11 Books for Young Climate Activists

Earth Day is upon us once again, and I don’t know about you, but mine are looking different lately. Gone are the days when this millennial would spend April 22nd learning about endangered species in school. Now I spend Earth Day, and all of April, and pretty much every day of my life, really, worrying about the changing climate we’re experiencing here on our home planet. I think about greenhouse gas emissions every time I crave a bacon cheeseburger, wonder if the plastic containers from last night’s takeout are truly recyclable, and whenever I buy new clothing, I picture the dried-up Aral Sea or the mass of garbage floating in the Pacific.

It’s exhausting to think about all the ways that we contribute to climate change simply by existing. But instead of spending all our time in a near-paralytic state of worry, there are things we can do to slow down and perhaps even reverse climate change. And by “we,” I mean every one of us: guilt-addled tofu-munching Ziploc-reusing urban dwellers like myself, homeowners with roofs to solarize and garage outlets that can charge plug-in vehicles, all the way down to kids who are going to inherit this growing problem. Yep. Kids. They can absolutely fight against climate change, and the following book titles will help empower them to work for a brighter, more optimistic future.

Baby Loves Green Energy! Accurate enough to satisfy an expert, yet simple enough for baby, this clever board book explores the science of global warming and shows how we can use green energy to help combat climate change.

The Last Straw : Kids Vs. Plastics
There’s no doubt about it: plastic is in almost everything. From our phones and computers to our toys and utensils, plastic is everywhere. But the amount of plastic we throw away is hurting the health of our planet. With this book, readers will be fascinated as they learn about the growing plastic problem and meet just a few of the young activists who are standing up and speaking out for change.

Stand Up! Speak Up! : A Story Inspired by the Climate Change Revolution
After attending a climate march, a young activist is motivated to make an effort and do her part to help the planet by organizing volunteers to work to make green changes in their community. Here is an uplifting picture book that is an important reminder that no change is too small–and no person is too young–to make a difference.

Greta Thunberg
When young Greta learned of the climate crisis, she stopped talking. She couldn’t understand why people in power were not doing anything to save our Earth. One day she started protesting outside the Swedish Parliament, creating the “School Strike for Climate.” Soon, lots more young people joined her in a global movement that shook adults and politicians alike. She had found her voice and uses it to inspire humans to action with her powerful message: “No one is too small to make a difference.”

Kids Who Are Saving the Planet
You can make a difference, no matter how old you are! These kids are helping to save honeybees, teaching people the importance of clean air and water, raising money to help endangered birds, and writing petitions to raise awareness of climate change. You should meet these kids who are saving the planet!

What a Waste

Did you know that every single plastic toothbrush ever made still exists? Or that there’s a floating mass of garbage larger than the USA drifting around the Pacific Ocean? It’s not all bad news though. As well as explaining where we’re going wrong, this book shows what we’re doing right! Discover plans already in motion to save our seas, how countries are implementing schemes that are having a positive impact, and how your waste can be turned into something useful. Every small change helps our planet!

Recycle and Remake: Creative Projects for Eco Kids

Kids are on a mission to save the Earth! This book is the hands-on, practical guide you need to get started. Each of the activities directly relates to an environmental hot topic, such as plastic pollution, food waste, or deforestation. Budding environmentalists all over the world are feeling inspired to do their bit for our unique planet.

Old Enough to Save the Planet

As people saw in the youth climate strike in September 2019, kids will not stay silent about this subject: they’re going to make a change. Meet 12 young activists from around the world who are speaking out and taking action against climate change. Learn about the work they do and the challenges they face, and discover how the future of our planet starts with each and every one of us.

Climate Action: What Happened and What We Can Do
Did you know that the past five years have been the hottest ever recorded? Or that over seven million people participated in the global Climate Strike? We’re facing a very real problem, but there’s hope. Learn how our behavior and actions have led us to this point, hear from kids around the world dealing with extreme storms, wildfires, and sea level rise, and discover what scientists, youth activists, and ordinary citizens are doing to protect their communities.

This Book Will (Help) Cool the Climate: 50 Ways to Cut Pollution and Protect Our Planet!
Our planet is heating up, and it needs your help! If you want to learn to reduce your carbon footprint and cool the Earth, here are practical tips and projects that make a difference.

