January 22, 2021

5 Books Elementary Students Should Read Before Middle School

GoGuardian Team
Illustration of three students reading books

As we approach National Reading Day this January 23rd, we aim to give you the best selection of books for your young readers. But beyond giving you the best books for just any reader, this year we’re focusing on literacy for students of color and books that give their peers the chance to see things from their perspective.

We’ve looked for titles that give your students an opportunity to read about unconscious bias so that they know what it is, what it looks like, what it might sound like, and how it feels. Unconscious bias, or the beliefs we hold about others without even realizing it, is something that every child should learn about from an early age. This understanding and knowledge will help them stop discrimination in its tracks and enable them to see and fight the unconscious biases we all hold.

Here are our top five most moving titles for National Reading Day, 2021:

The Hate U Give

In this book for young teens and tweens, the protagonist is up against the anti-Black establishment when a police officer stops her and her best friend for no discernible reason. In a stark turn of events, the two question their entire lives as they become examples to the world. In the end, the protagonist must make a choice: Should she live the life she always has and not make any waves, or should she stand up for justice for her entire community? This profoundly moving and colorful book by Angie Thomas is sure to have people of all ages questioning the world around them, our U.S. justice system, and other topics of the day.

NO!: My First Book of Protest

In this book about protesting, author Julie Merberg walks young readers through when and why they should protest. In this book, she also teaches us how we can set boundaries and communicate them to others. In other words, when someone says, "NO," we must all learn to pay attention. Listen to this word, learn its meaning, and understand that "NO!" is an entire sentence unto itself. Children will learn how to wield their own personal power in the best and most effective way. And most importantly, they’ll understand how to say no to injustice anywhere at any time.

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You

In this riveting read by Black children's author Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi, the message is clear: We need to work hard to understand where racism came from and even harder to root it out from our everyday lives. Racism is an unfortunate part of our nation’s early fabric, thanks to slavery. Fighting it is something that we must do on every front, all the time—and that can be exhausting. Reynolds and Kendi show us how we can stave off the advance of modern racism in today's world by learning as much about it as we can. They teach us that it is not enough to not be racist—you must be anti-racist to make the real difference the world needs right now. This quick-moving book will engage young readers and excite them about the roles they each play in today's changing world and landscape.

This Book Is Anti-Racist

In another look at anti-racism, Tiffany Jewell’s book shows us the long history of unconscious bias examples and conscious bias. It also shows us how people of color have suffered under oppression and how this oppression has altered their reality. This book teaches us that in order for change to become a reality, we must all accept the roles we play in accepting or rejecting the biases all around us. If we want to become real agents of change, we will have to do the hard work on the road ahead. This engaging book is great for tweens and young teens just about to enter middle school but also for older readers trying to live their best lives.

Enough! 20 Protestors Who Changed America

This beautifully illustrated book by Emily Easton is a treasure for teaching young readers all about the people they might not hear about in mainstream education. These visionaries truly gave their all to change the course of history for the better. The book provides both historical and contemporary examples of voices that have lifted the discourse and changed the world all around them in America. It begins with a wonderful introduction into the storied history of how people of all walks of life have lifted up their voices.

These books are just a small sample of what elementary students should read. More recommendations can be found in this "Top 10 Books to Read with Your Students" list by Todd Nesloney. If your students are struggling with reading, try one of these "6 Reading Interventions". Have a terrific National Reading Day this January 23rd!