Just Books: Back-to-School Recommendations from Our “Just Parenting” Bloggers

With children returning to school across the country, we thought it was a good time to offer some children’s book recommendations from our Just Parenting bloggers.  Michael, Emily, and Anthony offer three social justice themed books that have been meaningful to their children and values they hope to instill in them.

The Quiltmaker’s Gift | by Jeff Brumbeau and Gail De Marcken
recommendation by: Michael Downs

the quiltmakers giftHow can giving things away bring happiness?

The two main characters in this book could not be more different.  The first is a wise and generous quiltmaker who lives in the blue misty mountains up high.  Her quilts are the prettiest anyone has ever seen, but not for sale.  They are reserved for the poor and homeless, not for the rich.

The second main character is a powerful and greedy king obsessed with receiving, collecting, and documenting presents.  But his coveting prevents him from receiving one of the quiltmaker’s quilts.  And happiness.

Enraged by her refusal to give him a quilt, the king tries (and fails) twice to do away with the quiltmaker.  Eventually he agrees to her prophetic proposal:   for every present he gives away, she will sew a new piece of quilt.  When all his things are gone, his quilt will be complete.

What ensues is a delightful and visually stunning reflection on selflessness and transformation, thanks to vivid images and intricate quilting patterns woven throughout each page.  Illustrations take the reader from the quiltmaker’s hilltop cottage to the cold dark alleys where she delivers her quilts to the poor, from the elaborate chambers of the king’s palace to the ends of the earth where his possessions are eventually scattered and shared.  Though the text is aimed at elementary students, my pre-schoolers love it, with or without words.  I have seen this book bring high school, university, and graduate students to tears.

As Pope Francis brings our attention back to the poor and offers some healthy critique of consumerism, this book is a timely reminder of the emptiness of greed, and the healing powers of generosity, community, and art.  

Old Turtle | by Douglas Wood
recommendation by: Emily Davis

old turtleNearly six years ago, when I was pregnant with my first child, a dear friend presented me with a children’s book that would soon become a family favorite: Old Turtle, by Douglas Wood. Old Turtle is a parable about discerning God’s presence in the world around us, and how our actions can have dramatic effects on our earthly home.

Old Turtle, the title character, emerges as both prophet and wisdom figure. As the animals, rocks, trees and rivers quibble over who God is and isn’t, she halts their argument and assures them that God is all of the things they imagine and much more. She predicts the arrival of human beings, created in God’s image and possessed of the power to do both incredible good and devastating harm. Indeed, the humans alter the landscape so significantly that the elements of creation, once divided over God’s role in the world, come to understand that God can be found everywhere. And as creation cries out in solidarity to a God in and among all things, the humans listen and are able to see God in the earth and in one another.

Old Turtle is especially resonant for me following the release of Laudato Si as another way to engage my children in a discussion about environmental justice and stewardship. This, along with the book’s rich imagery and depictions of God, makes it a book our family will cherish for years to come.

Sit In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down | by Andrea Davis Pinkney
written by: Anthony Giancatarino

Sit In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting DownOne of my favorite social justice book to read to my daughter Anna is Sit In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down.  The illustrations are beautiful, full of color, texture, and emotion.  And the words bounce with a natural poetic flow.  The captivating book sparks “ohhhs,” “ahhs,” and pointing.  But more than the book’s vivid nature – the story is told in truth.  Unlike many children’s books that highlight the stories of Civil Rights leaders, this one doesn’t shy away from the grim societal ugliness of racism and hate.  It confronts it head on.  I suspect as Anna enters her toddler and elementary years, this will create more questions and even confusion. Given that Anna is growing up in a reality different than the one faced by the four Greensboro student-activists, or the lives of children today like Tamir Rice, the ugly truth may be hard to grasp, and definitely be uncomfortable.

As we aim to raise Anna in home that is rooted in Ignatian spirit, we hope to encourage the ability to contemplate the uncomfortableness.  It is within that contemplation that we find both our shared dignity and our Kairos moment, the now.  And that is the second reason why I love this book.  It powerfully bears witness to the providential moment for justice by powerfully elevating the intimacy of togetherness.  The colors on the pages speak to the spirit of human dignity, love, and solidarity.  It shows that overcoming injustice is possible, especially when we act together.

What are your recommendations?


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