This Book Is Not Garbage: 50 Ways to Ditch Plastic, Reduce Trash, and Save the World!
Do you worry about the world’s waste? The bad news is, humans throw away too much trash. But the good news is, there are lots of easy ways you can get involved and make a difference! From ditching straws and banning glitter to hosting a plastic-free birthday party, helping to save the planet is not as difficult as you think. So, take control of your future! Become an eco-warrior instead of an eco-worrier and do your part to save the world from GARBAGE!

Bonus book: if your young activist is already following Greta’s Twitter account and policing your recycling bin for contraband, they could probably use a story about how we humans have managed to fix our mistakes. I adore Bringing Back the Wolves: How a Predator Restored an Ecosystem for its uplifting true story featuring one of our iconic national parks, its inviting illustrations, and its generous serving of scientific info. Plus wolves are awesome.

Books for Budding Chefs

I used to enjoy cooking and baking once, but life happened (as it does), and over the years it evolved from a fun hobby into a chore. I’ve bounced back from my low point of lockdown-era frozen buffalo chicken strips, but cooking is still not something that brings me joy. Even when I try new recipes. No, especially when I try new recipes. There’s too much thinking, too many variables, not enough autopilot. I groan whenever my produce subscription boxes send me yet another unidentifiable root vegetable that requires a consultation with the internet. And if a new recipe starts going sideways – I’m looking at you, butternut squash gnocchi that I made for Christmas – I tend to season the cooking process with a heaping spoonful of expletives.

Luckily, my attempts at culinary novelty usually turn out pretty good. But I still prefer to fall back on my tried-and-true recipes: the ones I could do in my sleep, without sounding like I’m performing a read-aloud from the recipe section of Bad Manners. I applaud the home cooks who enjoy tackling new kitchen adventures. And I especially applaud those who can do it with little ones running around. If you need to clear some table space for creativity, or if you’re just trying to cook off this week’s mystery veg without introducing young ears to – ahem – new vocabulary, why not keep your kids safely occupied with a book? These fun and engaging stories cover some of our favorite foods, from nachos to chocolate chip cookies. They might even inspire your kids to go beyond the role of Brownie Batter Bowl Licker and move up to Chef-in-Training… even if the position is only open on low-stress dinner nights where the only duty is arranging the frozen buffalo chicken strips (or more likely, dinosaur chicken nuggets) on a baking sheet.

Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku Ando.   Every day, Ando Momofuku would retire to his lab–a little shed in his backyard. For years, he’d dreamed about making a new kind of ramen noodle soup that was quick, convenient, and tasty to feed the hungry people he’d seen in line for a bowl on the black market following World War II. “Peace follows from a full stomach,” he believed.  With persistence, creativity, and a little inspiration, Ando prevailed. This is the true story behind one of the world’s most popular foods.

How the Cookie Crumbled: The True (and Not-So-True) Stories of the Invention of the Chocolate Chip Cookie.   Everyone loves chocolate chip cookies! But not everyone knows where they came from. Meet Ruth Wakefield, the talented chef and entrepreneur who started a restaurant, wrote a cookbook, and invented this delicious dessert. But just how did she do it, you ask? That’s where things get messy!

Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix.  For Chef Roy Choi, food means love. It also means culture, not only of Korea where he was born, but the many cultures that make up the streets of Los Angeles, where he was raised. So remixing food from the streets, just like good music—and serving it up from a truck—is true to L.A. food culture. People smiled and talked as they waited in line. Won’t you join him as he makes good food smiles?

Dumpling Dreams: How Joyce Chen Brought the Dumpling from Beijing to Cambridge.
A rhyming introduction to the life and influence of famous chef Joyce Chen describes how she immigrated to America from communist China and how she helped popularize Chinese food in the northeastern United States.

The Hole Story of the Doughnut.  In 1843, 14-year old Hanson Gregory left his family home in Rockport, Maine and set sail as a cabin boy on the schooner Achorn, looking for high stakes adventure on the high seas. Little did he know that a boat load of hungry sailors, coupled with his knack for creative problem-solving, would yield one of the world’s most prized pastries.

