character and helps you develop empathy for their situation.
Synopsis: August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?
George by Alex Gino – It really makes my heart happy that books like this are being published and continue to gain importance in our culture. This is such an accessible story to introduce children to the idea of gender identity. I want the next generation to be more informed and accepting, and books like this are sure to help.
Synopsis: All George wants is to play Charlotte in her fourth grade production of Charlotte’s Web; the only problem is Charlotte is a “girl’s” part and everyone sees George as a boy. But in her heart she knows if her classmates, family, and friends could just see her on stage as Charlotte, they would see her as she truly is regardless of how she appears. (from BookRiot Community‘s review)
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry – I don’t think there will come a time when stories about WWII will stop being relevant. I read this in Grade 8 and it was the first time I feel like I truly understood the horror of the Holocaust. It had just been a vague historical moment to be before reading this, and I hope it will have the same affect on future readers as it did on me.
Synopsis: Ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen and her best friend Ellen Rosen often think of life before the war. It’s now 1943 and their life in Copenhagen is filled with school, food shortages, and the Nazi soldiers marching through town. When the Jews of Denmark are “relocated,” Ellen moves in with the Johansens and pretends to be one of the family. Soon Annemarie is asked to go on a dangerous mission to save Ellen’s life.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie – I think it is so important for children, especially in Canada, to know about the reserve system and residential schools that were forced on Indigenous people. This book is a great introduction to learning about this issue, and to help privileged children become more aware of an issue that is still very much present in our society.
Synopsis: Junior is a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.
Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan – I really want the children in my family to feel safe enough to be themselves, and to know that they will always have an ally in me. As kids begin to develop and explore their sexuality, I think it is important to show them that there is no right way to love.
Synopsis: While the two increasingly dehydrated and sleep-deprived boys are locking lips, they become a focal point in the lives of other teen boys dealing with languishing long-term relationships, coming out, navigating gender identity, and falling deeper into the digital rabbit hole of gay hookup sites—all while the kissing former couple tries to figure out their own feelings for each other.
Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh – Mental health is another issue that I really want to bring up with my younger family members. I love that this book is both funny and informative about a subject that people tend to shy away from.
Synopsis: Allie writes (and draws) about her life, her dogs, her mental health issues, and anything else that comes to mind. This book is full of hilarious and amazing stories from the mind of an incredibly socially awkward hero.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot – As the children in my life get older, I also want them to learn that many of the medical advances they will likely take for granted can be traced back to Henrietta Lacks and a white man who thought he knew what was best for her. Occasionally good can come from horrible events, but we should never forget that a real person was exploited to create these results.
Synopsis: Henrietta Lacks, as HeLa, is known to present-day scientists for her cells from cervical cancer. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells were taken without her knowledge and still live decades after her death. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta Lacks was buried in an unmarked grave.
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay – As a plus-sized woman who struggles daily with the societal pressure to be less, this is an important one for me to share with any future readers in my family. We teach children that fat = lazy, unhealthy, stupid, ugly without once acknowledging that you are talking about real people. I want every young person in my life to know that they are beautiful and deserving of love.
Synopsis: Roxane Gay explores her own past—including the devastating act of violence that acted as a turning point in her young life—and brings readers along on her journey to understand and ultimately save herself.
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