Young adult novels that will inspire peacemakers
My diverse and social justice book recommendations are often for picture books. After all, that’s what I read to my 5 year old! But today, I’m sharing two books for teens that I discovered when I was looking for good novels to read myself. These young adult novels help teens develop empathy and understanding with youth who live around the globe.
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Related Post: Best Children’s Books About India (includes a review of Ahisma, a YA novel set during India’s nonviolent struggle for independence)
Books for Teens about Peace: I Lived on Butterfly Hill
Eleven year old Celeste Marconi loves her life in the colorful city Valparaíso, Chile. One day, she notices an unusually large number of ships in the harbor. No one will answer her questions at first about why they are there. She soon sees that the adults in her life are fearful and jumpy.
Her parents eventually confide in her about the rumors they’re hearing. The military is trying to overthrow the democratically elected President. When this does happen, Celeste’s parents are in danger. They had been outspoken in their support of the fallen President, who focused on fighting poverty and bringing hope to oppressed Chileans.
Celeste’s doctor parents are forced in go into hiding after their clinic is vandalized. Fewer children are at her school each week. She hears rumors of people being “disappeared.”
Celeste’s grandmother, who escaped the Nazi regime as a Jewish child, decides that Chile is no longer a safe place for Celeste. She makes the heart-breaking decision to send Celeste to live with her Tia Gloria in Maine.
Celeste arrives in the frigid winter. She only knows a handful of English words, and her life is turned upside down a second time. Everything is different, from the extreme quiet of her aunt’s isolated house to her unfriendly classmates.
This book is as moving and engrossing as it is painful to read. It’s surely inspired by the author’s own experience of having to flee Chile and move to the U.S. during the Pinochet regime.
Agosín skillfully weaves in themes that are common in other books for teens, such as falling in love for the first time. Even while Celeste must endure a frightening political reality, she is still a young girl with friends and hobbies she’s passionate about.
I highly recommend this book for youth (and adults!) ages 12+. Because of the frank references to the various ways people were killed by the government, I would not suggest it for a younger reader.
Books for Teens about Peace: Where the Streets Had a Name
Few young adult authors would have the courage to take on the difficult task of writing about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Randa Abdel-Fattah, who is also a human rights advocate, does so with honesty and grace.
Hayaat’s family home was demolished by the Israeli government when she was a child, forcing them to move from their ancestral land. Sitti Zeynab, Hayaat’s grandmother, is ill. Now 13, Hayaat is convinced that just a few handfuls of soil from their home can heal her grandmother.
Between curfews and checkpoints, how will Hayaat ever obtain the soil? Her best friend Samy, usually full of pranks, agrees to help her on her mission. Of course, their parents don’t know what they’re doing.
There are many heart-wrenching moments in the novel. There are also many funny ones middle schoolers will enjoy. Hayaat bickers with her older sister, and she complains about Siiti Zeynab’s gas.
Abdel-Fattah is frank about the realities that Palestinian people endure. Yet she’s also careful not to paint all Israelis with a broad brush. For example, Hayaat and Samy have to rely on help from a couple of Israeli peace activists as they make their trip.
I highly recommend this book for tweens and teens ages 10+.
This post is part of the Read Around the World series sponsored by Multicultural Kid Blogs. Find more global book recommendations for children of all ages here.