Minette’s Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat. While Julia is in the kitchen learning to master delicious French dishes, the only feast Minette is truly interested in is that of fresh mouse!

Nacho’s Nachos: The Story Behind the World’s Favorite Snack.   Celebrating 80 Years of Nachos, this book introduces young readers to Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya and tells the true story of how he invented the world’s most beloved snack in a moment of culinary inspiration.

And because my editor would be very unhappy if I got this far without mentioning at least one cookbook, here’s our newest titles to help your Chef-in-Training build their skills:

The Big, Fun Kids Cookbook.   Each recipe is totally foolproof and easy to follow, with color photos and tips to help beginners get excited about cooking. The book includes recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and dessert — all from the trusted chefs in Food Network’s test kitchen.

Kitchen Explorers! 60+ Recipes, Experiments, and Games for Young Chefs.    What makes fizzy drinks fizzy? Can you create beautiful art using salt? Or prove the power of smell with jelly beans? Kitchen Explorers brings the kitchen alive with kid-tested and kid-approved recipes, fun science experiments, hands-on activities, plus puzzles, word games, and more.

Grandma and Me in the Kitchen.   This cookbook, made just for Grandma and her little chefs, is full of foods they will both love to cook together! Along with recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and desserts are tips for creating traditions and finding ways to celebrate the everyday wonderfulness of just being together.

 

We have tons more cookbooks in the children’s and adults sections of the library. What are you planning to cook up in 2021?

Keeping House: The Hidden History I Uncovered with Genealogy Records

Ancestry Library Edition is the library version of Ancestry.com and is available free to Cheshire Library cardholders. Originally available only inside the library, access was expanded to include home use when the Covid-19 pandemic closed libraries down  in the spring of 2020. Ancestry has continued to allow expanded access during these times of social distancing. CPL staffer Lauren took full advantage of Ancestry’s resources to research some old photos she came across:

When my grandmother cleaned out her house, I inherited a collection of old photos, documents, and books. Many items were of unknown origins, collected by a long-dead relative and placed in a series of boxes and bags, which in turn was tucked into a closet until it emerged one Sunday afternoon. I was fascinated. I spent hours going through the pages of the books and turning over the photos to see the names. I grew to recognize them, even if I couldn’t exactly connect them to me. Here in this local history book is a Balliet: the name I carried for most of my life. This photo, a Bloss. Here’s a Schneider, a Kern. But nothing haunted me quite like the handwritten inscription that prefaced a photo album: “Presented to Kate E. Haines by her Affectionate Mother, July 18, 1866.”

There were two such photo albums, small, sturdy, and so elegant they seemed out of place. Inside the albums, the trading card-sized cartes de visite showed women in dark corseted dresses and bearded men in somber coats, all sitting or standing in professional studio settings. Unlike the faces in the black-backed scrapbook, framed in glossy three-by-fives and looking out candidly from lawns and stoops, I found no familiar features in these posed men and women. They were a complete mystery. Who were they? Who was Kate? And how did my family come to possess the remnants of her life?

Lillie, my second-great-grandmother, as a young woman in the 1890s

There are no Haineses in my family. At least, not according to the hefty History of the Counties of Lehigh and Carbon in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It’s one of the books in my collection, published in 1884, and it sits on a shelf with the first and third volumes of the 1914 History of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, and a Genealogical and Biographical Record of Its Families. Inside their pages I traced my sixth-great-grandfather, Paulus Balliet, from his 1717 birth in Alsace-Lorraine, to his 1738 arrival in Philadelphia and his quick rise to small-town gentry in Lehigh County. The Balliet branch of my family is heavy with documents and stories. The Bloss branch isn’t as full, but I know it by its physical pieces. I have photos of my second-great-grandmother, wearing tiny wire-framed glasses and the hint of a smile. Her name was Lillie. We shared birthdays, first initials, imperfect eyesight. She married a Balliet. I have a composition book full of her handwritten recipes. The black-backed scrapbook has photos from her father’s slate quarries, captioned by her son. I put those objects in one archival box, and the Haines albums went into a separate box of photos with unknown subjects.

Another tintype probably from Kate.

