This column focuses on global issues of social justice and climate change. The books reviewed cover events from history and the actions of individuals, including young people, that raise awareness of the effects of these issues and serve as inspiration for transforming awareness into action.
Climate Warriors: Fourteen Scientists and Fourteen Ways We Can Save Our Planet. Laura Gehl. (2023). Millbrook.
In Climate Warriors, a diverse group of scientists (an economist who studies economic effects of people’s needs and wants, a psychologist who investigates perceptions of climate scientists, a civil engineer who creates biofuels and recyclable plastic, a medical doctor concerned about equitable health care, and researchers in ten other fields) address questions related to climate change and its effects on the planet. Each chapter includes a profile of a “climate warrior” with an introductory paragraph on childhood interests that contributed to their career choice and a photograph, details of their work, recommendations for action based on their findings, and a “What You Can Do” note. Laura Gehl introduces key concepts related to the climate crisis and the urgency for working together to address the rapidly changing global environment. “Fighting climate change is a team effort.” Back matter includes a glossary, source notes, a bibliography, further reading, and an index. (Gr 3 Up)
Global. Eoin Colfer & Andrew Donkin. Illus. by Giovanni Rigano. (2023). Sourcebooks Young Readers.
Twelve-year-old Sami lives in a coastal village on the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh, and 14-year-old Yuki lives in a small Canadian town at the Arctic Circle. Their adventure/survival stories are told in alternating chapters in this graphic novel that illustrates the effects of global warming in two different regions of the world. Fishermen Sami and his grandfather find fewer and fewer fish as heavy storms and frequent flooding repeatedly destroy their village and force them to rebuild further from the ocean. Yuki sets out with her dog, Lockjaw, to track a bear that has been foraging for food that the townspeople are threatening to shoot. If she can take a photo of the bear to submit to the Conservation Center to prove that it is a grolar, a grizzly-and-polar bear hybrid, she might be able to save it. The back matter of this timely novel includes a “What Is Global Warming?” section (also in graphic novel format), and a sketchbook. (Gr 6 Up)
How Do You Spell Unfair?: MacNolia Cox and the National Spelling Bee. Carole Boston Weatherford. Illus. by Frank Morrison. (2023). Candlewick.
African American eighth-grader MacNolia Cox (1923-1976) loved to spell. “Her idea of fun was reading the dictionary.” In 1936, MacNolia won her school’s spelling bee in Akron, Ohio, and after out-spelling 50 of the city’s best spellers in the bee sponsored by the Beacon Journal, won a trip to the National Spelling Bee in Washington, DC. She and her mother face discrimination in traveling to and staying in the Washington area, and at the competition, MacNolia and another African American contestant are assigned seats at a table separate from the other spellers. Frank Morrison’s warm, vibrant illustrations rendered in oil and spray paint show MacNolia’s dedication and persistence in preparing for competition and remaining calm under pressure as she becomes one of the five finalist while being treated unfairly during the National Spelling Bee. Carole Boston Weatherford’s foreword and epilogue provide a context for MacNolia Cox’s achievement in the history of spelling bees in America. A selected bibliography is included. (PreK Up)
How to Be a (Young) Antiracist. Ibram X. Kendi & Nic Stone. (2023). Kokila.
Nic Stone adapts Ibram X. Kendi’s memoir, How to Be an Antiracist (2019), and using second-person narration, recounts the events and individuals that shaped Kendi in his journey from the internalized racism of his youth to the activism of his adult life in three parts. In the first part, “Inside: Facing Ourselves,” she defines and gives examples of essential terms such as racism, racial inequity, racist policy, and antiracism and explores the origins of race as a power construct to explain that the term race comes from racism. In the second part, “Outside: Facing the World,” Stone covers Kendi’s exploration of racist ideas such as those related to skin color, ethnicity, gender, and orientation that support racial inequities. In the third part, “Upside Down: Flipping the World Over,” she addresses taking action against racism and introduces “the Four C’s of Changemaking: Cogency, Compassion, Creativity, Collaboration.” Stone punctuates the chapters with words and phrases in bold face that she defines succinctly and adds chatty Post-it-like NIC’S NOTES that support the narrative. Back matter includes an afterward, acknowledgements by both Kendi and Stone, and extensive endnotes. (Gr 6 Up)
Malala Speaks Out (Speak Out #2). Malala Yousafzai. Commentary by Clara Fons Duocastella. Trans. by Susan Ouriou. Illus. by Yael Frankel. (2023). Groundwood.
