8 Empowering Middle Grade Novels for Kids Interested in Social Justice

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As the United States watches a new administration take over the White House after a contentious election year, a wave of social and political activism has swept the country. For generations, young people all over the world have taken an interest in social justice and found the courage to fight for their own rights and the rights of others. Here are eight inspiring middle grade books that prove you’re never too young to stand up for what you believe in and make a difference.

The Breadwinner Trilogy

Paperback $13.81 | $18.95

The Breadwinner Trilogy, by Deborah Ellis
This series follows 11-year-old Parvana, who lives under Taliban rule in Afghanistan. When her father is arrested and her family is left without someone who can work or even shop for food, Parvana, forbidden to earn money as a girl, disguises herself as a boy to help her family survive. The Breadwinner is an empowering tale with a sharp and brave heroine.

Stella by Starlight

Paperback $7.99

Stella by Starlight, by Sharon M. Draper
Stella lives in the segregated south in 1932. Out, late one night, wandering around, Stella and her brother witness a Klu Klux Klan activity, starting an unwelcome chain of events in her otherwise sleepy town. With a compelling and courageous voice, Stella tells the story of how she and her community ban together against racism and injustice.

A Little Piece of Ground

Paperback $9.95

A Little Piece of Groundby Elizabeth Laird
Living in occupied Palestine, twelve-year-old Karim is trapped in his home by a strict curfew. Wanting to play football with his friends, he decides to clear a rocky plot of land for a soccer field. When Karim is found outside during the next curfew, tensions rise, and his survival is at stake.

One Crazy Summer

Paperback $7.99

One Crazy Summerby Rita Williams Garcia
Set against the backdrop of the Black Panther movement, Delphine and her sisters visit their estranged mother in California, attend a Black Panther day camp, and discover their mother’s dedication to social justice issues. A moving, funny novel with a captivating voice, the sisters learn about their family and their country during one truly crazy summer.

Sylvia & Aki

Paperback $6.99

Sylvia & Akiby Winifred Conkling
Sylvia and Aki never expected to know one another, until their lives intersect on a Southern California farm and change the country forever. Based on true events, this book reveals the remarkable story of Mendez vs. Westminster School District, the California court case that desegregated schools for Latino children.

Operation Redwood

Paperback $9.95

Operation Redwood, by S. Terrell French
When Julian is sent to stay with his disinterested aunt and uncle for four months, he discovers that his Uncle’s corporation plans to cut down a group of redwood trees at Big Tree Grove and decides to take a stand to save the trees. Perfect for the young environmentalists in your life, Operation Redwood is an adventurous and gripping tale as Julian and his friends hatch scheme after scheme to save these giants of nature.

I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced

Paperback $7.31 | $12.00

I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced, by Nujood Ali with Dephine Mainoui
For more mature readers, this unforgettable autobiography tells the true story of Nujood Ali, a ten-year-old Yemeni girl married off at a young age, who decides to resist her abusive husband and get a divorce. A moving tale of tragedy, triumph, and courage, Nujood’s brave defiance has inspired generations of women and young girls.

Return to Sender

Paperback $6.99

Return to Sender, by Julia Alverez
After Tyler’s father is injured in a tractor accident, his family hires migrant workers from Mexico to save his Vermont farm. Tyler bonds with one of the worker’s daughters and navigates complicated moral choices in this award-winning novel about friendship, cooperation, and understanding.

A Sacred Heart Graduate’s Dedication to Social Justice

Mary Grace Henry, Sacred Heart Greenwich class of 2015, was recently featured on the CBS show Hidden Heroes for her work to educate girls around the world.  Mary Grace, through her years at Sacred Heart and her 8th grade Making History project, created the Reverse the Course Foundation and has sold more than 16,000 hair accessories to fund 251 years of school fees for 115 girls who live in extreme poverty.

Here’s a link to the video

30 Inspiring Books on Girls & Women of the Civil Rights Movement

Posted on February 8, 2016 by Katherine

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From the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Greensboro sit-ins, the Freedom Rides, school integrations, the March on Washington, Freedom Summer, the Selma to Montgomery marches, we hear many stories about the pivotal events of the Civil Rights Movement, but so many are about the remarkable men in leadership positions at the time. But what of the women? What of the girls? Rosa Parks’ story is a powerful and important one, but surely hers can’t be the only story of courageous girls and women in the Civil Rights era.

In this post, we highlight numerous books for both children and teens that tell the stories of girls and women’s contributions to the monumental events of this period and to the national movement to bring full civil rights and equality under the law to all Americans. By sharing these stories of past champions of civil rights, we can inspire the current generation of Mighty Girls to be the champions of the future.

