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 2: Resources to find books, media, and information about specific communities and identities
So, the first thing I need to say about this list is that it is going to be incomplete. There are so many communities and identities in Seattle’s South End, that there is no way I could do a round up for everyone. If I am missing you, your family, your community, I am sorry; please let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to do a round up for y’all soon!
Latinx In Kid Lit is a great resource that focuses on Latinx representation in youth literature. Remezcla is another good website to keep an eye on and as an online newspaper that focuses on Latinx culture and issues, they regularly include book reviews – I really loved this list of 8 YA Books With Latino Protagonists We Wish We Had As Teenagers. Along with some fantastic book lists about Latinx experiences – like this one on Book Riot, this one on Social Justice Books, this incredible YA list on Bustle, Stanford University’s Children’s books by or about Latinx and Hispanic Americans list, also one of the best books that came out this year called The First Rule of Punk (KCLS)(SPL) for middle schoolers, and this super sweet webcomic by Terry Blas – it’s also a good idea to connect with local immigrant’s rights organizations and engage your kids in local activism. Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network does some amazing work you and your kiddo can help out with. Burien Represent does some vital work to amplify the knowledge and experiences of those who have been historically marginalized and disenfranchised. AID NW has a trailer and offers aid to folks released from the for-profit immigrant detention center in Tacoma, and they could certainly use community support.
There are a number of great resources about Muslim people and communities, Isra Hashmi wrote this great 10 Must-Have Books, Simply Islam has a very long list of Islamic Children’s Books, Stanford University’s Library has a Children’s books with an Islamic theme list, BrightMuslim.com has its own 10 Muslim Children’s books list. Book Riot has quite a few lists of YA books featuring Muslim characters (and written by Muslim authors), Diversity in YA has many book reviews featuring Muslim main characters. A great online resource for teenagers is MuslimGirl.com, an online magazine written by and made for young Muslim women. There are independent Muslim kids’ book publishers like Muslim Children’s Books, or the subscription service Noor Kids. But also I just wanted to point out one book I’m particularly excited about, 1001 Inventions and Awesome Facts from Muslim Civilization (KCLS)(SPL)! It’s a vitally important look at the incredible achievements Muslim people and culture have brought to our world.
There are quite a few places to find quality youth literature about Black people and communities. One resource I’ve used for a long time is The Brown Bookshelf, written and maintained by Black authors, The Brown Bookshelf regularly updates with great picture book recommendations. 1000 Black Girl Books Resource Guide is a guide put together by a Black girl named Marley Dias (her excellence and magic are beyond impressive). The Sweet Peas (@thesweetpeagirls) on Instagram includes photo post recommendations and video submissions of Black girls talking about their favorite books – it’s informative and delightful! We Read Too is an app with loads of recommendations of books by people of color about people of color. Stanford University has a list of Children’s books by or about African Americans, Huffington Post has a list of 21 Children’s Books Every Black Kid Should Read, Essence has a list of 17, and you’d think Book Riot would have the most with their list of 100 but the African American Literature Book Club beats them all with their list of 120+. A great local group to be aware of is Seattle Urban Book Expo, they do an annual Book Expo featuring independent Black authors, and their Facebook page features local Black authors year round.
The internet is filled with good options if you’re looking for books about Jewish people and their faith. Jewish Books for Kids is cute and delightful, PJ Library offers free books to Jewish Families, and I very much enjoyed their Awesome Multicultural Jewish Children’s Books list. Book Browse has a list of Jewish Themed Young Adult Books Not About the Holocaust. I was also a very big fan of these two short lists, Jewish Journal’s Shavuot inspires children’s books, and Interfaith Family’s Little Critics’ Picks for Jewish Children’s Books. Also even though this “holiday season” just ended, perhaps your family would like to learn more about Hanukkah. Tablet did a best list of 2015 and 2016, and My Jewish Learning has a great Jewish Children’s Literature list that explores the classics, and of course Stanford University’s library made a list Children’s books with a Jewish theme.
I was able to find a number of lists about Asian American youth literature, but I had a hard time finding a website that focused solely on the subject (please point out such a resource if I missed it). Stanford, of course, has a great list Children’s books by or about Asian Americans, Multiracial Asian Families (another very cool online resource) had a great list of Multiracial Asian Children’s Books, Brightly has a cute list of 13 children’s books, and The Color of Us had a list of 30. There are also quite a few YA lists, Bustle made a list of 11, Diversity in YA did a roundup, and the list Sharanya Sharma put together for Book Riot is the most comprehensive I’ve ever seen! Also, the best YA romance I’ve read since Eleanor and Park (another good romance with an Asian American lead [KCLS][SPL]) is When Dimple Met Rishi (KCLS)(SPL). When Dimple Met Rishi is a light-hearted and endearing story of two young Indian Americans, who meet without Dimple knowing their parents had arranged for them to be married. After Dimple sets the record straight that she will be married off, the two are awkwardly trapped together as teammates in “Insomnia Con”, then against all odds, they find themselves falling in love. Also, I want to quickly mention one of my all-time favorite authors Gene Luen Yang (KCLS)(SPL), he is a prolific graphic novelist who always features Asian main characters, most frequently Chinese and Chinese American. I also tried to find book lists and resources solely dedicated to Pacific Islander stories and was only able to find Pacific Island Books, whose design looks like it came straight from the 90s.
