Reading is one of the best ways for children to step outside of their own lives and gain perspective on the world. An important aspect of participatory citizenship is an openness to other people’s experiences that are different from our own. Books are an important portal into the experiences of others; reading is proven to make people more empathetic. Empathy is an important part of participatory citizenship: participation in society and community, fueled by mutual respect for others. Books can help kids gain awareness of past and present global issues, which can lead to more direct and effective participatory citizenship. Below is a short summer reading list, including different books for all ages, to encourage and foster global participatory citizenship. After each book is a discussion or activity prompt to encourage deeper thinking and action.
Lailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story
by Reem Faruqi, Grades K-3
This is a story about a girl who moves from Abu Dhabi to the U.S. It’s not only her first year in a new school, but also her first year fasting for Ramadan. This book addresses Lailah’s mixed feelings about being a new student who practices a religion different than most of her peers. The takeaway message from this book about participatory citizenship is the way in which sharing cultures allows Lailah and the other characters in the book to connect with each other and personally grow. This book is a great read because every child will relate to the themes: feeling out of place, growing up, and the hope that others will understand you. The book demonstrates how sharing your own culture, as well as expressing openness to the cultures of others, leads to joy, harmony, peace, and friendship.
Prompt: Think of something about yourself that your classmates may not know about you and write it on a sheet of paper. Trade papers with a partner and each person illustrates what they learned about their classmate.
Four Feet, Two Sandals
by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed, Grades 1-5
This book is a great way to introduce children to the realities of living in a refugee camp, why people are refugees, and then relate it to their own lives. A ten year old girl named Lina ends up sharing a pair of sandals with a girl named Feroza, since there are not enough sandals for everyone. These two characters experience the hardships of life in a refugee camp: waiting on long lines for water, the hard journey that brought them there, the fear for their futures, no access to education, among other obstacles. This is a book that will get children thinking about the hardships faced by people in other parts of the world.
Prompt: The girls in this book are friends who care about each other. What are some things we already do for our friends to show them we care? What are things we can do in the future?
Last Stop on Market Street
by Matt de la Peña, Grades K-2
A book about a boy and his grandmother and their Sunday afternoon routine, Last Stop on Market Street will touch the hearts of children and adults alike. It is also a quiet call to action, inspiring us to be better people, and to do good for others, no matter how much or how little we ourselves have. In the book, CJ and his nana wait for the bus after church, and CJ is curious about his surroundings and his life. The final
stop for the pair is a soup kitchen. Although CJ and nana don’t have as much as some others, volunteering at the soup kitchen is still a priority for CJ and nana. This book will inspire kids to volunteer, and beyond volunteering, teaches all of us how to practice appreciation and gratitude in our everyday lives. Last Stop on Market Street won the 2016 Newberry Medal, was a 2016 Caldecott Honor Book and a 2016 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book.
Prompt: Write a list of things we are grateful for in our life. Next, choose one thing on that list and write down how we can express our gratitude. For example, telling our family members we love them, or, sharing our favorite music with a classmate.
Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad
by Ellen Levine, Grades 2-5
A 2008 Caldecott Honor Book, Henry’s Freedom Box is an important historical picture book. A book about one slave’s remarkable escape from slavery to freedom, Henry’s Freedom Box addresses the hardships of life as a slave and the dehumanization of slavery. Henry is taken from his mother as a child and later separated from his wife and child. This book successfully conveys the pain of Henry’s life and why he risked his life for freedom. This is a great story that can be used to teach children about U.S. history, slavery, and the repercussions that continue to influence our country to this day.
Prompt: How would you feel if you could no longer be with your family? What inspires you about Henry and the people who help him along the way?
I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World (Young Readers Edition)
by Malala Yousafzai, with Patricia McCormick, Grades 6 and up
The young readers edition of Malala Yousafzai’s memoir is a must-read for all kids Grade 6 and up. Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban because she and her father advocated for girls’ education in Pakistan. Her memoir not only provides a historical background to the Taliban’s control of her hometown, but also her ongoing fight for education. Yousafzai–a Nobel Peace Prize Winner–is an inspiring figure because she advocates for human rights and education for all. Readers of this moving memoir will learn about middle-eastern politics, what it’s like to live in other parts of the world, and Yousafzai’s social activism. This book is both a call to action and an inspirational account of a young person who works tirelessly for others.
Prompt: Check out Malala Yousafzai’s organization and its tips on how to get involved in the fight for women’s education: hosting a film screening and writing letters to congress are just a couple suggestions.
The Hate U Give
by Angie Thomas, Grades 8 and up
This novel is an important read for teens and adults alike. The protagonist, Starr, witnesses the shooting of her friend by a police officer, changing her life forever. Realistically capturing the repercussions of the event, as well as the political and cultural environment of the moment, this book is about far more than one girl’s experience of a tragic event. With its fierce social commentary on race, power, and police brutality in America, The Hate U Give is a textured, profound story of how past and present racism and violence impact lives. Through this perspective, readers will gain awareness about the necessity and importance of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Prompt: Check out the Black Lives Matter website and see how you can get involved. For something creative, make posters that you would bring to a Black Lives Matter march.
by Nick Lake, Grades 8 and up
Merging the past and present, In Darkness is a vivid account of one boy’s struggle in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake that shook–literally and figuratively–Haiti. Opening as the earthquake hits, the main character “Shorty” nearly dies. Just a teenager, Shorty suddenly feels the presence of the revolutionary leader Toussaint L’Ouverture, and the journey of the book unfolds as the past and present influence each other through the lives of these two lives. Readers will learn about the Haitian Revolution, slavery, and the harsh historical realities of colonization, slavery, and natural disasters that led to Shorty’s life in the slums of one of the world’s poorest countries.
Prompt: Research and learn about life in Haiti after the earthquake and the aid responses. Consider how the history of Haiti continues to influence the country to this day.
by John Lewis, co-written by Andrew Aydin, Grades 7 and up
These graphic novels are written by Congressman John Lewis. Together, they comprise the story of Lewis’ life, focusing on his fight for civil rights, beginning with his childhood in rural Alabama. The books continue through his fight for justice through nonviolent protest and the others who dedicated their lives to equality. Culminating in a scene where Lewis receives a Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama, this memoir is a piercing reminder of how much work there is still to do. With an informative, inspiring story such as this one, young people will have the tools necessary to continue Lewis’ mission. The third book in the trilogy won this year’s National Book Award for young people’s literature.
Prompt: Think of a cause you are passionate about. If you were to plan a nonviolent protest to make change in the world, what would you do?