For more books about the experience of African-American girls and women throughout history, visit our African-American History & Historical Fiction collection.

HEROES OF THE MOVEMENT: BIOGRAPHIES

From Ruby Bridges, a 6-year-old child who desegregated the first elementary school in the South, to Rosa Parks, whose refusal to switch seats on a bus is only one example of her devotion to civil rights causes, there are many Mighty Girls and women who contributed to the Civil Rights Movement. These books will teach children and teens about these heroes and their dedication to justice.

I Am Rosa Parks

Written by: Brad Meltzer
Illustrated by: Christopher Eliopoulos
Recommended Age: 4 – 8


When kids hear about Rosa Parks’ defiant refusal to move seats, they may think that it takes special courage to take that big a step — but the reality is that ordinary people can do incredible things! This title from Meltzer’s Ordinary People Change The World series shows how Parks’ willingness to stand up for justice began with small moments from childhood, but became a driving force in her life that made her a major figure for the Civil Rights movement. For more books about Parks, visit our Rosa Parks Collection.

The Story of Ruby Bridges

Written by: Robert Coles
Illustrated by: George Ford
Recommended Age: 4 – 8


To kids today, the idea of a child having to be escorted to school by armed guards to protect her from an angry mob is shocking, but 6-year-old Ruby Bridges faced exactly that in 1960. After a judge ordered that Ruby should attend the previously all-white William Frantz Elementary School, parents withdrew their children and held angry protests in front of the school. This compelling depiction of the child who became a civil rights hero just by attending first grade is now available in a special anniversary edition. For more books about Bridges, visit our Ruby Bridges Collection.

Child of the Civil Rights Movement

Written by: Paula Young Shelton
Illustrated by: Raul Colon
Recommended Age: 4 – 8


Paula Young Shelton, the daughter of Civil Rights activist Andrew Young, grew up in a world where everyone she knew was dedicated to the fight for equality. Even children knew the injustice of segregation — she recalls crying loudly when owners of a restaurant refused to seat her family in “my very first protest, my own little sit-in.” And as she grew, her understanding of her father’s cause grew, until it became her own and she too marched from Selma to Montgomery. In this unique child’s eye view of the Civil Rights struggle, Shelton balances honesty about the struggles her father and his friends faced with the sense of hope that drove them forward.

Coretta Scott

Written by: Ntozake Shange
Illustrated by: Kadir Nelson
Recommended Age: 4 – 9


Many people know her only as Coretta Scott King, but she holds her own place in Civil Rights history for her work both before and after her husband’s death. In this poetic picture book, Ntozake Shange captures her childhood — including defining moments like walking five miles to the colored school while the white kids’ bus showered her with dust — to the marches at Selma and Washington, and ends with stirring images of protesters set to lines from the gospel song “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round.” A prose biography at the end encourages kids to learn more. This evocative book is a powerful way to introduce this key figure of history. Kids can learn more in Coretta Scott King: I Kept On Marching (ages 7 to 10). For more books about King, visit our Coretta Scott King Collection.

Ruby Bridges Goes To School

Written by: Ruby Bridges
Recommended Age: 5 – 8


In this book, Ruby Bridges tells her own story in simplified text for newly independent readers! With carefully chosen vocabulary suitable for developing readers, Bridges provides a clear explanation of segregation and how it affected everyone, including school children, in the 1950s. Historical photographs of Bridges herself, as well as signs for segregated restaurants and protest signs objecting to desegregating schools, bring the topic to life. Kids will be amazed to imagine that Bridges was learning to read — just like them — when she had to walk past those angry mobs to go to school. For more books about Bridges, visit our Ruby Bridges Collection.

Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged

Written by: Jody Nyasha Warner
Illustrated by: Richard Rudnicki
Recommended Age: 5 – 8


It wasn’t just the US that wrestled with segregation and civil rights; Canada has its own civil rights heroes, among them this savvy businesswoman who found herself the center of the fight for equality when she sat down in a movie theater. When Viola Desmond bought her ticket in 1946, she was arrested after refusing to move from the main floor to the balcony. The varying perspectives in this book capture the emotional intensity of Desmond’s trial, and Richard Rudnicki’s illustration depict her as a confident woman who was determined not to give way.

