Book Reviews

For more children's book reviews and recommended book lists, visit Recommended Teaching Resources page.  

Painting for Peace in Ferguson by Carol Swartout Klein is a dismaying example of good intentions gone wrong. Using art to unite and heal in the face of adversity is a beautiful thing, but this book of photographs and trite, demeaning explanations of the unrelenting police brutality and finally uprising in Ferguson, Missouri, white-washes history and reality. Read more
—Reviewed by Lena Amick, parent organizer, Teaching for Change

NOT Recommended: A Birthday Cake for George Washingon
By Ramin Ganeshram, Vanessa Brantley-Newton (Illustrator)

A book about Hercules as the first celebrity chef in the U.S. could have been a welcome title in a landscape that lacks sufficient quality books by and about people of color, but Hercules and his daughter are presented as proud servants without juxtaposing their bondage to their owner or to the institution of slavery. Read more.

—Reviewed by Allyson Criner Brown, associate director of Teaching for Change

The Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist
By Margarita Engle, Aliona Bereghici (Illustrator)

Through free verse and lovely illustrations, Margarita Engle and Aliona Bereghici introduce a new generation to Agassiz Fuertes, whose work could inspire children to pay attention to the birds in their own communities. Read more.

—Reviewed by Deborah Menkart, executive director, Teaching for Change

No Easy Answers: A Primer on the Humanitarian Crisis in Syria
Edited by Nader Hashemi and Danny Postel

The Syria Dilemma is an important example of how to thoroughly investigate the type of moral challenge that confronts the world today without forcing a conclusion on readers (or allowing them to look away). Read more.

—Reviewed by Jeff Epton, Teaching for Change volunteer

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
By Bryan Stevenson

Stevenson has written an incredibly moving narrative of the injustice that is visited by the justice system on some of the most vulnerable in the society... Read more.

—Reviewed by Enid Lee, director of Enid Lee Consultants and a virtual scholar for Teaching for Change

Martin de Porres: The Rose in the Desert
By Gary D. Schmidt

Educators seek books that provide children with an appropriate window into issues of identity and power. Unfortunately Martin de Porres: The Rose in the Desert falls short of this goal. Read more.

—Reviewed by Amy Rothschild, early childhood educator

Nelson Mandela
By Kadir Nelson

Unfortunately, Kadir Nelson’s picture book presents the same mythological image of Mandela that has been the norm on the mainstream news. Read more.

—Reviewed by Deborah Menkart, executive director, Teaching for Change

When the Beat was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop
By Laban Carrick Hill

If you wish to give children a real Hip Hop history lesson, this book is a refreshing and well-schooled voice to add to the call and response of children’s Hip Hop literature for the young and curious. Read more.

—Reviewed by Derrick Weston Brown, Teaching for Change publications advocate 

Stay Solid! A Radical Handbook for Youth
By Matt Hern

This compilation offers an anti-bias perspective on nearly everything that comprise life of youth, and encourages social change through critical thinking and community action. Read more.

—Reviewed by Shelly Wen, Teaching for Change intern

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
By Benjamin Alire Saenz

Between a couple of traumatic accidents, lots of letters, a reunion, and coming-out story, Saenz is able to explore issues of authenticity, LGBT relationships, and family. Read more.

—Reviewed by Shelly Wen, Teaching for Change intern

Stories of White Americans in the Modern Civil Rights Movement: Four Book Reviews

A recent quartet of books concerning the modern Civil Rights Movement focuses on the experiences of whites who were personally active in the struggles to end racial apartheid in the United States. Their stories are important in and of themselves, but especially because they balance academic analysis with personal recollections. Read more.

—Reviewed by Jenice L. View, associate professor in the Graduate School of Education at George Mason University.

District Comics: An Unconventional History of Washington, DC
Edited by Matt Dembicki

“Truman” reveals some of District Comics’ major shortcomings. Like many other stories in the book, the line between fact and “creative liberties,” as editor Matt Dembicki puts it, is unclear. Read more.

—Reviewed by Katie Seitz, Teaching For Change publications advocate

A Path of Stars
By Anne Sibley O'Brien

This children’s book does an excellent job of depicting an honest, yet non-graphic, portrayal of the pain and suffering caused by the Khmer Rouge's near destruction of Cambodia. Read more.

—Reviewed by Bridget Feldmann, Teaching for Change intern

Tea Cakes for Tosh
By Kelly Starling Lyons | Illustrated by E. B. Lewis

An invaluable new resource/picture book... beautifully paced so that young children can ask questions and an adult can answer. Read more.

—Reviewed by Amy Rothschild, early childhood educator and Teaching for Change volunteer


Me and Momma and Big John
By Mara Rockliff | Illustrated by William Low

Me and Momma and Big John is a quietly excellent children’s book that deserves attention as one of the best of 2012. Read more.

—Reviewed by Katie Seitz, Teaching For Change publications advocate


By Lauren Myracle

With the nation focusing on the consequences of bullying in schools, and with hate crimes against LGBTQ youth still a consistent problem across the country, the novel “Shine” is a timely, relevant, and refreshingly complex book for young adults. Read more.

—Reviewed by Jozi Zwerdling, Teaching For Change Publications Advocate & Intern

Beautiful Souls: Saying No, Breaking Ranks, and Heeding the Voice of Conscience in Dark Times
By Eyal Press

Eyal Press spends time not on sustained resistance movements, but on the personal qualities and social factors that result in ordinary individuals resisting evil, despite overwhelming pressure not to.The power of the book is not in an all-encompassing theory that explains such people as unique, but in how it shows the ways that ordinary people come to moral courage in times of crisis. Read more.

