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book list: six socially conscious children's books

book list: six socially conscious children's books


These books may be for tiny tots, but they're certainly not afraid to tackle the big topics.

by Jo Hirst, illustrated by Naomi Bardoff Technically it’s aimed at four-to-eight-year-olds, but this book from former primary school teacher Jo Hirst – a follow-up to The Gender Fairy, a story she wrote for her own trans son – is a neat reminder for folks of all ages that everyone is different and it’s OK to be yourself. In it, we meet a group of children building a cubby and playing together – and in the process, they explore their similarities and differences, taking a sledgehammer to the traditional gender binary. Girls have cropped hair and run super fast; boys don pretty dresses, shoot hoops and pick flowers; non-binary children play with LEGO and prefer the term ‘they’. The book is rounded out with a handy lesson plan and some thought-provoking discussion points to help littlies bring this inclusivity and acceptance into their own lives. Key quote: “Clothes are for everyone. We can all wear the clothes we like.”

AN ABC OF EQUALITY by Chana Ginelle Ewing, illustrated by Paulina Morgan You might think concepts like oppression, intersectionality, class and privilege are a bit too tricky for wee ones to understand, but Chana Ginelle Ewing – an entrepreneur and advocate for women and communities of colour – is here to prove you wrong. Chockas with bold and colourful artwork that, to be honest, we’d quite like to whack on the wall, her book works through an alphabet’s worth of social ideas, breaking them down in a clear and simple way that even adults can benefit from. It’s not just the words that tell an important story, either – the illustrations by Chilean artist Paulina Morgan show cheerful people from a range of backgrounds, ethnicities and abilities, reinforcing the lesson that we’re all different and special, and “that’s what makes the world exciting”. Key quote: “No one should be treated differently because of where they come from, what they look like or believe.”

WHEN WE SAY BLACK LIVES MATTER by Maxine Beneba Clarke This picture book is a labour of love from Sydney author Maxine Beneba Clarke, who’s responsible not only for the rousing words, but also for the striking pictures. Apparently, she was inspired to create it “when thinking about how to explain the concept of Black Lives Matter to the young African diaspora kids in [her] extended family”, and that warmth and sense of protectiveness shines through as children are taught “enough is enough, it’s time to put things right”. Told from the perspective of a black child’s parents explaining what Black Lives Matter means to them, the book has protest and sorrow, but also songs, djembe drums and joy. It’s a super-special book, and as an added bonus, a portion of the proceeds goes to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation. Key quote: “When we say Black Lives Matter, we’re saying Black people are wonderful-strong. That we deserve to be treated with basic respect, and that history’s done us wrong.”

I SAW PETE AND PETE SAW ME by Maggie Hutchings, illustrated by Evie Barrow Ugh, this book. It’s just so dang nice. Published earlier this year, it tells the tale of a young boy out with his mum when he strikes up a friendship with a fellow named Pete, who’s living rough. The boy tells everyone about his new mate, gushing about his cheery pavement drawings and inspiring them to reach out and help this person in need. Though the adults were “too busy to see”, the boy noticed what – and who – was right front of him, and as a result, he learns a whole lot about resilience, connection and kindness. Author Maggie Hutchings begins by noting this book is not intended as a voice for the homeless – rather, it’s a call to make a difference in the world by having compassion and acting on it. Key quote: “One day you will be a grown-up too. I hope you will never be too busy to see.”

CHANGE STARTS WITH US by Sophie Beer This is a book about saving the planet for a generation that had nothing to do with stuffing it up in the first place. It seems a little unfair, sure, but Change Starts With Us is more about being optimistic and sparking new behaviours than wallowing in the doom and gloom. With the help of Brissie artist Sophie Beer’s bright and bubbly illustrations, children three years and older will learn the importance of planting trees, choosing packaging-free food, picking up rubbish, eating less meat, and a bunch of other eco-friendly things. This is the third in Sophie’s series of socially conscious books for kids – after Love Makes a Family and Kindness Makes Us Strong – so if you’re after a trio of titles for pint-sized activists-to-be, tracking them down is a good place to begin. Key quote: “Change starts with us.”

WHAT IS A REFUGEE? by Elise Gravel This short but informative picture book from author/illustrator slashie Elise Gravel answers a few questions curious kids might have, like who are refugees? Why do they need to leave their countries? And are they always welcomed into their new homes? It touches on topics like war, refugee camps and political persecution without overwhelming sensitive minds, and the helpful explainer is accompanied by Elise’s own sweet, cartoon-y drawings. As an extra-nice touch, the book introduces us to some famous refugees (think Albert Einstein, Freddie Mercury, Bob Marley and Madeleine Albright) and refugee kids tell us a bit about themselves (Ayla, for instance, comes from Syria and likes drawing comic books with her sister). Key quote: “Most refugees would have preferred to stay in their country with their friends and family, but it was too dangerous.”

This kid-friendly reading list come straight from the pages of frankie 99. Head here to find your closest stockist, pick up a copy from our online store or subscribe from $59.50.