Radical Children’s Literature Now!

Many folks who attended Julia Mickenberg’s and my “Radical Children’s Literature Now!” lecture today at the Children’s Literature Association Conference in Roanoke asked: “I didn’t get a handout.  Could I have one?”  Since we only made 200 copies, here is that handout.  (The entire lecture will be on the Children’s Literature Association’s website in the future.)

Radical  Children’s  Literature  Now!

Julia L. Mickenberg and Philip Nel

Francelia Butler Lecture

25 June 2011



Question Authority

Mac Barnett, Moustache. Illus. Kevin Cornell. Hyperion, 2011.

Tom Tomorrow (pseud. of Dan Perkins), The Very Silly Mayor. IG Publishing, 2009.


Toby Speed, Brave Potatoes.  Illus. Barry Root.  G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2000.

Andrea Davis Pinkney, Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down. Illus. Brian Pinkney. Little, Brown and Company, 2010.

Doreen Cronin, Click, Clack Moo: Cows that Type. Illus. Betsy Lewin. Simon & Schuster, 2000.

Sharyll Teneyuca and Carmen Tafolla, That’s Not Fair/No Es Justo!: Emma Tenayuca’s Struggle for Justice/ Le lucha Emma Tenayuca por la justicia. Illus. Terry Ybanez. Wings Press, 2008.

Jacqueline Dembar Greene , Changes for Rebecca. American Girls Collection. Pleasant Company Publications, 2009.

Fight Bigotry

Susan Campbell Bartoletti, They Called Themselves the KKK: The Birth of An American Terrorist Group. Houghton Mifflin, 2010.

Kadir Nelson, We Are the Ship. Hyperion, 2008.

Shaun Tan, The Arrival. 2006. Scholastic, 2007.


Antonio Skarmeta, The Composition, ill. Alfonso Ruano. Groundwood, 2000. A Spanish-language version was published the same year in Venezuela.

Antonio Ramirez and Domi, Napi. Groundwood, 2004

Napi Goes to the Mountain. Groundwood, 2006.

Napi Makes a Village. Groundwood, 2010.

Deborah Ellis, The Breadwinner trilogy:

The Breadwinner. Groundwood, 2001.

Parvana’s Journey. Groundwood, 2002.

Mud City. Groundwood, 2003.

—, Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak.  Groundwood, 2006.

Anne Laurel Carter, The Shepherd’s Granddaughter. Groundwood, 2008.

Jeanette Winter, Nasreen’s Secret School. Beach Lane, 2009.

—, Librarian of Basra. Harcourt, 2005.

Mohieddin Ellabbad, The Illustrator’s Notebook. 1999. Transl. Sarah Quinn. Groundwood, 2006.

Uri Shulevitz, How I Learned Geography. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2008.

Amy Lee-Tai, A Place Where the Sunflowers Grow. Illus. Felicia Hoshino. Children’s Book Press, 2006.

Peter Sis, The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2007.

James Rumford, Silent Music. Roaring Brook Press, 2008.


Davide Cali and Serge Bloch, The Enemy: a book about peace. Schwartz & Wade (Random House), 2009.

Nicolas Debon, A Brave Soldier. Groundwood, 2002.

Walter Dean Myers, Patrol. Collages by Ann Grifalconi. HarperCollins, 2002.

Ahmad Akbarpour and Morteza Zahedi, Good Night, Commander. 2005. Translated by Shadi Eskandani and Helen Mixter. Groundwood, 2010.

Lewis Carroll, Jabberwocky. Illus. Stéphane Jorisch. Kids Can Press, 2004.

Environment / Global Climate Change

Lauren Child, Charlie and Lola: We Are Extremely Very Good Recyclers. Dial, 2009.

Lynne Cherry and Gary Braasch, How We Know What We Know About Our Changing Climate: Scientists and Kids Explore Global Warming. Dawn Publications, 2008.

Charise Harper, Just Grace Goes Green. Houghton Mifflin, 2009.

Megan McDonald, Judy Moody Saves The World. Candlewick Press, 2002.

Jennifer Berne, Manfish.  Chronicle Books, 2008.

Dan Yaccarino, The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau.  Knopf, 2009.

Claire A Nivola, Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2008.

Jeanette Winter, Wangari’s Trees of Peace.  Harcourt, 2008.

