Book Recommendations for K-12 in the Wake of Charlottesville

As students return to start a new school year, a national online conversation has emerged among educators and advocates around the country. Catalyzed by the violence and unrest in Charlottesville, VA, as well as other national events, teachers and organizations are sharing resources for dealing with topics of race, hate speech, and bias with the hashtag #CharlottesvilleCurriculum. Classroom teachers and program leaders view themselves as being on the front lines to create inclusive, welcoming environments, and to advance empathy and civic engagement among their students.

Last week, First Book co-founder and CEO Kyle Zimmer released a statement Citing Charlottesville Unrest and its Harmful Effect on Children. As the nation wrestles with Charlottesville and its aftermath, First Book stands fully in support the heroic teachers who – in addition to academic development – view it as their mission to protect the children they serve. In particular, First Book is aware of the support needed for children from low-income areas, including communities of color, immigrants, rural communities, and other under-served populations.

As Zimmer stated, “We have seen first-hand the power of stories to blunt hate, create empathy, and change lives.” First Book is ensuring that the students we serve have access to transformational stories that lift them up, build understanding, and bind our communities together.

Here are our recommendations for a #CharlottesvilleCurriculum:

Elementary School


 City Green by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan

Right in the middle of Marcy’s city block is a littered vacant lot. Then one day she has a wonderful idea that not only improves the useless lot but her entire neighborhood as well. Marcy and Miss Rosa start a campaign to clean up an empty lot and turn it into a community garden.




We’re All Wonders by R. J. Palacio

Now parents and educators can introduce the unforgettable bestseller Wonder and the importance of choosing kind to younger readers with this gorgeous picture book, featuring Auggie and Daisy on an original adventure, written and illustrated by R. J. Palacio. We’re All Wonders may be Auggie’s story, but it taps into every child’s longing to belong, and to be seen for who they truly are. It’s the perfect way for families and educators to talk about empathy and kindness with young children.



Lost and Found Cat by Doug Kuntz

When an Iraqi family is forced to flee their home, they can’t bear to leave their beloved cat, Kunkush, behind. So they carry him with them from Iraq to Greece, but during a crowded boat ride, his carrier breaks and the frightened cat runs from the chaos. In one moment, he is gone. A few days later aid workers find the lost cat. They spread the word on the Internet, and after several months the impossible happens—Kunkush’s family is found.



 I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien

Maria is from Guatemala, Jin is from Korea, and Fatima is from Somalia. All three are new to their American elementary school, and each has trouble speaking, writing, and sharing ideas in English. Through self-determination and with encouragement from their peers and teachers, the students learn to feel confident and comfortable in their new school without losing a sense of their home country, language, and identity. I’m New Here demonstrates how our global community can work together and build a home for all.


Middle School


 Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan

Everything is different when Amina enters middle school. Her best friend Soojin suddenly starts hanging out with the “cool” girls in class, and even talking about changing her name to something more “American.” Does Amina need to start changing too? Or hiding who she is to fit in? While Amina grapples with these questions, she is devastated when her local mosque is vandalized. This book brings to life the joys and challenges of a young Pakistani American and highlights the many ways in which one girl’s voice can help bring a diverse community together to love and support each other.



Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

What if who you are on the outside doesn’t match who you are on the inside? Grayson Sender has been holding onto a secret for what seems like forever: “he” is a girl on the inside, stuck in the wrong gender’s body. The weight of this secret is crushing, but sharing it would mean facing ridicule, scorn, rejection, or worse. Despite the risks, Grayson’s true self itches to break free. This novel about identity, self-esteem, and friendship shines with the strength of a young person’s spirit and the enduring power of acceptance.



 Enchanted Air by Margarita Engle

Margarita is a girl from two worlds. Her heart lies in Cuba, her mother’s tropical island country, but most of the time she lives in Los Angeles, lonely in the noisy city and dreaming of the summers when she can take a plane through the enchanted air to her beloved island. When revolution breaks out in Cuba, Margarita fears for her far-away family. This poetic memoir tells of growing up as a child of two cultures during the Cold War.



High School


American Street by Ibi Zoboi

On the corner of American Street and Joy Road, Fabiola Toussaint thought she would finally find une belle vie—a good life. But after they leave Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud American cousins, Chantal, Donna, and Princess; the grittiness of Detroit’s west side; a new school; and a surprising romance, all on her own.



 The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.



American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Jin Wang starts at a new school where he’s the only Chinese-American student. Danny is an all-American boy: great at basketball, popular with the girls. The Monkey King has lived for thousands of years and mastered the arts of kung fu and the heavenly disciplines. Each of these characters cannot help himself alone, but how can they possibly help each other? They’re going to have to find a way—if they want fix the disasters their lives have become.


Thanks to our partners the NEA Foundation, First Book is offering 20% off all books in the Creating Welcoming Schools & Communities section on the First Book Marketplace. This opportunity is first-come, first-served while funding lasts. For more ideas on using these titles to starting thematic discussions, take a look at our free Welcoming Week Time Saver.