The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist

Written by: Cynthia Levinson
Illustrated by: Vanessa Brantley Newton
Recommended Age: 5 – 9


Audrey was only 9 years old, but that didn’t mean she didn’t listen when the grown-ups talked about wiping out Birmingham’s segregation laws. So when she heard them say that they were going to picket those white stores! March to protest those unfair laws! Fill the jails! — she stepped right up and said, “I’ll do it!” This newly release picture book biography of the youngest person to be arrested for a civil rights protest in Birmingham proves that there’s no such thing as being too young to make a difference.

Through My Eyes: The Story of Ruby Bridges

Written by: Ruby Bridges
Recommended Age: 6 – 12


It’s one thing to hear Ruby Bridges’ story in the third person, but in this remarkable book, you get to hear her story through her own eyes. In simple language, Bridges recounts the experience of simultaneously knowing that she was part of a bigger era in history, yet still being a child who didn’t fully understand why people were so angry at her. With additional material including photographs, sidebars about Bridges’ influence in popular culture, and an update on her later life and civil rights work, this volume creates a newly complex portrait of this iconic figure. For more books about Bridges, visit our Ruby Bridges Collection.

Who Was Rosa Parks?

Written by: Yona Zeldis McDonough
Illustrated by: Stephen Marchesi
Recommended Age: 8 – 12


The “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement” gets her own entry in the popular Who Was…? biography series! This accessible biography introduces the influences in Rosa Parks’ life that led her to devote her life to the cause of civil rights. Useful sidebars and timelines help kids understand both Parks’ work and the overarching progress of the Civil Rights movement. Engaging and accessible, it’s a great way to introduce middle grade readers to this inspiring figure. For more books about Parks, visit our Rosa Parks Collection.

Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters

Written by: Andrea Davis Pinkney
Illustrated by: Stephen Alcorn
Recommended Age: 8 – 12


Ten women who contributed to the fight for equal rights, from Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman during the time of slavery to Rosa Parks and Fannie Hamer during the Civil Rights era, each get their own profile in this inspiring book. Andrea Davis Pinkney’s text bursts with admiration for these dedicated campaigners for abolition, desegregation, and women’s rights, while her use of colloquialisms and vivid description will have kids flipping the pages to find out what happens. Each profile is accented by a dramatic, stylized portrait from Alcorn. This lively book will bring history to life for young readers.

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

Written by: Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by: Ekua Holmes
Recommended Age: 9 – 12


“I am sick and tired of being sick and tired”, Hamer once famously proclaimed, and that sentiment drove her to be a champion of civil rights for over two decades. Her booming oratorical voice and her signature song “This Little Light of Mine” became a key part of the movement, including the Freedom Summer of 1964; her speech at the Democratic National Convention aired on national news despite interference from President Johnson and spurred people to action. Told in the first person, this book’s lyrical text and collage illustrations depict the perseverance and courage of this heroic woman.

Little Rock Girl 1957: How A Photograph Changed the Fight for Integration

Written by: Shelley Tougas
Recommended Age: 9 – 12


When the Little Rock Nine defied their state’s governor to integrate Central High, Elizabeth Eckford didn’t get the message to meet the group — so she faced entering the school alone. A local photographer snapped an iconic photograph of a girl jeering at Elizabeth as she stoically walked through the protesting crowd, and that photograph focused the world’s attention — and disapproval — on Little Rock’s resistance to desegregation. Shelley Tougas’ tale of determination and bravery ends with an important postscript to the story: decades later, Elizabeth and Hazel Bryan Massery, the screaming girl in the picture, met and achieved a reconciliation. Touching and heartwrenching, this book captures the power of a single person’s photograph to bring change.

Rosa Parks: My Story

Recommended Age: 9 – 13


Tweens can learn Rosa Parks’ story in her own words in this compelling autobiography! Parks’ word provide a fresh take on both her famous act of defiance on a Montgomery bus and the many other contributions she made to the Civil Rights movement. In her stirring story, she tells of a childhood listening warily for members of the Ku Klux Klan in the night; time as a secretary for the NAACP; and the experience of becoming a symbol to a nation-wide movement. This book provides a more complex picture of both Parks herself and of the Civil Rights movement as a whole. For more resources about Parks, visit our Rosa Parks Collection.

The Voice That Challenged A Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights

Written by: Russell Freedman
Recommended Age: 9 and up


Marian Anderson never intended to become a symbol of equal rights; she just knew that she had to sing. But in the 1920s and 1930s, social constraints limited the careers of black performers. Anderson’s voice, though, could not be silenced and she achieved international acclaim despite segregation in the arts. But thanks to the help of influential admirers — including Eleanor Roosevelt — her landmark concert at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939 signaled a change for this history of art. This well-researched and expertly told book includes a bibliography, a discography, and an excellent examination of the cultural and social context of Anderson’s life turned her into a civil rights icon.

Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice

Written by: Phillip M Hoose
Recommended Age: 10 and up


Nine months before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin did the same — but instead rather than receiving support, she found herself shunned by classmates and dismissed by community leaders. And yet she remained determined to effect change, and a year later, she challenged Jim Crow laws again by becoming one of the key plaintiffs in Browder vs. Gayle, a landmark court case. This National Book Award winner shines a light on an important but little-known figure from Civil Rights history.

Turning 15 On The Road To Freedom: My Story of the Selma Voting Rights March

Recommended Age: 12 and up


Lynda Lowery was the youngest marcher in the 1965 Selma protest, but her youth never protected her; she had been arrested eleven times, and sent to jail nine times, before her fifteenth birthday. This gripping memoir captures the experience of being a teenage protester in Selma, from the constant threats of violence to the inhumane “sweatbox” steel cell where she and twenty other girls were imprisoned until they all passed out. And yet, Lowery’s memoir is one of home and optimism: while she doesn’t shy away from the realities of what protesters faced, she highlights that she suffered these ordeals in order to change American history for the better.

Warriors Don’t Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High

Recommended Age: 12 and up


Melba Patillo turned sixteen in 1957, the same year that she became an unwitting warrior for desegregation. As one of the Little Rock Nine, she faced a firestorm of opposition as she entered the previously all-white Central High. In a harrowing ordeal, Melba faced everything from taunts to threats to an attack with acid that injured her eyes, but she never gave up her courage or her dignity. “Searing” is exactly the right description this affecting story of friendship, faith, and personal commitment.

FIGHTING FOR JUSTICE: HISTORICAL FICTION

In order to understand the impact the Civil Rights Movement has had on American history, kids need to learn what life was like before these hard-fought changes. These works of historical fiction depict life during segregation, as well as the fierce resistance that civil rights campaigners and groundbreakers faced every day.

When Grandmama Sings

Written by: Margaree King Mitchell
Illustrated by: James Ransome
Recommended Age: 4 – 8


Belle is looking forward to an exciting summer: Grandmama Coles is touring the South with a swing jazz band, and Belle gets to come! But while the places she visits are new, some things are just the same… like the segregation Belle and Grandmama face at every stop. When Grandmama sings, though, everyone comes to listen, and Grandmama says she can see a day when people are united all the time. “That’s the kind of world I want for you,” she tells Belle. This book doesn’t shy away from the realities of segregation, but the optimistic tone highlights the power of art to bring people together.

Freedom On The Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins

Recommended Age: 5 – 8


When Connie and her mother go shopping at Woolworth’s, they can have a soda as a treat — but they have to drink them standing up, since African Americans aren’t allowed at the lunch counter. In fact, all over town there are signs telling Connie where she can’t go. Then, one day, her father says that Dr. King is coming to town, and soon Connie gets to see her older brother and sister joining the sit-in protests, in hopes that someday, anyone can sit down where they please. Carole Weatherford perfectly captures a child’s perspective, but still conveys an important message about the power of peaceful protest.

The Other Side

Written by: Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrated by: E. B. Lewis
Recommended Age: 5 – 8


Clover’s mother has always warned her against crossing the fence to the side of town where the white people live. But when she’s intrigued by Anna, her free-spirited white neighbor, the two girls come up with the perfect solution: neither of them has to cross the fence if both of them sit on top of it. Soon, all the children are gathering to play together, resting on top of the fence, and agreeing that “Someday somebody’s going to come along and knock this old fence down.” This poetic story celebrates the power of children to look past prejudice.

A Sweet Smell of Roses

Written by: Angela Johnson
Illustrated by: Eric Velasquez
Recommended Age: 5 – 8


A little girl and her sister sneak out of the house, down the street to where men and women are gathering for a protest march. In the air is the sweet smell of roses; in their minds, the sweet hope of justice and equality. Inspired by the many children who also participated in protests and marches, Johnson has written a poetic tribute to the spirit of optimism that pervaded the Civil Rights movement, perfectly accented with Velasquez’ charcoal illustrations, where small pops of color illuminate key details like the ribbon on a teddy bear, the roses, and the American flag.