Molly Bang, Nobody Particular: One Woman’s Effort to Save the Bays. Henry Holt and Company, 2000.

Sara Pennypacker, Sparrow Girl. Hyperion, 2009.

Consume Less

Janet S. Wong, The Dumpster Diver. Illus. David Roberts. Candlewick, 2007.

Jonah Winter, Here Comes the Garbage Barge. Illus. Red Nose Studio. Random House, 2010.

Thomas King, A Coyote Solstice Tale. Illus. by Gary Clement. Groundwood, 2009.

Homelessness and Poverty

Avi Slodovnick, The Tooth. Illus. Manon Gauthier. Kane/Miller, 2009.

Vera Williams, Amber Was Brave, Essie Was Smart.  Greenwillow, 2001.

Elisa Amado, Tricycle, illustrated by Alfonso Ruano. Groundwood, 2007.


Catherine Stier, If I Ran for President. Illus. Lynne Avril. Albert Whitman & Co., 2007.

Lane Smith, Madam President. Hyperion, 2008.

—, John, Paul, George & Ben. Hyperion, 2006.

Kelly DiPucchio, Grace for President. Illus. LeUyen Pham.  Hyperion, 2008.

Chris Van Allsburg, Queen of the Falls. Houghton Mifflin, 2011.

—, Widow’s Broom. Houghton Mifflin, 1992.

David Walliams, The Boy in the Dress. Illus. Quentin Blake. Razorbill/Penguin, 2008.

Harvey Fierstein, The Sissy Duckling. Illus. Henry Cole. Simon & Schuster, 2002.


Pija Lindenbaum, Mini Mia and Her Darling Uncle. Translated by Elisabeth Kallick Dyssegaard.  R&S Books, 2007.

Leslea Newman, Mommy, Mama, and Me. Tricycle Press, 2009.

—, Daddy, Papa, and Me. Tricycle Press, 2009.

Bobbie Combs, ABC: A Family Alphabet Book. Illus. Desiree Keane & Brian Rappa. Two Lives, 2001.

Cheryl Kilodavis, My Princess Boy. Illus. Suzanne DeSimone. Aladdin, 2009.

Marcus Ewert, 10,000 Dresses. Illus. by Rex Ray. Seven Stories, Press, 2008.

Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, And Tango Makes Three. Illus. Henry Cole. Simon & Schuster, 2005.

[Sex], Death, Disability, and Mental Illness

Nicholas Allan, Where Willy Went: The Big Story of a Little Sperm. 2004. Red Fox, 2006.

Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberley, It’s Not the Stork!: A Book about Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Familes, and Friends. Candlewick, 2005.

—, It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health. 15th Anniversary Edition. Candlewick, 2009.

—, It’s So Amazing!: A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families. Candlewick, 1999.

Pija Lindenbaum, When Owen’s Mom Breathed Fire. Translated by Elisabeth Kallick Dyssegaard.  R&S Books, 2006.

Shaun Tan, The Red Tree. 2001.  Simply Red Books, 2003.

Menena Cottin and Rosana Faría, The Black Book of Colors. Transl. by Elisa Amado. Groundwood, 2008.


Allan Ahlberg and Bruce Ingman, The Pencil. Candlewick Press, 2008.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Litchenheld, Duck! Rabbit! Chronicle Books, 2009.

Kara LaReau and Scott Magoon, Ugly Fish. Harcourt, 2006.

Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross, Tadpole’s Promise.  Andersen Press, 2003.

Boni Ashburn, Hush, Little Dragon, Illus. Kelly Murphy. Abrams, 2008.

Sylviane Donnio, I’d Really Like to Eat a Child. Illus. Dorothée de Monfried. Transl. Leslie Martin.  Random House, 2007.



