It’s almost Independence Day here in the United States…and I am having a hard time finding things to celebrate.
There are so many situations in our country that break my heart. The awful mistreatment of asylum-seekers at our southern border. The fact that gun violence kills 100 people every day. A president that encourages and emboldens white supremacists. I have a lot of feelings about America right now, but none of them are pride.
And yet, I believe in freedom, justice, and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — for ALL Americans. I believe that equality for everyone benefits everyone, and that America can be great… if we protect the rights of all of our citizens. Despite my extreme disillusionment, I am trying to have hope.
You may also enjoy these Children’s Books About Immigrants and Refugees.
These books help. They remind me of where we’ve been, and where we could go. Some of them look back at our past and highlight the bravery of those who endured horrible things; others paint a picture of a truly welcoming America, where all are celebrated.
If you’re struggling with Independence Day this year, I see you. I hope these books about America help you and your family find what truly makes America great.
9 Diverse Children’s Books About America
Naming Liberty by Jane Yolen
This book tells two parallel stories: the story of a famous statue, and the story of a little girl. Young Gitl is both excited and nervous to travel to America, where her family will join her older brother in beginning a new life. Meanwhile, a young artist named Frederic Auguste Bartholdi is creating a beautiful monument to freedom, a monument that will inspire Gitl as she arrives at her new home.
We Came to America by Faith Ringgold
I absolutely love Faith Ringgold’s books, and this one might be my favorite of all. Ringgold recognizes both the native people of America and all those from around the world who make our country special. The dedication of this book always brings tears to my eyes:
We Came to America is dedicated to all the children who come to America. May they find peace, freedom, and prosperity in their new home. May we welcome them and inspire them to sustain a love and dedication to peace, freedom, and justice for all.
I, Too, Am America by Langston Hughes
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
This picture book combines the powerful words of American poet Langston Hughes with beautiful illustrations by Bryan Collier. In this version of the poem, the story of the Pullman Porters is told in pictures. This book is excellent for starting conversations about race with your child, and Hughes’ famous poem shows how the American experience is different based on the color of one’s skin. I recommend sharing this book with children ages 6 to 10.
Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers
I’ll admit it; this story of the history of the Statue of Liberty made me cry. It’s the story of one of our most famous national symbols, but it’s also a story of what America can be, at its very best. It’s a book that is truly patriotic, and it shows the kind of country I want my children to experience. I recommend it for kids in Kindergarten and up, and I love this quote from the author, Dave Eggers:
It’s a baffling aspect of the American species that we periodically forget that almost all of us are immigrants. The symbol of this country is the Statue of Liberty, and the Statue of Liberty is not a symbol of xenophobia, fear, or isolationism. The symbol of America is a symbol of welcome. It’s a woman in a robe walking out to sea, to light the way for those coming to our shores.
Of Thee I Sing by Barack Obama
President Obama describes this book as a letter to his daughters, but I like to imagine that it’s a letter to all of our children. The President points out the amazing qualities he sees in his daughters, and then tells how those qualities can also be seen in famous Americans who have helped shape our country. If you have ever been inspired by President Obama’s words, you’ll be inspired by this book. It’s perfect for reading with kids ages 5 and up.
Lillian’s Right to Vote by Jonah Winter
Lillian is a one-hundred-year-old African-American woman who is walking to her polling place to vote. As she walks, she recalls the struggles African-Americans have faced in the name of gaining the right to vote. She thinks of her great-grandfather voting for the first time after the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment. She thinks of the marches and protests that led to the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And she won’t let anything keep her from casting her vote. This book is one that every child should hear. You can also find this book on our list of Books About Elections and Voting.
Emma’s Poem by Linda Glaser
The Statue of Liberty is one of the most powerful symbols in our country, but I’ve always thought that one of the most powerful statements of what American should be was contained in the short poem on her base. This book tells the story of that poem. and the woman who wrote it, Emma Lazarus. Emma’s Poem, The New Colossus, helped shape the Statue of Liberty into a statement of welcome for all seeking freedom and safety. This simple but powerful biography is great for kids ages 4 and up.
Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki
Not all of our history is something to take pride in, but it’s still important to tell those stories. This book follows a boy called Shorty, who is forced into a concentration camp after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. With nothing to look forward to, Shorty and his father decide to turn an empty desert space into a baseball field. Playing baseball gives the families in the camp something to enjoy, and something to be proud of. Baseball helped Shorty, and others like him, continue to hope during some truly dark days. I recommend reading this book with kids ages 5 and older.
The United States v. Jackie Robinson by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen
Before Jackie Robinson made history as a baseball player, he was standing up for his rights and the rights of others in the military. When white soldiers ordered Robinson to the back of a military bus, he refused their orders. His refusal led to his arrest, and eventually to Robinson being court-martialed. This is an inspiring story of standing up for what is right, even when there are difficult consequences. It’s perfect for reading with kids ages 5 and up.