Reading a book 200 times is a surefire way to find out whether you love it or want to throw its rhyming llama couplets into the diaper pail. Children's books especially do a tricky dance for an audience of squinty-eyed parents and wide-eyed tots: the best ones, like a syringe of infant-suspension Tylenol, have a little something for the parent at the end. These are the ones we are celebrating in This Book Belongs To — the books that send us back to the days of our own footed pajamas, and make us feel only half-exhausted when our tiny overlords ask to read them one more time.
Is there anything better than a) seeing your kid riffle through their little bookshelves, or b) becoming a human armchair for them as they toddle over with a beloved book and plop themselves into your lap expectantly? For parents of teeny bookworms, there can never be enough stories — you quickly burn through the requisite library of picture books that are gifted at birth, along with those impulse-purchased after your tot retrieves them from the lower shelves at your local bookshop and refuses. to. let. go. The sweet thing about those early reading years when kids are hungry for new stories is that it's an opening to introduce them to characters who are different from them — to expand their world — as well as characters who are a lot like them — to help them feel seen.
Aware of the power books have in shaping our children, we've rounded up 100 of the best progressive children's books. These books are "progressive" in that they encourage forward thinking and create space for everyone to feel like they belong. In putting together the list, we looked not for books with a progressive agenda, so much as books that teach kids to question bias and power, to recognize their feelings, and to break down ideas and expectations about how they should act. They are playful, funny, sweet, and moving. There are teddy bears wrestling with gender identity, boys who want to be mermaids, little girls who grew into rousing leaders, stories from across the globe; there are sneetches, sensitive potatoes, and evil archdukes. What a world.
We hope these titles will become favorites on knee-high bookshelves everywhere.
1'Introducing Teddy: A Gentle Story About Gender And Friendship' by Jessica Walton
If you want to softly deconstruct gender stereotypes or explain gender transitions, Introducing Teddy is your best bet. Without getting into terminology, this story covers the basics of not feeling like the gender you've been assigned fits, and teaches you that true friends will still love you, no matter your gender.
2'Ada Twist, Scientist' by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
This is a great book for kids who always ask "why?" The story encourages kids to question everything and always be on the lookout for answers. Starring a girl of color who has a passion for STEM, it's a sneaky way to teach perseverance to your kid.
Not only is this a sweet story about a daughter looking up to her mother, it also introduces Islamic experiences such as going to a mosque and wearing a headscarf. Muslim kids will love seeing their culture represented, and non-Muslim kids will find that a different culture feels more familiar by the end of the story.
Explaining refugees to a child who takes bedrock concepts like a home and peaceful country for granted is tricky, but The Journey delicately manages to help them understand the ways in which the world is broken. A family flee war with only a few possessions... and each other.
This classic tale of a bull who would rather smell flowers than fight is all about being yourself and doing what makes you happy. Ferdinand is quietly radical in rejecting ideas about how a bull is supposed to be.
A boy and his grandfather don't speak the same language... until they get out their pencils and inks. This mixed-media storybook is a work of art and a genuinely moving look at intergenerational love and the ways we can work to collapse distance.
Written by pantsuit icon and devoted public servant Hillary Clinton, this book depicts a community coming together to build a playground. In this story about change-making, everyone takes care of each other and works together. As Clinton told Romper in 2017, the book was intended to inspire kids to action. "I also hope it will be one small part of a lifelong conversation about the importance of service and helping others — a conversation that can grow along with your kids," she said at the time.
This fun book for the littlest progressive readers is rhythmic and engaging. It also has a dad providing the care for his baby so mom can nap. "Naps for moms" is a ~progressive platform~ we can definitely support.
13'In My Heart: A Book Of Feelings' by Jo Witek, illustrated by Christine Roussey
Any true progressive knows that sometimes you have to stand up to bullies. Super Manny loves pretending to be a super hero, but when he sees a bully picking on a classmate, he realizes that he can be a hero IRL.
17'Be Kind' by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Jen Hill
Teach your kids how to say "peace" in many languages. It's such a great way for kids to learn about the many cultures there are on the planet, but also introduces the idea of peace; so easy to take for granted.
19'You Are Special' by Max Lucado, illustrated by Sergio Martinez
There's an underlying Christian message in this book, and it's pretty radical: "God loves everyone regardless of what's on the outside." You don't have to be the prettiest or the most talented to be worthy.
20'What Should Danny Do?' by Adir Levy, illustrated by Matt Sadler
Let your child choose the path of Danny's story. This book empowers kids to make decisions and see what impact those decisions have. This interactive book can be read over and over to reach the many different endings.
21'She Persisted' by Chelsea Clinton, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger
Body safety is so crucial. Jayneen Sanders has written many picture books on this topic, but this one gets right to the heart of it. Even the smallest kids should understand that they have body autonomy.
25'Ramadan' by Hannah Eliot, illustrated by Rashin
Not only does this beautiful board book introduce the Muslim traditions during the month of Ramadan, it also emphasizes taking time to feel thankful and help others. It's the first in a new series of board books called Celebrate The World.
This is such a charming book that shows what a hero a dad can be in their child's life. More important than the old-fashioned standards of dads being tough or making money, this shows the father in a nurturing and loving role.
27'I Am Jazz' by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNichols
I Am Jazzby Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNichols ($18, IndieBound)
This sweet autobiography of young transgender activist Jazz Jennings is a simple and sweet explanation of what it is like for your brain to be one gender and your body to be another. Jazz puts it simply, explaining that she was "born this way."
Some babies are born in cities, some in tents, some with blonde hair and some with dark hair, but all have ten little fingers, ten little toes, and a special place in their parents' hearts. Kids love acting along with this sweet Australian favorite.
31'Last Stop On Market Street' by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson
Two classmates need to work together even though they have nothing in common. They are different races and they have none of the same interests. They stumble over discussing these things. It's a safe space for little progressives to explore race relations and learn that listening and respect is what matters, even if they misstep.
33'Shaking Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed The World' by Susan Hood
This is an essential book for any young poetry collection. It tells about the bravery and innovation of young women such as Ruby Bridges, Maya Lin, and Frida Kahlo. It's as fun to read as it is inspiring.
34'I Love My Hair' by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley, illustrated by E.B. Lewis
The poor red crayon in this story is terrible at being red. The problem is he's a blue crayon with a red label. The other crayons around him tell him to try harder or practice more but none of it works. Nothing works until he does something radical: he lets himself be blue. This book is great because it defuses the damaging effects of labeling.
36'Nevertheless, She Persisted' by Susan Wood, illustrated by Sarah Green
Born of Mitch McConnell's dismissive attempt to silence Senator Elizabeth Warren, the leftist catch-cry, "nevertheless, she persisted" is here woven into a rich biographic story full of heart, designed to inspire little girls to fight for what they believe in.
Wouldn't it be great if we all looked at for each other? If we offered shelter to those in need? Well, the big umbrella in this book does just that. To make matters sweeter, it was written by a mother/daughter team.
This classic Dr. Seuss book is an allegory about the difference between the haves and have nots. (Spoiler: there's not a whole lot of difference, and the tides could change at any time.) Kids instinctually realize nobody is inherently better or more important than anyone else. It's great to hear them express these thoughts.
46'All Our Wild Wonder' by Sarah Kay, illustrated by Sophia Janowitz
Educators are so vital in raising great progressives. This is a lovely tribute to a great educator. Parents will appreciate how the principal in the book cares for and nurtures each child in her school. And kids will appreciate how magical school can be.
Kat wants to solve the world's problems through writing a song. Sometimes changing the world is as simple as that. You might not be able to solve every problem you come across, but you can make the days brighter for the people around you.
49'Lucy Loves Sherman' by Catherine Bailey, illustrated by Meg Walters
This is the story of a young activist out to save the life of an ancient lobster that's about to become someone's meal. The power of a voice (with the help of the press) and you can make a change (and maybe save an awesomely huge lobster.)
This book is a hilarious take on the classic tale, but it's from the point of view of the "big bad" wolf, challenging assumptions and introducing a slightly contrarian look at representation and ownership of truth. Maybe the wolf knocked the houses down. Maybe he even ate some pigs, but he deserves to be heard.
52'March' by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
This groundbreaking trilogy of graphic novels tells the story of the Civil Rights Movement from Congressman John Lewis's point of view. It's a gorgeous collaboration and highlights some of the best progressive moments in our country's history.
53'You Are Mighty: A Guide To Changing The World' by Caroline Paul, illustrated by Lauren Tamaki
If you want to make a difference, but don't know where to start, then this book is for you. Full of information and fun graphics, this is a primer on all things progress from letter writing to protest signs to boycotts.