Lillian’s Right To Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965

Written by: Jonah Winter
Illustrated by: Shane W. Evans
Recommended Age: 5 – 9


Today is election day, and nothing — not even the steep hill she has to climb to get to the polling station — will keep 100-year-old Lillian from placing her ballot. As she walks, she remembers the path through history that resulting in her path to the polls: her great-grandfather, voting for the first time after the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment; her parents, trying and failing to register to vote; and her own participation, many years ago, in a protest march from Selma to Montgomery. This vivid story of one woman’s determination provides an apt metaphor for the determination of those who fought for equal rights for all.

New Shoes

Written by: Susan Meyer
Illustrated by: Eric Velasquez
Recommended Age: 5 – 9


Ella Mae is excited when she outgrows her hand-me-down shoes — for the first time, she’ll get a new pair of her very own! But when they go to the shoe store, Ella Mae and her mother discover the shop owner only allows white people to buy. Determined to fight back, Ella Mae and her friend Charlotte create their own business, gathering used shoes and repairing and polishing them to perfection. And at their shoe sale, the African American members of their community get to “try on all the shoes they want.” This story provides an introduction to the concept of segregation, but also a powerful message of optimism.

White Socks Only

Written by: Evelyn Coleman
Illustrated by: Tyrone Geter
Recommended Age: 5 – 9


In this story-within-a-story, a granddaughter listens raptly as her grandmother tells her a tale of the segregated South. As a child, she saw a water fountain labelled with a sign reading “Whites only.” Innocently, she misinterpreted the sign to mean that she could only drink if she stood at the fountain in her white socks, so she kicked off her shoes… only to get pulled away by an angry white man, threatening to whip her. However, the African American adults nearby rallied to her aid, one by one kicking off their own shoes and taking their own deep drinks from the fountain. The depiction of segregation in this story is simplified to make it more accessible to young readers, but the message is clear: judging people by the color of their skin is as silly as judging them by the color of their socks.

Ruth and The Green Book

Written by: Calvin Alexander Ramsey
Illustrated by: Floyd Cooper
Recommended Age: 6 – 9


After lots of hard work, Ruth’s family have bought a car! Now they can take an adventurous journey from their home in Chicago to grandma’s home in Alabama. But the roadtrip becomes more difficult than they expected when they discover that many gas stations, hotels, and restaurants won’t serve black people. Fortunately, a kind gas station attendant introduces them to The Negro Motorist Green Book, a guidebook listing places across the country where their family will be welcomed. With The Green Book in Ruth’s hands, the family can finally look forward to the joyful reunion. This fascinating and little-known piece of history makes a unique subject for a picture book; an endnote includes more information about The Green Book.

Ruby Lee and Me

Written by: Shannon Hitchcock
Recommended Age: 8 – 12


There’s talk in town about the new sixth-grade teacher at Shady Creek. Word is spreading quickly — Mrs. Smyre is like no other teacher anyone has ever seen around these parts. She’s the first African American teacher. It’s 1969, and while black folks and white folks are cordial, having a black teacher at an all-white school is a strange new happening. For 12-year-old Sarah Beth, there are so many unanswered questions. What is all this talk about Freedom Riders and school integration? Why can’t she and Ruby become best friends? And who says school isn’t for anybody who wants to learn — or teach? In a world filled with uncertainty, one very special teacher shows her young students and the adults in their lives that change invites unexpected possibilities.

With The Might of Angels: The Diary of Dawnie Rae Johnson, Hadley, Virginia, 1954

Recommended Age: 8 – 12


With the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling, Dawnie’s world is turned upside down. Now, she has to attend a previously all-white school — alone, without her friends beside her — and face the harsh realities of angry reactions to enforced integration. Dawnie struggles to prove that she deserves the opportunity for a good education, but when her father loses his job and her brother is bullied, she questions whether it is all worth it. Fortunately, Dawnie has the determination to face these challenges head on, in hopes that others won’t face them in the future. This book from the popular Dear America historical fiction series captures the reality of what many students faced every day on the journey to school integration.

Remember: The Journey to School Integration

Written by: Toni Morrison
Recommended Age: 8 – 14


On the 50th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, the Supreme Court decision that ended legal school segregation, this astounding book was published in remembrance of the struggle to achieve this milestone of civil rights. Acclaimed author Toni Morrison uses archival photographs as the inspiration for a fictionalized account of the lives of children during the time of “separate but equal” schooling. By focusing on ordinary people, including children, and their roles in ending school segregation, Morrison has created a much needed reminder of the importance of this moment in American history.

