20 empowering children's books that celebrate diversity and social justice.

For many of us, stories shape our world — starting from a young age.

Books can take us to places we've never been. They teach us how other people think, live, dream, and thrive.

Make believe hits overdrive with "Alice in Wonderland." Image by iStock.


And stories that highlight diversity, fairness, and empathy can even change people's minds about tough issues.

But while fiction books with diverse casts of characters are on the rise overall, many books still don't include any specific cultural content. And according to data from the Cooperative Children's Book Center, parents and teachers are still more likely to find a book starring an adventurous animal or automobile than a child of color.

Illustration by David Huyck in consultation with Sarah Park Dahlen and Molly Beth Griffin.

After the election, kids (and their families) need to see examples of diversity and fairness more than ever. In the weeks immediately following the presidential election, the Southern Poverty Law Center recorded more than 700 incidents of harassment, intimidation and violence around the country. It's happening at schools, places of worship, businesses, and on the street.

That’s why hundreds of children's authors and illustrators joined forces to stand up to fear and bigotry with stories.

From the dollhouse to the White House, kids need to see themselves and people from diverse backgrounds and experiences saving the day, working hard, loving fiercely, and overcoming obstacles.

Image by iStock.

These creative professionals signed their names to a powerful statement that promises to work harder to bring more diverse kids stories to the world. The statement was written by the founders of the Brown Bookshelf, a site that signal boosts African-American authors and illustrators.

Together, these writers and illustrators pledged to use their talents "to help eliminate the fear that takes root in the human heart amid lack of familiarity and understanding of others; the type of fear that feeds stereotypes, bitterness, racism, and hatred; the type of fear that so often leads to tragic violence and senseless death."

These authors and illustrators will "plant seeds of empathy, fairness, and empowerment through words and pictures." They'll be ink and paper reminders that each life is valuable and precious, regardless of origin, skin color, religion, gender, or orientation.

The list of pledgers includes several notable authors, illustrators, and influencers too.

National Book Award recipient Jacqueline Woodson; best-selling author Daniel José Older; Newbery Medal winner Marilyn Nelson; and author/actor/host LeVar Burton all pledged their support. As of this writing, the statement is supported by more than 700 authors and illustrators.

Quotation from Woodson's "Brown Girl Dreaming." Woodson at the 32nd Annual Lab School of Washington Gala honoring Outstanding Achievers with Learning Differences. Photo by Riccardo Savi/AP.

Their mission is incredible, and fighting hate with empathy in stories and books has never been more important.

To start, here's a list of books for children of all ages that promote diverse experiences, kindness, hope. and empathy. I can't wait to see the new books that will join these ranks in the coming year.

Image designed by Michael Calcagno, Welcometoterranova.

Preschoolers (ages 2-4)

"Counting on Community" by Innosanto Nagara

"I Know a Lot!" by Stephen Krensky, illustrated by Sara Gillingham

"Round Is a Tortilla: A Book of Shapes" by Roseanne Thong, illustrated by John Parra

Little Kids (ages 5-7)

"This Day in June" by Gayle E. Pitman, illustrated by Kristyna Litten

"Last Stop on Market Street" by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson

"I Love Saturdays y domingos" by Alma Flor Ada, illustrated by Elivia Savadier

"Fish for Jimmy: Inspired by One Family's Experience in a Japanese American Internment Camp" by Katie Yamasaki

Big Kids (ages 8-9)

"Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah" by Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Sean Qualls

"Thunder Boy Jr." by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Yuyi Morales

"Penny and the Magic Puffballs" by Alonda Williams, illustrated by Tyrus Goshay

"Inside Out and Back Again" by Thanhha Lai

Tweens (ages 10-12)

"Cool Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Growing Up Latino in the United States" edited by Laurie M. Carlson

"Ghost" by Jason Reynolds

"Flying Lessons & Other Stories" edited by Ellen Oh

"The Tequila Worm" by Viola Canales

"One Crazy Summer" by Rita Williams-Garcia

Teens (ages 13+)

"Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe" by Benjamin Alire Saenz

"I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World (Young Readers Edition)" by Malala Yousafzai, with contributions from Patricia McCormick

"March: Book 1" by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell

"American Born Chinese" by Gene Luen Yang

Whether you're a parent, teacher, or just someone who wants to make sure the next generation arrives at adulthood being empathetic and kind, that all begins with stories.