—Reviewed by Katie Seitz, Teaching for Change Publications Advocate 

Smoky Night
By Eve Bunting | Illustrated by David Diaz

Misguided Effort to Help Kids Understand Rodney King Events: By using the narrative voice of a young child who doesn’t understand why his neighborhood is exploding, Bunting evades having to explore complex social issues in any depth. Read more.

—Reviewed by Beverly Slapin

Waiting for the Biblioburro and Biblioburro: A True Story from Colombia
By Monica Brown and Jeanette Winter

Soriano Bohórquez's courageous work is the inspiration for these two children's picture books, both published in English in the United States. Both books simplify Soriano Bohórquez's life and mission, as one would expect, but a closer examination of each text shows the troubling degree to which essential details have been purged and sanitized for a U.S. audience. Read more.

—Reviewed by Katie Seitz, Teaching for Change Bookstore publications advocate.

A Place at the Table: Struggles for Equality in America
By Teaching Tolerance

This magazine size booklet makes good use of small space. Each section highlights a particular fight for broadly-defined equality in America through the eyes of individuals and groups fighting for their rights. Read more.

—Reviewed Ariela Rothstein, high school history teacher, New York

The Mangrove Tree: Planting Trees to Feed Families
By Susan Roth and Cindy Trumbore

Sadly, the book repeats the familiar stereotype of someone from outside of Africa who comes to save the African people who without this foreigner would starve. This is unfortunate, because the story could have been told differently. Read more.

—Reviewed by Deborah Menkart for Africa Access

Sylvia & Aki
By Winifred Conkling 

This book of historical fiction alternates chapters between the experiences of Sylvia and Aki, introducing the reader to the daily injustices of internment and school segregation. Read more.

—Reviewed by Deborah Menkart for Rethinking Schools

By Barbara Wright 

With voter disenfranchisement in the news today, here is a historical novel about the brutal repression of African American voters that brought an end to the short-lived Reconstruction era. Read more.

—Reviewed by Deborah Menkart for Rethinking Schools

No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller
By Vaunda Micheaux. Nelson | Artwork by R. Gregory Christie 

Finally a book to honor Lewis Michaux whose bookstore in Harlem from 1932 to 1974 was a center of African American history, scholarship, debate, and activism. Read more.

—Reviewed by Deborah Menkart for Rethinking Schools

Hurricane Dancers: The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck
By Margarita Engle 

Cuban American novelist Margarita Engle has written an award-winning book of young adult historical fiction in the form of poetry about the conquest and resistance. Read more.

—Reviewed by Deborah Menkart for Rethinking Schools

The Great Migration: Journey to the North
By Eloise Greenfield | illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist 

For everyone who was gripped by Isabel Wilkerson’s Warmth of Other Suns, you will be moved once again as you read Greenfield and Gilchrist’s story of the journey that transformed the lives of so many people and so many cities in this country. Read more.

—Reviewed by Deborah Menkart for Rethinking Schools

Broken Memory
By Élisabeth Combres 

Without sacrificing the horrors of the genocide of the Tutsi in Rwanda, Broken Memory surprises by virtue of its affecting subtlety. Read more

—Reviewed LaTissia Mitchell, Bookstore Assistant Manager

Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow
By James Sturm, Rich Tommaso

Though the title would suggest otherwise, Satchel Paige: Striking out Jim Crow isn’t exactly a biography of the famous Negro League pitcher, Satchel Paige... But what this artful little graphic novel lacks in biographical insight, it more than makes up for in storytelling, historical depth, and its exploration of racial issues. Read more.

—Reviewed by Julie Smolinski, Teaching for Change's Publications Volunteer

Child of the Civil Rights Movement
By Paula Young Shelton, Raul Colon 

While it highlights the superstars at the expense of the everyday people who fueled the Movement, the book also places children into the story and lends a humanity and community to the people in leadership without being saccharine. Read more.

—Reviewed by Dr. Jenice L. View Assistant Professor, George Mason University and Teaching for Change Senior Professional Development Coordinator

Destiny's Gift
by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley

Destiny’s Gift is that rare book that sends strong positive messages without preachiness. Its colorful, detailed illustrations and compelling story work together to give the central characters personality and depth, and people of all ages can learn from its ethics of community and caring. Read more.

—Reviewed by Katie Seitz, Teaching for Change Publications Advocate


The Peace Book
By Todd Parr

Most of us have heard people profess their ability to look past difference by saying that, deep down, humans are all the same. While the intent behind these words is usually admirable, those who erase or miscast difference in the service of tolerance can sometimes unthinkingly impose their narrative of normal, at the expense of others’ very real differences in culture and values.  Such is the problem of The Peace Book, by Todd Parr, which attempts to teach children to embrace difference and peace while struggling with some of the same issues it intends to overcome. Read more.

—Reviewed by Katie Seitz, Teaching for Change Publications Advocate


Grace for President
By Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by LeUyen Pham 

While eye-catching and relatively progressive in its message, Grace for President perpetuates other existing prejudices and is ultimately, unlike its heroine, not quite what it aspires to be. Read more.

—Reviewed by Katie Seitz, Teaching for Change Publications Advocate

Little Brother
by Cory Doctorow 

Set in the very near future, Little Brother goes to technological places that Orwell's Big Brother could not. Students that have read 1984 will love the references to Orwell's original and will appreciate the upgrade. Read more.

—Reviewed by Don Allen, Teaching for Change publications director

A People's History of the World
by Chris Harman 

Chris Harman’s A People’s History of the World can be rightly described as audacious, in concept if not in execution. This work is not a text that comprehensively walks the reader through so enormous a topic as the title suggests. Read more

—Reviewed by Eagan Heath, Truman Scholar, Teaching For Change intern (2008)



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