Glory Be

Recommended Age: 8 and up


Glory has always looked forward to celebrating her July 4th birthday at the community pool. But in 1964, the summer she turns 12, that proves to be complicated. The town is in an uproar: Yankee “freedom people” are insisting that the pool be desegregated, and in response, the town has closed the pool “for repairs” indefinitely. As the conflict continues, and Glory comes of age, she begins to look beyond her own situation and see the closure of the pool in the context of the broader world. This memorable story captures the thoughts and feelings of a girl caught on the cusp of adulthood and facing true injustice she had never noticed before.

The Lions of Little Rock

Written by: Kristin Levine
Recommended Age: 10 – 13


It’s 1958, and twelve-year-old Marlee struggles at school, friendless and shy to the point of silence outside of her own family… until she meets Liz, the new girl at school. Fearless and determined, Liz knows just what to say to quiet the resident mean girl and to encourage Marlee to find her voice. Then, one day, Liz is gone; rumor has it that she was only passing as white. But Marlee decides that she doesn’t care: Liz is her best friend, and Marlee will do anything — even face the danger that comes with standing up against segregation — to have her friend back by her side. Heartfelt and satisfying, this story of friendship and the fight for justice will make young readers cheer.

Fire From The Rock

Written by: Sharon Draper
Recommended Age: 12 and up


12-year-old Sylvia is an honor student who is both thrilled and scared to be selected as one of the students to integrate Central High School in 1957 Little Rock. Unlike her older brother, she doesn’t want to be a hero; she just wants a chance to learn. And as the racism in Little Rock explodes — and even members of Sylvia’s own community speak out against integration — Sylvia starts to wonder if she would be better off in the black-only school, focusing on getting to college instead of changing the world. With an ending that will surprise young readers, this book is sure to prompt discussion, beginning with the question, “What would I have done?”

Six Ways to Give the Gift of Generosity to Children and Teenagers

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Cissie Bonini, who represented EatSF, a nonprofit that gives food vouchers to low-income residents, spoke at Brandeis School of San Francisco. Students there pool their money in what is essentially a mini-foundation. CreditJason Henry for The New York Times

This is not a guilt trip. Pile the presents to the sky, by all means.

Trump-hating grown-ups may want to throw every last gift-budget dollar into the Planned Parenthood bucket. If that’s your thing, do it.

But let this column be an additional seasonal reminder that generosity is a trait that nearly all of us share and hope to imprint on the children and teenagers in our orbit. So if you’re so inclined, commit yourself to doing at least one thing before the end of the year to bring the gift of giving to young people.

Here are six ideas to get you started:

FAMILY HISTORY Why be generous? It’s a perfectly reasonable question for an innocent kindergartner or oppositional teenager to ask.

One of the best reasons is to honor your own family’s history of having been helped, as I’ve written before. Every family has one, if you stop to think about it.

Mine includes receiving financial aid at two schools over the course of a decade, a mother who survived premenopausal breast cancer thanks to some excellent medical care, and grandparents on my wife’s side who survived the Holocaust and were welcomed to the United States.

So tell your family history to your children, grandchildren, nieces or students. Update it each year with new examples of others who helped you out along the way. Kids love hearing these stories, and it helps them understand why you feel moved to support the causes you do.

YOUR CHARITABLE PIE One of the most meaningful family conversations I can recall resulted from explaining to our older daughter how we divide our charitable budget. To my wife and me, the list of organizations was a pretty good inventory of the things we cared about most.

But was there anything missing, we wondered? There was, according to our 8-year-old, who made the case for donating to a scholarship fund at her camp.

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Students at the Brandeis School of San Francisco listening to Ms. Bonini on Wednesday. Charities pitch to the students to request a share of their funding. CreditJason Henry for The New York Times

You don’t have to lead with the total dollar amounts or disclose them at all. Instead, drop 100 beans on the table, divide them into piles and then label each pile, noting that for every $100 you give away, this is how you divide it up.

Still, you should be prepared for possible questions about how much you give, which may lead inevitably to ones about how much you make and how much you have. Not all children have the financial knowledge to make sense of the answers or the discretion to keep the numbers to themselves, but by the time they’re in their late teenage years, they are often ready.

FINDING A CAUSE Not every family, let alone every child, has a burning desire to help in some particular area. Annie Hernandez, the executive director of the Frieda C. Fox Family Foundation, suggested the possibility of a tour.

Call your local community foundation (the local entities that help collect and redirect charitable dollars), ask to speak with a program officer, disclose your budget and see if that person is willing to take you to see organizations and neighborhoods where assistance would be helpful.

No, this is not poverty tourism or akin to favela tours; you’re seeking out an expert precisely to avoid any insensitivity and to try to establish a lasting relationship. And even if the person you speak with can’t help you in person, he or she may be able to send you to other local organizations that are compatible with your general areas of interest.