Once, I removed the cartes de visite from the Haines albums. I flipped them over one by one, turning up three handwritten notes with unfamiliar, untraceable names. I tried pinpointing the time period by looking at their clothing. I googled “Kate E Haines,” hoping for the same luck I’d had with the Balliets in my family. I even documented which studios took each photo, hoping that the series of names, addresses, designs, index numbers would somehow suddenly open up a revelation. But, like the single mirrored daguerreotype in my collection of photos, Haines was a ghost.

Portrait of an unknown woman, probably from the mid-1800s. This daguerreotype’s reflective qualities distinguish it from the more common ambrotypes and tintypes.

Last spring, as covid kept us in our homes, I needed a project to occupy myself. It was announced that the genealogy database Ancestry.com was expanding access to Ancestry Library Edition. I knew from my past life as a reference librarian that Ancestry Library Edition was a trove of genealogical information that can normally be used only at local libraries. But for the foreseeable future, researchers could access the database from home. I immediately took an early lunch and grabbed my archival boxes and a fresh notebook. For the first time, I had unfettered access to vital records, grave markers, and the research that other genealogists had completed. I began to fill in the bare branches. It didn’t take me long to see how the names connected, how they flowed down to me. And, curiously, how they flowed back from Lillie. A name I recognized from an 1833 birth certificate turned out to be her grandmother, my fourth-great-grandmother. More names appeared that matched the scrawled labels on the backs of photographs. Lillie had been curiously absent from those lineups of Bloss women on front porches. But it started to make sense. Someone had been holding the camera, focusing the lens, calling the relatives to attention. Someone put those photos in the black-backed scrapbook. Someone had held onto the history books. Not a Balliet, as I’d first suspected. A Bloss. Lillie was one of my collectors.

Once I made those connections, it didn’t take me long to move on to Kate E. Haines. Google had turned up nothing a year ago. This time, though, I had the full range of records from Ancestry Library Edition. I typed in “Haines, Kate E.” A few hits, but nothing that looked right. “Haines, Kate E,” and I expanded the search to look for similar names. I got thousands of hits. I gave her a birth date between 1840 and 1855, assuming that the 1866 photo album was a teenage birthday gift, or a marriage gift. I set her location to Pennsylvania. Too many results from Philadelphia, so I refined it to Lehigh County, Pennsylvania.

And then I found the death certificate for Mrs. Catherine Balliet, informed by Lillie Balliet.

1880 Census record for Ballietsville Village, North Whitewall Township, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania.

Vital records tell a story, if you know how to read them. In a census, the sudden appearance of a household member sixty years younger than the head can indicate a recently widowed daughter or son moving back with their parents, their child in tow. Inconsistent spellings of last names can point to either illiteracy or, in the case of my overwhelmingly German ancestors,* that the bearer moves between two languages. Kate’s death certificate told me that she had no remaining blood relatives.

The other records on Ancestry Library Edition confirmed my suspicion. The census entries and family trees showed her birth in 1849, and her mother’s marriage to a second husband when Kate was six years old. Her father, presumably, had died. I found a child of hers who died in infancy, a husband who died a year later. A later census places her as the wife in the household of my third-great-granduncle, a Balliet man almost forty years her senior. She is younger than the stepchildren she lives with. Before she reaches the age of 45, she will lose her mother, her second husband, her remaining daughter. She spends the rest of her years living with her unmarried, childless sisters until they, too, die. When she herself passes in 1924, it’s not her stepchildren who recount the details of her life. It’s Lillie, her niece by marriage. Lillie was only a girl when Kate was widowed a second time and her ties to the Balliet family, at least on paper, were severed.

Portrait of a young woman, possibly Kate Haines’ daughter, encased in a heart with embroidered flowers. The back reads “Handle with care – Miss Mamie Emery.”

I have no explanation for how Lillie came to know Kate, her aunt-in-law, well enough to recount her information to a medical examiner. But she did. I can imagine Lillie cleaning out Kate’s room after her death. She sees the photo album that contains the cartes de visite from decades of friends and family. She opens it up, recognizing a face here and there. She spots the second album. There’s more photos: tintypes, a daguerreotype, small keepsake hearts. She moves about the room and silently gathers them up until she holds the last traces of Kate Haines in her hands. She takes one final look around, then closes the door on the dark, still room.