54'I Like Myself' by Karen Beaumont, illustrated by David Catrow
This groundbreaking and hilarious book teaches kids that princesses can be the heroes. They can be feisty and tough and brave, and they just might find that dreamy princes are drips who deserve to be given the flick.
Published in 1962, this simple story about a boy exploring a snowy landscape had an extraordinary impact on society's view of the prejudicial "inner city," and shows that all children are united in their delight for whacking a snow-covered tree with a stick.
If you're looking for baby's first progressive book, this one is a great bet. With fun rhymes and vibrant illustrations, this will set your child on the path of caring about their community and working for change.
61'Hidden Figures: The True Story Of Four Black Women And The Space Race' by Margot Lee Shetterly, illustrated by Laura Freeman
This is the perfect book to introduce the American electoral process. We're still on the lookout for our first female president. This book is sure to inspire kids to vote when they are old enough... and maybe even to run for president.
63'The Wonderful Things You Will Be' by Emily Winfield Martin
Sesame Street fans will adore this book that acknowledges that on the outside we're all pretty different, but that people also have a lot in common. We all have the same needs. We all have hopes and desires.
68'Families, Families, Families!' by Suzanne Lang & Max Lang
Introduce kids to the Great Migration when African-American families left the south for better opportunities. It's the best kind of American dream story. A close-knit family works for a better life for their children and grandchildren.
All George wants is to be seen as the girl she is, not as the boy everyone thinks she is. Older children will delight in George's quest for acceptance, and will learn that what's inside matters more than what's on the outside.
This is the true story of inseperable male penguins Roy and Silo of the Central Park Zoo. When Roy and Silo were given a motherless penguin egg, they raised the chick together. It's such a sweet portrait of a same-sex family. (Love is love, y'all.)
77'Leopold' by Dr. Ruth K. Westheimer with Pierre A. Lehu, illustrated by Suzanne Beaky
Leopoldby Dr. Ruth K. Westheimer with Pierre A. Lehu, illustrated by Suzanne Beaky ($12, IndieBound)
Progressive children are inevitably going to face some challenges. This story of a turtle who is afraid of the sea teaches that overcoming fear can lead to great opportunities.
The crayons in this book have opinions and they demand to be treated fairly. When they've had enough, they quit! On one level, it's a funny story about crayons. On another, it's about activism. Make your voice heard!
A Korean-American girl isn't sure she wants to go by her Korean name, because it's hard to pronounce. Her classmates offer her suggestions, but ultimately, they encourage her to use her Korean name. Inclusive and sweet.
84'The World Is Not A Rectangle: A Portrait Of Architect Zaha Hadid' by Jeannette Winter
This coloring book takes old nursery rhymes and outdated gender stereotypes and turns them on their head. Fun activities with LGBTQIA inclusive flavor make this a perfect gift for a little progressive.
86'Santa's Husband' by Daniel Kibblesmith, illustrated by Ap Quach
When tragedy affects a community, the kids learn to be on the lookout for helpers in times of crisis. In turn, they want to do small acts of kindness to spread the good. This book is super relevant in light of recent school shootings.
90'Granddaddy's Turn: A Journey To The Ballot Box' by Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein, illustrated by James E. Ransome
A graphic memoir about a girl with hearing loss and a cumbersome hearing aid, this is a great book for disability representation. It's especially uplifting because she takes her hearing aid and frames it as a super power.
92'Sex Is A Funny Word: A Book About Bodies, Feelings, And You' by Cory Silverberg and Anna Smyth
This is an inclusive look at sexuality for elementary-aged kids. Progressive parents don't want to add shame into the discussion of sexuality, and this book is a perfect tool for starting honest and sex-positive talks.
When Anabelle finds a box of yarn one day, she begins to transform her dull town into something brighter and cozier. This playful classic is light on morals, but will teach your child that evil archdukes will never win, and that there is always enough kindness to go around.
95'If The World Were A Village' by David J. Smith, illustrated by Shelagh Armstrong
Help kids understand the people of our planet. By imagining all of the people in the world are represented by one hundred people, this book breaks down how many people have access to clean water or an education. Thinking globally is crucial.
96'Somos Como Las Nubes / We Are Like the Clouds' by Jorge Argueta, illustrated by Alfonso Ruano
This book is based on the author's own experiences with dyslexia and especially about the teacher who helped her identify her struggles. Overcoming frustration is important for every kid, and learning about learning disabilities is crucial to understanding themselves and their friends.