SCHOOL-BASED FUNDS The best school-based giving program I’ve ever encountered is the yearlong effort that the seventh graders take on at the Brandeis School of San Francisco.

Rather than give one another token bar and bat mitzvah gifts, the students and their families at the Jewish kindergarten-through-eighth-grade day school take the money they would have spent, toss it into a giant pile and let the children give it away. With additional fund-raising, the total can sometimes exceed $30,000. Essentially, it’s a mini-foundation that opens in the fall and closes the following summer, featuring grown-ups representing charities who visit the school regularly to request a share through pitches to the students.

As part of the school’s Judaic Studies curriculum, students pair off, establish an area of interest, find three local organizations that help in that area and then present one of them to classmates for further evaluation. Criteria for the culling include the importance of the problem, proof of the organization’s effectiveness and how big of an impact the students’ gift could make given the size of the organization.

Each one is ripe material for extended conversation, which is exactly the point. Students can change their minds about their allocation votes at least once before the day comes to dole out as much as $5,000 per group. “Every year at the culminating event, there are parents crying,” said Jody Bloom, who teaches the Judaic Studies class. “It’s a lot of the reason that they send their kids to the school in the first place.”

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Students at Brandeis, a Jewish school, save the money they would normally spend on bar and bat mitzvah gifts and instead give to charity. With additional fund-raising, the total can sometimes exceed $30,000 in a year. CreditJason Henry for The New York Times

GIVING CIRCLES Many schools are not equipped to support curriculums that feature actual dollars, but nothing is stopping parents from establishing something like it outside the classroom. Mandy Kao, a mother of three in Houston and a real estate entrepreneur, had herself participated in a charitable giving circle, where a group of people pool resources to make collective decisions about grant making, when she decided to start a circle for her three boys and other children a few years ago.

The group of Houston-area youths raise money through a Mother’s Day brunch and other activities and receive matching funds from an organization called Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy.They’ve made grants to youth soccer programs that help refugees and to Big Brothers Big Sisters in an effort to try to encourage more Asian-Americans to serve as mentors.

In Manhattan, Sara Shapiro-Plevan, a consultant, is about to start a giving circle just for boys. She was plotting against the reality that by the time middle school rolls around, some children want nothing to do with members of the opposite sex, while others want everything to do with them. Either way, she figured, it would work better if it was just her sixth grader and his male friends. “It’s an easier way to have what might be a challenging conversation,” she said. “And to do something his mom was asking him to do.”

For many years, Jen Bokoff, a Brooklyn resident who works in philanthropy, has done a one-night-only circle with her family each Hanukkah. She and her relatives each bring $10, regardless of age, and then talk for a bit about an organization they favor. Everyone’s names go into a hat, someone picks and then that person’s organization gets all the money.

SHARING December can be a sad time for many adults, often because they feel diminished by the lavish holiday tales that flow through their social media feeds. Nevertheless, Ms. Hernandez is a big believer in talking about whatever giving we do, because it normalizes it as a regular holiday activity.

So how best for a family to share in a way that will not subtly shame some other adult having a more materialistic holiday?

Ms. Bokoff is the director of knowledge services at the Foundation Center, which helped build a resource-rich website for families and educators called youthgiving.org. In her world, the giving talk is often around donors’ treasure, time, talent and ties.

Treasure is the money. Time and talent are about volunteering, which children should certainly do too in their areas of interest.

As for the ties, that’s about your network — and for middle- and high-school-age children, their most powerful networks may be digital ones. “They can use those platforms to share causes they care about,” Ms. Bokoff said. “And if they do it, their friends are more likely to as well.”

Teaching Young Children About Bias, Diversity, and Social Justice

Edutopia

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When my daughter was three years old, I taught her the word “stereotype.” She was just beginning to string words together into sentences, had determined that pink was definitely not her favorite color, and asked (demanded, actually) why all the “girl stuff” was pink and the “boy stuff” was blue. Because there’s no three-year-old version for a word describing why colors are gendered in our society, I figured that planting the seed might yield fruit soon enough. And somewhat surprisingly, I was correct.

Who’s Different and What’s Fair

As a society and within our educational institutions, discussions about bias, diversity, discrimination, and social justice tend to happen in middle and high schools. We’ve somehow decided that little kids can’t understand these complex topics, or we want to delay exposing them to injustices as long as possible (even though not all children have the luxury of being shielded from injustice).

However, young children have a keen awareness of and passion for fairness. They demand right over wrong, just over unjust. And they notice differences without apology or discomfort.