There's never a bad time to let children know how loved and valued they are. Change starts now.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected diverse communities due largely in part to social factors such as inadequate access to housing, income, dietary options, education and employment — all of which have been shown to affect people's physical health.

Recognizing that inequity, Harlem-based chef JJ Johnson sought out to help his community maximize its health during the pandemic — one grain at a time.

Johnson manages FIELDTRIP, a health-focused restaurant that strives to bring people together through the celebration of rice, a grain found in cuisines of countless cultures.

"It was very important for me to show the world that places like Harlem want access to more health-conscious foods," Johnson said. "The people who live in Harlem should have the option to eat fresh, locally farmed and delicious food that other communities have access to."

Lack of education and access to those healthy food options is a primary driver of why 31% of adults in Harlem are struggling with obesity — the highest rate of any neighborhood in New York City and 7% higher than the average adult obesity rate across the five boroughs.

Obesity increases risk for heart disease or diabetes, which in turn leaves Harlem's residents — who are 76% Black or LatinX — at heightened risk for complications with COVID-19.

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via KrustyKhajiit / YouTube

Thomas F. Wilson played one of the most recognizable villains in film history, Biff Tannen, in the "Back to the Future" series. So, understandably, he gets recognized wherever he goes for the iconic role.

The attention must be nice, but it has to get exhausting answering the same questions day in and day out about the films. So Wilson created a card that he carries with him to hand out to people that answers all the questions he gets asked on a daily basis.

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Courtesy of FIELDTRIP
True

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected diverse communities due largely in part to social factors such as inadequate access to housing, income, dietary options, education and employment — all of which have been shown to affect people's physical health.

Recognizing that inequity, Harlem-based chef JJ Johnson sought out to help his community maximize its health during the pandemic — one grain at a time.

Johnson manages FIELDTRIP, a health-focused restaurant that strives to bring people together through the celebration of rice, a grain found in cuisines of countless cultures.

"It was very important for me to show the world that places like Harlem want access to more health-conscious foods," Johnson said. "The people who live in Harlem should have the option to eat fresh, locally farmed and delicious food that other communities have access to."

Lack of education and access to those healthy food options is a primary driver of why 31% of adults in Harlem are struggling with obesity — the highest rate of any neighborhood in New York City and 7% higher than the average adult obesity rate across the five boroughs.

Obesity increases risk for heart disease or diabetes, which in turn leaves Harlem's residents — who are 76% Black or LatinX — at heightened risk for complications with COVID-19.

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Sometimes a politician says or does something so brazenly gross that you have to do a double take to make sure it really happened. Take, for instance, this tweet from Lauren Witzke, a GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate from Delaware. Witzke defeated the party's endorsed candidate to win the primary, has been photographed in a QAnon t-shirt, supports the conspiracy theory that 9/11 was a U.S. government inside operation, and has called herself a flat earther.

So that's neat.

Witzke has also proposed a 10-year total halt on immigration to the U.S., which is absurd on its face, but makes sense when you see what she believes about immigrants. In a tweet this week, Witzke wrote, "Most third-world migrants can not assimilate into civil societies. Prove me wrong."

First, let's talk about how "civil societies" and developing nations are not different things, and to imply that they are is racist, xenophobic, and wrong. Not to mention, it has never been a thing to refer people using terms like "third-world." That's a somewhat outdated term for developing nations, and it was never an adjective to describe people from those nations even when it was in use.

Next, let's see how Twitter thwapped Lauren Witzke straight into the 21st century by proving her wrong in the most delicious way. Not only did people share how they or their relatives and friends have successfully "assimilated," but many showed that they went way, way beyond that.

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via WatchMojo / YouTube

There are two conflicting viewpoints when it comes to addressing culture from that past that contains offensive elements that would never be acceptable today.

Some believe that old films, TV shows, music or books with out-of-date, offensive elements should be hidden from public view. While others think they should be used as valuable tools that help us learn from the past.

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