Looking at the people who entered her life and left too soon, I think I understand why Kate collected so many photos. It’s why my second-great-grandmother Lillie took her albums and placed them alongside her family’s history books. She was keeping house.

The Bloss Family in the early 1900s. Lillie is at the top left.

These women that I’ve come to know through their objects and my research – women who were teachers and gifted students and descendants of prominent locals – when they married, the totality of their lives was diminished over and over again to a single line on the census: “keeping house.” And they kept house in the fullest sense of the word. Not only did they physically maintain the members of their families, their children and husbands and mothers, but they also maintained the intangible threads that held them together. They remembered the names, the stories, the histories. They kept the photos and the history books. They kept their fathers’ geography textbooks and their aunts’ albums and their grandmothers’ tiny crochet hooks and the commencement programs that listed their mothers-in-law as school valedictorians.

And I see it happening today. In my family and in so many others, the women are arranging baby showers and funerals, grocery shopping for barbecues and get-togethers, reminding everyone about upcoming birthdays and anniversaries, writing messages in cards, buying pages for scrapbooks and frames for photos, and placing their children’s school projects in a box in their closet. When the day is done, some of them are sitting down in front of computer screens and typing names of their relatives and their husbands’ relatives into genealogical databases. We all know our family histories because of the women who are keeping house. And many of us will do the same, holding our histories and passing them on to our own granddaughters and grandsons, and hoping they, in turn, will continue to keep their house.

I intend to do my part.

 

* When I tell non-Pennsylvanians that I’m Pennsylvania Dutch, I often get strange looks, as if they’re wondering about my Amish rumspringa. But Pennsylvania Dutch, or Pennsylvania German, refers to all German-speaking Protestants who came to Pennsylvania from the Rhineland in the 17th and 18th century. They assimilated and became farmers and wives and business owners and statesmen, and their descendants continued to speak their German dialect for hundreds of years. Insular communities like the Amish and Mennonites still speak it today, but the vast majority of PA Dutch descendants today have little to no knowledge of the dialect. My grandfather spoke it, but my grandmother knows only English, though she speaks with a strong accent. My only linguistic trace of the region is my fondness for the word “rutsch,” a verb used to describe the barely-contained energy of small children who have been sitting in one place for too long. I have yet to find a satisfying equivalent in standard English.

Delightfully Creepy Chronicles for Kids

Ah, it’s October. We’re all reaching for our big thick cardigans (at least, that’s what we librarians are doing), admiring the mums and pumpkins at the local nurseries, and wondering why pie spices keep showing up in places they don’t belong. But if you’re anything like me, you’re more intent on finding something more than that chilly evening wind to send a shiver down your spine. Yep. I’m talking horror stories.

You know the hard stuff you can find in the adult section of the library: Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft, Shirley Jackson, Paul Tremblay. But what about spooky stories that are just right for your young ghouls and goblins? You can’t just plop the Necronomicon into the hands of your third-grader and leave her to her own devices while you go heat up the centaur’s blood apple cider or rake the leaves off the ancient graveyard lawn. No, you need to start them off with little scares. And have I got the scares for you. Hold on a sec while I light a candle and look around this dark bookshelf of mine. This one, this one… and this one. Now just let me dust the spiderwebs off the covers of these books. Those whispers you hear swirling around the room? Nothing. Nothing you need to worry about, anyway. Here’s your books. You better take them and go. Quickly. Back out to the light. You never know what might emerge from the darkness if you stare into it for too long.

 

Scary Stories to Tell in the DarkWhen kids are more interested scary tales than fairy tales, this classic title delivers. With stories derived from folktales, they range from terrifying to creepy to humorous at times. And if you can’t get enough of them, don’t miss More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones!

In a Dark, Dark Room. Need scary stories that still have some training wheels? Step into the dark spaces of In a Dark, Dark Room, a collection of seven scary stories that are perfect for budding readers. This book includes that story – you know, that story – with the girl who always wore a ribbon around her neck.


Eerie ElementaryThey say that horror is a safe way to explore real fears, and what better way to channel the anxieties of school than by reading a series of books where the school itself is out to get its students? Sam Graves and his friends take on science fairs, recess, substitute teachers, and maybe some mad scientists in their efforts to keep themselves and their fellow students safe in this series just for early chapter book readers.

The Jumbies. In a spine-tingling tale that is rooted in Caribbean folklore, 11-year-old Corinne must call on her courage and an ancient magic to stop an evil spirit and save her island home. Look for the second and third books at the library too!

City of Ghosts. After surviving a near-fatal drowning that gives her the ability to enter the spirit world, Cassidy, the daughter of television ghost-hunters, visits Edinburgh where the encounters with the city’s old ghosts reveals the dangers that come with her powers.

The Girl in the Locked Room. Mary Downing Hahn is a veteran author of ghost stories for elementary school kids, and her latest book is sure to scratch that phantom itch. Told in two voices, Jules, whose father is restoring an abandoned house, and a girl who lived there a century before begin to communicate and slowly, the girl’s tragic story is revealed.

The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street. When lights start flickering and temperatures suddenly drop, twelve-year-old Tessa Woodward, sensing her new house may be haunted, recruits some new friends to help her unravel the mystery of who or what is trying to communicate with her and why.

Scary Stories for Young Foxes. When Mia and Uly are separated from their litters, they discover a dangerous world full of monsters. In order to find a den to call home, they must venture through field and forest, facing unspeakable things that dwell in the darkness: a zombie who hungers for their flesh, a witch who tries to steal their skins, a ghost who hunts them through the snow . . . and other things too scary to mention.

Ghosts. Catrina and her family are moving to the coast of Northern California because her little sister, Maya, is sick. Cat isn’t happy about leaving her friends for Bahía de la Luna, but Maya has cystic fibrosis and will benefit from the cool, salty air that blows in from the sea. As the girls explore their new home, a neighbor lets them in on a secret: There are ghosts in Bahía de la Luna. Maya is determined to meet one, but Cat wants nothing to do with them. As the time of year when ghosts reunite with their loved ones approaches, Cat must figure out how to put aside her fears for her sister’s sake — and her own.

Small Spaces. After eleven-year-old Ollie’s school bus mysteriously breaks down on a field trip, she has to take a trip through scary woods, and must use all of her wits to survive. She must stick to small spaces.

The Song from Somewhere ElseFrank thought her summer couldn’t get any worse–until big, weird, smelly Nick Underbridge rescues her from a bully, and she winds up at his house. Frank quickly realizes there’s more to Nick than meets the eye. When she’s at his house, she hears the strangest, most beautiful music, music which leads her to a mysterious, hidden door. Beyond the door are amazing creatures that she never even dreamed could be real. For the first time in forever, Frank feels happy . . . and she and Nick start to become friends. But Nick’s incredible secrets are also accompanied by great danger. Frank must figure out how to help her new friend, the same way that he has helped her.