Racial identity and attitudes begin to develop in children at a young age. Two- and three-year-olds become aware of the differences between boys and girls, may begin noticing obvious physical disabilities, become curious about skin color and hair color/texture, and may also be aware of ethnic identity. By the time they’re five and entering kindergarten, children begin to identify with an ethnic group to which they belong and are able to explore the range of differences within and between racial/ethnic groups. In terms of bias, by age three or four, white children in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Europe show preferences for other white children. Further, current research suggests that children as young as three years old, when exposed to prejudice and racism, tend to embrace and accept it even though they might not understand the feelings.

The good news is that bias can be unlearned or reversed if we’re exposed to diversity in a positive way. Harnessing young children’s desire for fairness and using it as opening to discuss bias and discrimination is not a hard leap, but one that needs to be made explicitly and with instruction. They are also not afraid to comment on observed differences. Decades of research indicate that even if parents and adults are not talking about race or other differences, children still notice differences and prejudice. If we choose not to teach or talk about it, children’s notions about race and differences will go unchecked and likely become further entrenched in their minds.

It’s also important that adults in children’s lives do not perpetuate the idea that we should be “colorblind” to racial differences or shush them when they notice someone with a disability. Sometimes adults do this out of their own discomfort with talking about differences, or because they think noticing differences somehow makes you biased. We want to encourage children to notice differences because they do so naturally, yet at the same time, honor people’s identities without judging or discriminating based on differences. In other words, noticing people’s differences is natural, but when adults assign judgments or value to these differences, bias can develop in young children.

5 Elementary Strategies

Elementary school is a time ripe for these discussions. Provided that teachers have the right tools and resources and use developmentally appropriate language and activities, teaching about these concepts can be rich and engaging for children, laying the groundwork for more sophisticated understanding when they move into the tween and teen years.

Here are five concrete ways of bringing discussions about bias and diversity into the elementary classroom:

1. Use children’s literature.

There’s a wealth of children’s books that can be read aloud and independently to approach the topic of bias, diversity, and social justice. Whether it’s about people who are different than your students (window books), an affirmation of their identity (mirror books), or one that exposes bias or shares stories of people who stood up to injustice, reading books is a core part of the elementary classroom curriculum and therefore a seamless way to address the topic.

2. Use the news media.

Find topics and news stories that bring forth these themes, discuss them in the classroom, and build other reading, writing, social studies, and math lessons around them. Relevant news stories that highlight bias and especially those where someone stood up to it and justice prevailed — like the nine-year-old boy who was banned from bringing his My Little Pony backpack to school because it was the source of bullying, or the story ofMisty Copeland becoming the first African American appointed as a principal dancer for the American Ballet Theater in its 75-year history — are terrific teachable moments.

3. Teach anti-bias lessons.

We know that all educators face a plethora of daily demands. But because children’s social and emotional development is a key part of the elementary curriculum and because much of the teasing, name-calling, and bullying is identity-based, it’s helpful for the classroom climate to set aside a time every week for an explicit lesson on this topic. Social and emotional skill development lessons are the foundation, and then teachers can move to lessons on identity, differences, bias, and how bias and bullying can be addressed individually and institutionally.

4. Give familiar examples.

Take advantage of children’s interest in books, TV shows, toys, and video games, and use them as opportunities to explore diversity, bias, and social justice. Whether it’s about toys and gender stereotypes, a New Jersey girlwho was tired of seeing books only about white boys and dogs, or discussing a new line of dolls with disabilities, you can provide openings for children to see how bias takes place in media and the everyday objects that they use.

5. Explore solutions.

Re-think the concept of “helping others” (through service learning projects or other volunteer opportunities) to include discussions with children about the inequities that contribute to the problem and consider actions that can address it. For example, while it’s useful to provide food to homeless people, we want to deepen the conversation to convey a social justice perspective and a wider lens with children. Therefore, discuss the stigma and stereotypes of homeless people, learn about unfair housing policies, and reflect on solutions that will reverse the problem in a lasting way and encourage students to take action.

Start Early

Recently, several prominent national education organizations (including theNEA, AERA, AFT, and NCTE) have called for addressing equity in schools and society, specifically recommending that we need to highlight the “systemic patterns of inequity — racism and educational injustice — that impacts our students,” and that educators and school leaders “receive the tools, training, and support they need to build curricula with substantive exploration of prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination.”

We need to begin this process with our youngest hearts and minds in order to have a lasting impact. What are your thoughts? How do you approach social justice issues with elementary students? Please share in the comments section below.