by Maggie Block
“Rad Books for Rad Kids” is the Emerald’s spin on a book review column featuring South End librarian Maggie Block’s analysis of youth literature through a radical lens.
We did not put out a holiday book buying list. Partially due to technical difficulties, partially because we know not every parent (caregiver, cool adult relative, family friend, etc) can afford to or would want to buy their kids a bunch of new books. So we’re going to focus on resources to help you find books for your activist kiddos in 2018 and beyond!
In these political times, stories of resistance, anti-oppression narratives, and the spirit of anti-fascism are necessary to the children in your life, no matter if you’re buying them books or helping them discover and check out great ones at your local library.
I’ve wanted to write this list for a while. In the age of Trump, we are all reeling from the hatred, ignorance, and constant attacks on our freedoms and civil rights. There is so much wrong with what is being said, legislated, and the many disgusting fringe ideas being mainstreamed right now that I initially had zero idea where to start with a list like this. With so many communities under attack, it felt like going in any one direction would leave out an important group, idea, or cause.
So, in order to begin, I have to acknowledge that I cannot write one list encompassing every community experiencing oppression. I’d have to write an encyclopedia to do that, and while that’s pretty much what I actually want to do, I, unfortunately, have neither the time nor resources to make that happen.
Also, to reiterate, this is not going to be a book list. It’s going to be a list of book lists, or a list of resources I turn to, to find great diverse and defiant youth literature. Many of these are resources I always have listed on my blog’s Resources Page, and all of these are great places to find incredible books, media, and information for young people.
Before we dive in, I wanted to mention that when we live in a world where books published for children and young adults are still mostly about white straight cisgender Christian people, part of the purpose of lists such as these is to help children and families of diverse cultures, ethnicities, religions, and identities find stories that reflect themselves and their communities back to them.
But also in a world where white supremacy and fascism are on the rise, it’s very important that we give privileged children windows into other people’s experiences. It’s also vitally important that adults show the children in their lives the normalcy, brilliance, and beauty of people from marginalized experiences that are not their own.
PART 1: Catch-all resources to help you find diverse books
The most logical place to start is We Need Diverse Books. #WeNeedDiverseBooks started as an activist movement. Aware of the great lack of diversity in book publishing, authors and readers came together, and posted about why they needed diverse books to prove to publishers that there was not only a need but a market for such stories.
It provoked a turning of the tide in the conversations publishers were having, and books they produced. Now, book publishing still isn’t diverse enough, and We Need Diverse Books is still doing great work! They do mentorship programs for all you undiscovered authors out there. They put out anthologies of diverse work, and also put together great book suggestions most easily found on their Tumblr.
They’ve also created an app Our Story, where you can program in the age of your child, the type of stories you’re looking for, and within seconds it will generate a list of books at the appropriate reading level for your kid!
Diverse Book Finder is a new resource. It’s a database of books aimed at helping you find ones reflecting your diverse experience. Their search capabilities are a bit basic, there’s just one search bar. But in the search results, there are a number of categories allowing you to narrow your hunt.
Books for Littles is a website featuring diverse reads that I found out about because of their fantastic list Captivating Kids Stories to Recognize Privilege. It begins by talking about privilege and why it is so crucial to discuss with young people. The list goes on to talk about picture books that address all kinds of privilege: economic, male, white, non-disabled, straight, body size, freedom from religious persecution, colonialist, documented citizen, language and cultural fluency. It’s truly incredible and one of a kind.
M is for Movement is another great new online resource. It is edited and maintained by children’s book authors and illustrators who are all also longtime activists. They produce great write-ups on activist books and insight into their process and goals. There are also some great lists for kids about activism, this one from geekdad.com, this one from Popsugar, and this one from All the Wonders.
Christian Zabriskie put together a really great list, “Children’s Books Featuring Social Justice Themes – A Practical Bibliography Prepared for the Rita Gold Community.” It’s a lovely list of picture books he prepared for his daughter’s school.
One of my longtime go-to resources is Diversity in YA. It’s a great blog that’s regularly updated with new great diverse YA titles. Founded by Malinda Lo (KCLS)(SPL), herself an amazing writer of diverse YA books. Rich In Color is another fantastic resource for finding diverse YA titles, and with a diverse staff of writers, there’s always a new book to discover.
And even though this list is aiming not to be an encyclopedia, it is too long to be held in one article! Please check out the other two articles in the Give the Gift of Resistance series: Resources to find books, media, and information about specific communities and identities, and Necessary Histories.
Maggie Block is a South End-area Teen Services Librarian. While her expertise as a youth librarian in the community will help when writing these pieces, she writes these articles on her own time, and the opinions she expresses are purely hers and in no way reflect her library system or anyone else they employ.