American Indians in Children’s Literature is a resource I have been using for years to get reviews of youth literature featuring Indigenous characters, all run and written by Indigenous people. Indian Country Media Network is an online Indigenous-run newspaper, that is a great way to keep up on current events, culture, and opportunities for Indigenous communities. The Library at The University of Illinois created a fairly comprehensive list of online and print materials. A fantastic book list that just came out is #IndigenousReads by Indigenous Writers: A Children’s Reading List, put together by the Conscious Kid Library. Stanford University has a very strong list of Children’s books by or about Native Americans. Strong Nations has a comprehensive database of Indigenous books for teens, and books for kids. Book Riot put together a list of YA books featuring Indigenous main characters by Indigenous women. YA Interrobang did a great list of #OwnVoices Representation: Native American Authors. We are also very fortunate in Seattle, because we are neighbors with the highest population of Indigenous Americans in an urban area. You can go visit and support the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center, or go to one of their amazing events. The Duwamish Tribe has a Longhouse and Cultural Center you can support and visit, as well as a calendar of events to go to. And there’s the Steinbrueck Native Gallery that features Native arts and artists year round.
There are also a number of places you can turn to when looking for queer representation in Youth Literature. Don’t let the title of Gay-Themed Books for children fool you, they feature books for trans and gender nonconforming people, alternative family building, and even gender play via “crossdressing” and “tomboys” (I do wish they had a bi section though…). LGBT Reads is a great Tumblr to follow, they review and recommend books regularly, and have an “ask for a rec section” that they answer all the time! Another great Tumblr to follow is YA Pride, while they are a little more Tumblr-y with many reposts of related but not all book rec posts, they are constantly posting about queer YA and issues surrounding queer representation in literature. Stanford University has a great list of Children’s books with an LGBTQ theme. Book Riot just put together this lovely long list of great 20+ LGBTQ reads for your kids. Book Riot also has a list of 100 YA books. Autostraddle’s book reviews are not purely for young people, but many of them are. The Advocate has a good list of 21 picture books. Bustle has a lovely list of 30. Common Sense Media has a list of books for folks starting at 3 and ending at 17. I also would recommend you check out the independent book publisher Flamingo Rampant who creates and publishes books for gender-independent kids and families!
Of course, we need resources on mixed race protagonists and multiracial families. As I mentioned in the Asian American resources paragraph, Multiracial Asian Families is a great online resource. Mixed Remixed is the nation’s premiere cultural arts festival celebrating stories of mixed-race and multiracial families and individuals through films, books and performance; and I love their Top 10 Children’s Books with Mixed Race Families list. Colours of Us is a website all about multicultural Children’s books, and here’s a great list they did of 50 books. I’m NOT the Nanny is Thien-Kim’s blog she writes about her life, which is in large part about her biracial kids, and she put together this list of 9 picture books. What Do We Do All Day has a list of 14 Children’s Books with Multiracial Families. I had a harder time finding YA books, YALSA’s The Hub did a list called Mixed but Not Mixed Up, VOYA did a list of Mixed-Race Identity and Power in YA Fiction, and Diversity in YA has a Multiracial Characters tag that will bring you a long list of reviews.
There are also a lot of great resources to help kids engage with feminism. A Mighty Girl offers regular book reviews and has the most comprehensive book review section I’ve seen on a website not solely dedicated to books. Rejected Princesses is really fun online resource, they tell the stories of incredible women throughout history – warriors, explorers, scientists, spies, etc. – as if they were Disney princesses, they are really fun to follow on Facebook too. New York Magazine did a great list of 16 books, Buzzfeed did a list of 30, Mother magazine made their own feminist kids books list. For YA New York Mag made a list of 11, and both Book Riot and Bitch Media made lists of 100. A book I want to highlight is Rad Women Worldwide: Artists and Athletes, Pirates and Punks, and Other Revolutionaries Who Shaped History (KCLS)(SPL). I also want to highlight a few (not at all comprehensive) kids books about Transgender girls and Trans Feminine kids, because what is feminism that’s not trans-inclusive? Worthless. I recommend Be Who You Are (only available at SPL), I am Jazz (KCLS)(SPL), My Princess Boy (KCLS)(SPL) and 10,000 Dresses (KCLS)(SPL). A great local resource is GeekGirlCon (Twitter) (Facebook) (Tumblr) (Instagram), they always post fun facts, and great recommendations, plus an annual convention!
Again, please let me know in the comments if you would like to see a list for a community, identity, or experience not represented here. And please check out the other two articles in the Give the Gift of Resistance series. The series began with Catch-all resources to help you find diverse books, and finishes with 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.