Problematic Classics and Contemporary Solutions

 You ever go back to a book or a movie that you loved as a kid, and just as you’re getting into it again, suddenly you’re sideswiped by something that makes you cringe? I’m not talking about convoluted plots or lackluster acting. I’m talking about the moment you realize that this thing you loved so much is racist. Or contains any number of outdated and harmful perspectives towards people of different faith, ability, skin gender, sex, orientation, or level of income.
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Many of us have warm fuzzy feelings associated with classics that are deeply problematic. And listen: that is fine. Every reader has the right to read and enjoy the books of their choosing. And I’m certainly not advocating that we should ditch these items from our home collections or our public shelves. That would be censorship, and librarians aren’t cool with that.  However, once we as readers become aware that something is potentially harmful, we then have the responsibility to remove or mitigate that harm. That’s why we have big bold warnings on cigarette packaging, and why our normal lives ground to a halt a few months ago in the face of a deadly pandemic. So, how do we handle problematic books? To read, or not to read? There are strong arguments for both sides, and there’s no one right way.  It’s a challenge to provide an age-appropriate context to our kids when we adults are still trying to educate ourselves about our country’s history.
And  if we do want to include some of these books with outdated perspectives in our reading,  it might be helpful to choose additional books to read as a “counterbalance”, to better reflect the world in which our young readers currently live. To help with these decisions, here are some problematic classics and contemporary solutions.
One more note before we delve in: the idea of a Classic Book or any canon of literature, is a construct. We made it up. Classics were decided by people with loud voices: people with access to good education, good jobs, stable finances, and influential social circles. (And yes, this usually means white men, as well as folks who received the endorsement of white men.) Now, in 2020, we have the unprecedented ability to not only hear those voices that have been historically quiet, but also to amplify them to a level that they deserve. We get to determine for ourselves what books, movies, and other artifacts of culture are truly important enough to wear the label of “classic” and pass on to our children.
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The Classic: Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The Problem: Wilder’s unsympathetic portrayal of Native Americans. A character says at one point, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” I’m not sure if that’s before or after Pa participates in a minstrel show, but oh yeah, that’s in there, too.
The Solution: The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich
The first book in the five-book series following Omakayas through her daily life as an Ojibwa girl near present-day Lake Superior in the 1840s. Voracious readers who love strong female leads, history, and slice-of-life stories will devour these books with enthusiasm.
Another Solution: Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park
Park loved the Little House books as a child, and this story of a half-Chinese girl who settles with her family in the Dakota territory reflects the spirit of those pioneer tales while addressing their shortcomings.
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The Classic: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The Problem: While the story of Atticus Finch fighting against injustice and racism is a much-loved classic for adults and kids alike, it filters the story of a black man through a white lens. Black characters, who are often portrayed with negative stereotypes, don’t get to tell their own story.
The Solution: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
A contemporary story of racism, violence, and injustice from the perspective of those who live it. Starr, a teenage girl with a strong family guiding her way, discovers her own power and her own voice. (Sound familiar?) With a story of police brutality and protests, it’s also a setting that will resonate with teens who are seeing it in their news feeds on a daily basis.
Another Solution: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor
This Newbery Medal winner also centers on a young black female protagonist and explores racism and injustice, but like Mockingbird, it’s set in mid-1930s Jim Crow deep south.
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The Classic: If I Ran the Zoo by Dr. Seuss

The Problem: Stereotyped portrayals of African and Asian ethnicities, plus it includes the idea that a non-white person could be on display in a zoo. There are plenty of other subtle and not-so-subtle instances of racist caricatures in the Seuss lineup.
The Solution: Ada Twist, Scientist written by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
Ada Twist is a curious little girl bound to become a scientist, and this book takes readers slyly through the scientific process, leading them along with a strong rhyming structure and a distinctive illustration style. It’s fun and funny, and when you’re done with Ada, there’s Rosie Revere, Engineer and Iggy Peck, Architect.
Another Solution: Last Stop on Market Street written by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson
This picture book revolves around a boy, a grandmother, and a bus ride. It’s simply told and simply illustrated, but this winner of the Newbery Award, Caldecott Honor, and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor has already become a new classic. And don’t make this your last stop: also check out de la Peña’s tear-jerker Love, and Robinson’s wordless reality-bender Another.
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The Classic: The Berenstain Bears series by Stan and Jan Berenstain

The Problem: The Berenstain Bears mirror a stereotypical homogeneous nuclear family: one boy, one girl, one stay-at-home mom who rules the house with an iron claw and dispenses moral proclamations while wearing a housedress, and a bumbling dad who needs more parenting than the kids. All the same species/color, I might add. Maybe some families looked like this, once upon a time in a land far away, but this is not what they look like now. Women have jobs, men contribute more to housework and parenting, and families are more diverse than ever with blended families, single parents, same-sex parents, and mixed-race  families. Speaking of race, children’s publishing has a huge problem with diversity, and a sobering report from 2018 showed that bears, rabbits, and other anthropomorphized critters were depicted in children’s books more than all non-white races combined. The beloved bears aren’t necessarily bad, but they’re not really relevant, either.
The Solution: Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall
Jabari is a little boy whose dad takes care of him and his sister, and Dad offers light but steady support as his son learns how to face his fears on his own. And keep your eye our for Jabari’s return in a second book slated for release this fall!
Another Solution: Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems
Okay, okay, so you want your beginning reader to sink their teeth into a massive series of books, and they’re a sucker for animals. Best friends Elephant and Piggie explore the nuances of patience, sharing, including friends of differing abilities, and generally being a good friend, but they’re more fun and way less heavy-handed than the bear family.