Books about going back to or starting school, like those in our first post, can tell stories about an exciting new adventure, an everyday event, or a rich experience of culture. Or, like the titles in this post geared toward older children, going to school books that feature Black and Indigenous people and People of Color (BIPOC) can be a more focused study of educational access, equity, and inclusion, posing questions like:
- Who gets to go to school and who doesn’t?
- How can schools be oppressive or liberating?
- What kinds of challenges do students face in schools -- historically and today?
Here are some important titles, arranged by topic, to share with the children in your life. With older kids, any could be the catalyst for a conversation about how school isn’t always fair and what they can do to help make school a place where every student feels welcome, safe, and free to learn. These books may also empower children who are experiencing injustice at school to speak up and/or ask for help. Many of these titles are also great to use with younger children and can give them a foundation for later understandings of issues of access, equity, and inclusion.
Beyond the necessity of learning about the histories of oppression within their own schools and broader education systems of which they are a part, there are very valuable lessons in these books -- not only about strength and resilience -- but resistance too.
"The story of the 1931 Lemon Grove incident, in which Mexican families in southern California won the first school desegregation case in United States history. Told in Spanish and English. Includes a corrido (ballad), and information about the people involved and events leading up to and after the court case ruling"--
It was the summer of 1969, and things were about to change in the life of Cozett Juanita Gambrel. Integration of public schools had begun, and she would be the only black child in her new class. Her wise mother spent the summer laying the foundation of strength and love which would be needed to face the changes. "Bring forth the heart of a child, dear Lord," her mother prayed each night, for she knew the pure heart of a child did not see race but only love and friendship. ... based on the real life account of Juanita Gambrel Floyd.--Cover page 4
In 1847 St. Louis, Missouri, when a new law against educating African Americans forces Reverend John to close his school, he finds an ingenious solution to the new state law by moving his school to a steamboat in the Mississippi River. Includes author's note on Reverend John Berry Meachum, a minister, entrepreneur, and educator who fought tirelessly for the rights of African Americans
A biography on Ruby Bridges and how she stood up against racism and hatred to help integrate Louisiana's school system.
Almost 10 years before Brown vs. Board of Education, Sylvia Mendez and her parents helped end school segregation in California. An American citizen of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage who spoke and wrote perfect English, Mendez was denied enrollment to a "Whites only"; school. Her parents took action by organizing the Hispanic community and filing a lawsuit in federal district court. Their success eventually brought an end to the era of segregated education in California.
Based on the true story of Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, this book chronicles the unbreakable spirit of an Inuit girl while attending an Arctic residential school. Olemaun is eight and knows a lot of things. But she does not know how to read. Ignoring her father’s warnings, she travels far from her Arctic home to the outsiders’ school to learn. The nuns at the school call her Margaret. They cut off her long hair and force her to do menial chores, but she remains undaunted. Her tenacity draws the attention of a black-cloaked nun who tries to break her spirit at every turn. But the young girl is more determined than ever to learn how to read.
Toni Morrison has collected a treasure chest of archival photographs that depict the historical events surrounding school desegregation. These unforgettable images serve as the inspiration for Ms. Morrison"s text--a fictional account of the dialogue and emotions of the children who lived during the era of "separate but equal" schooling. Remember is a unique pictorial and narrative journey that introduces children to a watershed period in American history and its relevance to us today. Remember will be published on the 50th anniversary of the groundbreaking Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision ending legal school segregation, handed down on May 17, 1954
The right to safe, quality education and access to lifelong learning has never been and is still not a guarantee for girls. The following books address this reality and tell stories of Black and Indigenous girls and girls of color who have challenged this in big and small ways.
Malala Yousafzai stood up to the Taliban and fought for the right for all girls to receive an education. When she was just fifteen-years old, the Taliban attempted to kill Malala, but even this did not stop her activism. At age eighteen Malala became the youngest person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work to ensure the education of all children around the world.
Risking a whipping if they are discovered, Rosa and her mama sneak away from their slave quarters during the night to a hidden location in a field where they learn to read and write in a pit school
A young girl who longs to study but must run the household and look after her siblings after her mother's death gets an invaluable gift from her brother. One day a week, her brother does her chores so that she can pursue her dream of an education, just as her mother would have wanted, in this tale about overcoming obstacles.
In Dhaka, Bangladesh, as two girls work hard all day to help support their family by chipping bricks into small pieces, older sister Yasmin seeks a way to attend school and learn to read so that she can have a better life one day. Includes author's note about conditions in Bangladesh, child labor, and how to help
Based on a true story. After her parents are taken away by the Taliban, young Nasreen stops speaking. But as she spends time in a secret school, she slowly breaks out of her shell.
Education as Privilege
Widespread global poverty and economic marginalization means that formal education remains a privilege, rather than a right, for far too many children around the world. The following books feature protagonists who face this reality and find their way to school, despite.
"Neema's Reason to Smile is the story of Neema, a young Kenyan girl who dreams of one day being able to afford to go to school. Slowly, and with great purpose, Neema makes a plan to save money in her dream basket and make her dream come true. One day, a mysterious young girl skips down the street wearing a red skirt and white shirt. Soon, she guides Neema all the way to a new school."-- Publisher's website
A young girl is torn between her desire to stay home with her family and her desire to go to school and discover the world beyond the mountains that surround them
Sophy, a determined young girl living in an impoverished Cambodian village, fulfills her dream of going to school--with the help of a pair of running shoes.
Bullying, though only recently identified as such, has been and continues to be an issue for many young students. It is characterized by targeted and aggressive peer-to-peer behavior and often includes a power inequity shaped by racial, cultural, sexual, gender, and other social norms. Picture books can be very helpful in talking to children about how to identify, prevent, and intervene on bullying, or even process through an actual experience of bullying.
Upset after being bullied, Thuy, a Vietnamese American, pretends she is different creatures, including an especially strong, wonderful being made up of her two mothers and herself. Includes note about the phoenix and the Sarabha.
An elementary school girl witnesses the bullying of another girl, but she is not sure how to help.
Other students laugh when Rigoberto, an immigrant from Venezuela, introduces himself but later, he meets Angelina and discovers that he is not the only one who feels like an outsider.
Nusaiba is excited about school – especially show and tell! But after hearing a mean comment in the school hallway about what her mother is wearing, Nusaiba slumps at her desk all day. Through a fantastical journey of adventure and self-discovery, Nusaiba gains the confidence necessary to embrace her identity and stand up for herself. An exciting and engaging book about self-acceptance and the importance of standing up to bullying. --publisher's site
Lila has just moved to a new town and can't wait to make friends at school. But on the first day, a boy points at her and shouts: "A crow! A crow! The new girl's hair is black like a crow!" The others whisper and laugh, and Lila's heart grows as heavy as a stone...Now every day at school, Lila hides under her turtleneck, dark glasses, and hat. And every day when she goes home, she sees a crow who seems to want to tell her something...At her lowest point of despair, an encounter with the crow opens Lila's eyes to the beauty of being different, and gives her the courage to proudly embrace her true self." -- publisher
When Ms. Albert teaches a lesson on kindness, Chloe realizes that she and her friends have been wrong in making fun of new student Maya's shabby clothes and refusing to play with her
A Native American girl's feelings are hurt when schoolmates make fun of the children who live at the lake, but then her grampa tells her a Seneca folktale that reminds her how much she appreciates her home and her place in the world.
When Bilal and his sister transfer to a school where they are the only Muslims, they must learn how to fit in while staying true to their beliefs and heritage
When Chico starts the third grade after his migrant worker family moves to begin harvesting California grapes, he finds that self confidence and math skills help him cope with the first day of school.
The following are stories about making space for and welcoming all children in schools.
After Jacob and Sophie are prevented from using their school's bathrooms, their teacher helps her students write new rules about who can use which bathroom.
Henry would like to find a friend at school, but for a boy on the autism spectrum, making friends can be difficult, as his efforts are sometimes misinterpreted, or things just go wrong--but Henry keeps trying, and in the end he finds a friend he can play with.
Illustrations and simple, rhyming text introduce a school where diversity is celebrated and songs, stories, and talents are shared.
When three children, Jesse, Jason, and Emma, are confronted with new classmates from different ethnic backgrounds, they strive to overcome their initial reactions, and to understand, accept, and welcome Maria, Jin, and Fatima.
A student who uses a wheelchair finds a way to see her dog each day in school. Includes author's note about therapy dogs.
Three children from Somalia, Guatemala, and Korea struggle to adjust to their new home and school in the United States
The Buddy Bench (2019) by Patty Brozo and Mike Deas
Having seen what being left out is like, children become agents of change, convincing their teacher to let them build a buddy bench.
For more than 200 other picture books that portray a diverse array of school experiences featuring BIPOC characters, search our database here.