Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Little readers can find big issues — from racism to mental health— in picture books

Two girls read a book together. (Jon Cherry/Getty Images)
Two girls read a book together. (Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

Young readers are taking on some big topics covered in children’s books: racial injustices, incarceration and houselessness, to name a few.

And this isn’t a new concept. Juanita Giles, head of the Virginia Children’s Book Festival, recounts a memory of watching Reading Rainbow and seeing the 1983 book “Tight Times” by Barbara Shook Hazen, in which a parent loses their job and the family faces food insecurity.

Today’s children’s books reflect what’s happening in the country and current national conversations. Books touch on everything from racial violence to debates over the Confederate flag in ways that children can digest and apply to their own lives.

“Children’s books give parents and caregivers the opportunity to start a conversation that they may not have otherwise,” Giles says. “It encourages children to ask questions of their parents.”

Book recommendations from Juanita Giles

On food insecurity or houselessness

On racial injustice

On incarcerated family members

On grief, loss or mental health

On differences

  • “Florence and Leon” by Simon Boulerice (Author), Delphie Côté-Lacroix (Illustrator) and Sophie B. Watson (Translator)
  • Wild for Winnie” by Laura Marx Fitzgerald (Author), Jenny Lovlie (Illustrator)
  • What Happened to You?” by James Catchpole (Author) and Karen George (Illustrator)

On identity

This article was originally published on

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit