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Human Issues Books for Ages 11 to 18


by Francesco D’Adamoiqbal
Ages 8 and up

Description: When young Iqbal is sold into slavery at a carpet factory, his arrival changes everything for the other overworked and abused children there. It is Iqbal who explains to them that despite their master’s promises, he plans on keeping them as his slaves indefinitely. But it is also Iqbal who inspires the other children to look to a future free from toil…and is brave enough to show them how to get there. This moving fictionalized account of the real Iqbal Masih is told through the voice of Fatima, a young Pakistani girl whose life is changed by Iqbal’s courage.

Issues Covered: Child Labor, Slavery, Activism


witnessby Karen Hesse
Ages 8 and up

Description: Leanora Sutter. Esther Hirsh. Merlin Van Tornhout. Johnny Reeves . . . These characters are among the unforgettable cast inhabiting a small Vermont town in 1924. A town that turns against its own when the Ku Klux Klan moves in. No one is safe, especially the two youngest, twelve-year-old Leanora, an African-American girl, and six-year-old Esther, who is Jewish. In this story of a community on the brink of disaster, told through the haunting and impassioned voices of its inhabitants, Newbery Award winner Karen Hesse takes readers into the hearts and minds of those who bear witness.

Issues Covered: Racism, Bigotry, Respect for All

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World

by Pénélope Bagieu
Ages 10 and up

This graphic novel tells the stories of brave, world-changing females, some of whom are familiar to readers while others are less known.

Issues Covered:  Biographies, Gender Equity


I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban

i am malalaby Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb
Ages: 10 and up

When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one girl spoke out. Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education. On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, when she was fifteen, she almost paid the ultimate price. She was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive. Instead, Malala’s miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York. At sixteen, she became a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest nominee ever for the Nobel Peace Prize. I AM MALALA is the remarkable tale of a family uprooted by global terrorism, of the fight for girls’ education, of a father who, himself a school owner, championed and encouraged his daughter to write and attend school, and of brave parents who have a fierce love for their daughter in a society that prizes sons. I AM MALALA will make you believe in the power of one person’s voice to inspire change in the world.

Issues Covered: Human Rights, Activism

A Young People’s History of the United States: Columbus to the War on Terror

A Young People's History of the United Statesby Howard Zinn
Ages: 10 and up

Description: A Young People’s History of the United States brings to US history the viewpoints of workers, slaves, immigrants, women, Native Americans, and others whose stories, and their impact, are rarely included in books for young people. A Young People’s History of the United States is also a companion volume to The People Speak, the film adapted from A People’s History of the United States and Voices of a People’s History of the United States. Beginning with a look at Christopher Columbus’s arrival through the eyes of the Arawak Indians, then leading the reader through the struggles for workers’ rights, women’s rights, and civil rights during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and ending with the current protests against continued American imperialism, Zinn in the volumes of A Young People’s History of the United States presents a radical new way of understanding America’s history. In so doing, he reminds readers that America’s true greatness is shaped by our dissident voices, not our military generals.

Issues Covered: Human Rights, Bigotry, Racism, Slavery, Sexism, Activism, Labor Rights, Respect for All, War


chained by lynne kellyby Lynne Kelly
Ages: 10 – 14

Description: After ten-year-old Hastin’s family borrows money to pay for his sister’s hospital bill, he leaves his village in northern India to take a job as an elephant keeper and work off the debt. He thinks it will be an adventure, but he isn’t prepared for the cruel circus owner. The crowds that come to the circus see a lively animal who plays soccer and balances on milk bottles, but Hastin sees Nandita, a sweet elephant and his best friend, who is chained when she’s not performing and hurt with a hook until she learns tricks perfectly. Hastin protects Nandita as best as he can, knowing that the only way they will both survive is if he can find a way for them to escape.

Issues Covered: Child Labor, Slavery, Captive Animals, Animal Abuse, Endangered Species

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

the absolutely true diary of a part time indianby Sherman Alexie
Ages: 12 and up

Description: Bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author’s own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by Ellen Forney that reflect the character’s art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.

Issues Covered: Racism, Bullying, Classism

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl

anne frank book coverby Anne Frank
Ages 12 and up

Description: In 1942, with Nazis occupying Holland, a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl and her family fled their home in Amsterdam and went into hiding. For the next two years, until their whereabouts were betrayed to the Gestapo, they and another family lived cloistered in the “Secret Annex” of an old office building. Cut off from the outside world, they faced hunger, boredom, the constant cruelties of living in confined quarters, and the ever-present threat of discovery and death. In her diary Anne Frank recorded vivid impressions of her experiences during this period. By turns thoughtful, moving, and amusing, her account offers a fascinating commentary on human courage and frailty and a compelling self-portrait of a sensitive and spirited young woman whose promise was tragically cut short.

Issues Covered: Anti-Semitism, War, Genocide, The Holocaust, Bigotry


endangered Elliot Schreferby Elliot Schrefer
Ages: 12 and up

Description: When Sophie has to visit her mother at her sanctuary for bonobos, she’s not thrilled to be there. Then Otto, an infant bonobo, comes into her life, and for the first time she feels responsible for another creature. But peace does not last long for Sophie and Otto. When an armed revolution breaks out in the country, the sanctuary is attacked, and the two of them must escape unprepared into the jungle. Caught in the crosshairs of a lethal conflict, they must struggle to keep safe, to eat, and to live.

Issues Covered: War, Genocide, Endangered Species

We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March

by Cynthia Levinson
Ages: 12 and upWe've Got a Job- The 1963 Birmingham Children's March

Description: In 1963, the Civil Rights movement was falling apart. After a series of setbacks across the south, the movement was losing direction and momentum. No southern city was more divided than Birmingham, Alabama, home of the infamous Bull Connor. Dr. Martin Luther King conceived an ingenious plan: fill the Birmingham jails by arranging a series of public protests at which participants would be arrested as a result of their nonviolent action, paralyzing the city and drawing national and world attention to the horrors and injustices of segregation. But the stakes were too high for much adult participant in the movement: job loss, jailing, and quite possibly even death. Instead, against Dr. King’s better judgment, young people led the protests.

Issues Covered: Racism, Civil Rights, Activism

Girls Who Looked Under Rocks

by Jeannine Atkins
Ages: 12 and upgirls who looked under rocks

If there is a pre-teen or adolescent in your life, especially a girl, take a look at this empowering, inspiring chapter book. It portrays the youths and careers of six remarkable women whose curiosity about nature fueled a passion to steadfastly overcome obstacles to careers in traditionally men-only occupations. The six–Maria Merian (b.1647), Anna Comstock (b.1854), Frances Hamerstrom (b.1907), Rachel Carson (b.1907), Miriam Rothschild (b.1908), and Jane Goodall (b.1934)–all became renowned scientists, artists and writers. A wonderful resource for young researchers and biographers, these stories can be a starting point for issues of gender, science, and the environment.

Issues Covered: Nature, Women’s Rights

Chew On This: Everything You Don’t Want to Know About Fast Food

Chew On This- Everything You Don't Want to Know About Fast Foodby Charles Wilson and Eric Schlosser
Ages: 12 and up

Description: In the New York Times bestseller Chew on This, Eric Schlosser and Charles Wilson unwrap the fast-food industry to bring you a behind-the-scenes look at a business that both feeds and feeds off the young. Find out what really goes on at your favorite restaurants—and what lurks between those sesame seed buns. Praised for being accessible, honest, humorous, fascinating, and alarming, Chew On This was also repeatedly referred to as a must-read for kids who regularly eat fast food. Having all the facts about fast food helps young people make healthy decisions about what they eat. Chew On This shows them that they can change the world by changing what they eat.

Issues Covered: Public Health, Farm Animals


by Paul Fleischman
Ages: 13 and up

A Vietnamese girl plants six lima beans in a Cleveland vacant lot located in a diverse neighborhood of immigrants. A sense of community sprouts and spreads, and thirteen speakers share their stories and bring to life the founding and first year of the community garden.  

Issues Covered: Food Justice, Immigration 

Nightnight by elie wiesel

by Elie Wiesel
Ages: 14 and up

Description: It is 1944. The Jews of Sighet, Hungary are rounded up and driven into Nazi concentration camps. For the next terrible year, young Elie Wiesel experiences the loss of everything he loves — home, friends, family — in an agonizing journey through Birkenau, Auschwitz, Buna, and Buchenwald. The greatest tragedy of our time, told through the eyes of a 15-year old boy.

Issues Covered: The Holocaust, Anti-Semitism, Bigotry, War


Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens

by Marieke Nijkamp
Ages 14 and up

This book contains 13 fictional stories written by people with a wide range of disabilities, encouraging a broadened world view and appreciation for the joy, struggles, and unifying nature of their tales.

Issues Covered:  Disability

The Handmaid’s Tale

the handmaid's taleby Margaret Atwood
Ages: 14 and up

Description: When a Fundamentalist religious group gains power and implements a Fascist government in the United States, a social class of handmaids is created. Stripped of her former identity, Offred tells her tale of being reduced to her reproductive capabilities. She relates her sadness, her yearnings, and her memories of when she had her own life.

Issues Covered: Sexism, War, Human Rights, Slavery

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