  • The Jane Adams Children’s Book Award, established 1953, “given annually to the children’s books published the preceding year that effectively promote the cause of peace, social justice, world community, and the equality of the sexes and all races.”
  • The Pura Belpre Medal honors “a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose works best portray, affirm, and celebrate the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth
  • The Coretta Scott King Award, established forty years ago, honors African American authors and illustrator for outstanding inspirational and educational contributions
  • The Stonewall Children’s and Young Adult Literature Award, established just last year by the American Library Association, for LGBTQ books
  • The Schneider Family Book Award honors a  book “that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences”
  • The UNESCO Prize is for Children’s and Young People’s Literature in the Service of Tolerance (discontinued in 2003 for budgetary reasons)
  • The Henry Bergh Children’s Book Award “honor[s] books that promote the humane 
ethic of compassion and respect for all living things”
  • The Green Earth Book Award, is given to “authors and illustrators whose books best raise awareness of environmental stewardship, and the beauty of our natural world and the responsibility that we have to protect it”
  • The KIND Children’s Book Award is given by the Humane Society, for “an exceptional children’s book with a humane focus on animals or the environment”
  • The Wilderness Society’s Environment Award for Children’s Literature.
  • USBBY lists Outstanding International Books, and the Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s Choices highlights books on subjects such as Peace and Justice, Labor, Earth and the Environment, (Eco-Reading), Gay and Lesbian Themes and Topics, “Global Reading” (books set in other countries), and Recommended Picture Books Featuring Interracial Families.

THANKS TO: Katie Horning and the staff of the Children’s Cooperative Book Center, Susan Griffith, Patsy Aldana (of Groundwood Books), Betsy Bird (of the NYPL and Fuse #8), Julie Walker Danielson (of Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast), George Nicholson, Mac Barnett, Marcus Ewert, and Elizabeth Murphy (of the Austin Public Library’s Yarborough Branch).

Related content (updated 19 Nov. 2011):


  1. Cecilia


    I guess I must be pretty radical, since I realize I use at least one book from almost every category in my third grade class each year. Don’t tell my principal….

  2. James Rumford



    I wish I could have attended the lecture!

    My book SILENT MUSIC is radical. I realized that the moment it was conceived in 2003 (You can find out more about that at my website: http://www.jamesrumford.com). However, I never thought of SILENT MUSIC as radical because of its “internationalism.” Rather, I thought it radical because it talks of peace in a time of war. I wrote this response to a blogger last week. It seems equally relevant here:

    “I also thought that it was interesting that you thought that SILENT MUSIC might, for some readers, tell a story that would be in conflict with the American narrative of the Iraqi War. While I don’t believe that the book actually does this, because there is no mention of Saddam or of the reasons for the war or what happened in the aftermath, the book does ask the reader to reconsider the enemy and wear his shoes for a moment. All too often, people, not just kids, have a knee-jerk reaction when they hear the words “Iraq” or “Iraqi War.” It is hard for some to realize, after reading my book, that there might be one Iraqi who also desires peace.

    It is almost axiomatic that enemies never want peace. It is this notion that my book seeks to dismantle. It is at this point that my book comes into conflict not just with the American narrative, but with the human narrative of aggression and survival.”


    James Rumford

  3. Reply

    James Rumford: Thanks very much for your comment. Many of the books above fit in more than one category. We should also note that not all are “perfect” fits for each category. (It is, of course, also hard to convey any nuance in a list. The whole talk will, we are told, be posted on the Children’s Literature Association website.)

    We quite agree that yours is a book about peace. And that’s one of the points we made in the “internationalism” section of our talk — that books advocating international understanding are implicitly promoting peace.

    Thanks again for posting and for Silent Music.

  4. Reply

    I’m wondering why there’s no category for “class.” I suppose “homelessness and poverty” is meant to cover that but since it’s a radical list, I’d like to see the problem called what it is, rather than by its symptoms.
    Another recommendation for readers: La calle es libre (The Streets are Free).

  5. Reply

    P.S. Not to trying to be argumentative/hostile with that comment, and I do know that categories and lists prevent nuance. Looking forward to watching the lecture when it’s posted!

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  8. Joanne Rohan


    Thanks so much to both of you for a thoughtful and well executed presentation!

    It was great to meet you this week. I look forward to more blog posts as the Fall semester approaches. You always provide some kernel of information worth mulling over and reposting for others on our Children’s Literature Graduate Org. Facebook page. Thanks for sharing your thoughtful opinions and observations.

    UNC Charlotte

  9. Reply

    @Kara: It’s true that the categories are imperfect. Class issues emerge most prominently in “Homelessness and Poverty,” “Internationalism,” and “Organize.” But you’ll find it in other categories, too. We had the same problem in organizing the contents of Tales for Little Rebels — many stories fit into more than one category.

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