In 2014, at the age of 17, Malala Yousafzai (born in 1997 in the Swat Valley of Northern Pakistan) became the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. In her acceptance speech, Malala identifies herself as a committed and stubborn person “who wants to see every child getting quality education, who wants to see women having equal rights, and who wants peace in every part of the world.” She makes an impassioned plea “for those forgotten children who want an education,” who are deprived of their rights because of social taboos or because they are forced into child labor and child marriages. She entreats people to decide to be the last generation “that sees empty classrooms, lost childhoods and wasted potentials.” Clara Fons Duocastella’s commentary provides historical and social contexts for Malala’s speech and explains ways in which she captivated her audience. Wangari Speaks Out, the third book in this series of inspiring speeches on global issues and the actions individuals have taken to address them, will be published in September 2023. (Gr 3 Up)
A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School (Adapted for Young Readers). Carlotta Walls LaNier (with Lisa Frazier Page). (2023). Delacorte.
In September 1957, at the age of 14, Carla Walls was the youngest of the nine Black students to enter prestigious, all-white Little Rock Central High School under the desegregation order issued by the Supreme Court of the United States in its decision in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case. In chronicling this important civil rights event in U.S. history, Carlotta Walls LaNier tells a compelling personal story of the challenges she faced in surviving daily abuse from fellow students and the actions she and the other Black students who became known as the Little Rock Nine took to protect themselves as she went on to be the first Black woman to graduate from Central High School. LaNier also explains her silence for decades from speaking out on the effects of racism on her, her family, and the community. Back matter includes a section of captioned photographs, a note on sources, acknowledgements, and an “About the Authors” section. (Gr 6 Up)
No World Too Big: Young People Fighting Climate Change. Lindsay H. Metcalf, Keila V. Dawson, & Jeanette Bradley (Eds.). Illus. by Jeanette Bradley. (2023). Charlesbridge.
No World Too Big presents profiles of 12 individuals and three groups of young people from around the world who noticed and took action on an environmental problem related to climate change. Each double-spread entry features an introductory poem, a paragraph about the activist or group identifying where they live and a description of their action and its effect, and a brief note on how a reader can take a related action set against a colorful digitally-painted illustration with a portrait of the activist or group. For example, “The Green School: Bali’s Bio Bus” (a Vietnamese-style lục bát poem) introduces four students in Bali who “thought of a climate friendly way to shuttle students to school” for their senior service project. They bought a bus and learned to make biodiesel fuel for the bus from used cooking oil they collected on the island. Later, other students converted more buses. Back matter includes suggestions of environmental actions individuals and groups can take, a glossary, description of poetic forms, “Visualizing Greenhouse Gases” infographic images, and biographies of the poets. (Gr 3 Up)
The Sum of Us: How Racism Hurts Everyone (Adapted for Young Readers). Heather McGhee. (2023). Delacorte.
In this adaptation for young readers of The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together (2021), Heather McGhee argues that the adherence of Americans to zero-sum thinking, the idea that benefits for one person or group means diminished benefits for another person or group, and to the core belief in a hierarchy of human value are at the heart of American racist policies and practices. To make her case, McGhee presents lessons she learned from exhaustive conversations with American activists working in different contexts including labor, banking, health care, housing, and education. Her narrative reveals how often these activists come up against a small minority in power and leaders who pit “communities against each other using dog whistle politics, like ‘Medicaid’ equates to black freeloading people.’” She also presents cases where activism has created social solidarity where a benefit to one community benefited many. In expanding Medicaid, for example, building a new Arkansas health clinic provided more jobs and served more patients “causing a measurable improvement in community health.” Back matter includes acknowledgements, an index, and a note that supplemental resources can be downloaded from her website (HeatherMcGhee.com). (Gr 9-12)
We Are Your Children Too: Black Students, White Supremacists, and the Battle for America’s Schools in Prince Edward County, Virginia. P. O’Connell Pearson. (2023). Simon & Schuster.
Barbara Johns, a 16-year-old Black student wanted a school that wasn’t as dilapidated, ill-equipped, and overcrowded as R. R. Moton High School, the school that Black students attended in segregated Farmsville in Prince County, Virginia. She wasn’t asking for anything “as risky as desegregation” when, in the spring of 1951, she led a students’ strike in an attempt to get the school board to repair or replace their high school. The students’ strike engaged community clergymen and the NAACP and went on to become part of the desegregation class-action Brown v. Board of Education law suit that led to the US Supreme Court ruling in 1954 that segregation in public schools based on race is unconstitutional. Resistance to integration in Prince Edward County, including formally closing public schools while public funds supported the private and all-white academy in 1959, continued until the US Supreme Court ruling in Griffin v. School Board of Prince Edward County led to the reopening of the county’s public schools in September 1964. P. O’Connell Pearson’s heartrending book, with its social and historical contexts, chronicles the effects of years without public schools and depicts resourceful actions of families to support children’s education showing “perseverance against centuries-old racism.” The book includes archival photographs and extensive back matter (an epilogue, acknowledgments, time line, a selected bibliography, recommended reading, endnotes, and an index). (Gr 6 Up)
Sandip Wilson is a professor in the School of Education and Department of English of Husson University, Bangor, Maine, and serves as President of the CL/R SIG
These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG).