30 Books to Read for Read Across America
The month of March is all about reading, thanks to Read Across America. Launched in 1998 by the National Education Association (NEA), Read Across America is the country’s largest celebration of reading. The annual event is now focusing on highlighting books that all students can see themselves reflected in, as well as showing readers a world or character that might be different from them or their experiences.
Need some inspiration? Here are 30 books to encourage kids to dive into for Read Across America.
Preschool / Younger Elementary
- My First Day by Phung Nguyen Quang and Huynh Kim Lien - In this story about a young Vietnamese boy who must paddle his boat to school all by himself for the first time, children will learn about the variety of ways that children around the world get to school.
- Completely Me by Justine Green - The little girl in this award-winning book never noticed there was something different about herself until others pointed it out. Children will love going along on her journey as she decides to stand up for herself and teach others the importance of being accepting.
- Someone Builds the Dream by Lisa Wheeler - With themes including community and courage, this book uses verse to describe the vibrant, diverse workforce who brings big dreams to life by pounding nails, operating machines and more.
- A Sled for Gabo by Emma Otheguy - In this story, young readers will learn about the feelings associated with moving to a brand-new town with a different climate than they’re used to. This book is also available in Spanish as “Un Trineo Para Gabo.”
- Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard - Help kids explore their five senses through this sweet story about a modern Native American family. It also includes a recipe for kids and parents to make their own fry bread together.
- The Electric Slide and Kai by Kelly J. Baptist - Younger kids will love the funny yet touching story and adorable illustrations in this book about Kai, a young Black boy who is trying to figure out how to dance the Electric Slide before his aunt gets married.
- The Lost Package by Richard Ho - Kids who eagerly wait for the mail truck each day will adore this heartwarming story about a package that gets lost. It features a behind-the-scenes look at what happens at the post office with a side showing the power of friendship.
- We are Family by Patricia Hegarty - Full of bright pictures and diverse descriptions of families, this book will teach young readers that every family shares a unique bond, whether they look the same or not. Kids will love learning about different families around the world who share their familiar routines: getting ready for school, sharing meals, doing fun activities and more.
- Zonia’s Rain Forest by Juana Martinez-Neal - Zonia lives and plays in the lush Peruvian rain forest filled with animals like sloths and jaguars. She even communicates with the rain forest, and it one day calls to her in a voice filled with worry. Printed on paper made from banana bark, the book also contains a translation of the story in Asháninka, information on the Asháninka community, and resources on the Amazon rain forest and its wildlife.
- El Cucuy is Scared, Too by Donna Barba Higuera - Great for kids who struggle with anxiety, this book features a main character who finds he has something in common with the monster who lives in his room — he’s scared too! This story of unlikely friendship will also resonate with children who are dealing with stress related to moving to a new home or city.
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- All Around Us by Xelena González - This award-winning book chronicles the conversations of a boy and his grandfather who find circles in nature all around us, from the rainbow in the sky to seeds on the ground. Gorgeous illustrations will delight children as they learn more about nature and the cycles of life.
- Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love - Main character Julián is captivated by three women he sees dressed in gorgeous, elaborate mermaid costumes on the subway; he can’t stop thinking about dressing up in a mermaid costume of his own. This story is a celebration of individuality and self-love for all ages and genders.
- Say Hello by Rachel Isadora - Perfect for preschoolers, this simple yet charming story follows a little girl who can say hello in a variety of languages to the people in her multicultural neighborhood. Young readers will love the colorful illustrations in this Caldecott Honor winner, and parents will love letting their child explore other languages for the first time.
- My Two Border Towns by David Bowles - Stunning watercolor illustrations by Erika Meza help tell the story of a boy’s trip to the other side of the Mexican border. He enjoys meals, treats and spending time with family before checking in with asylum-seekers and dropping off desperately needed supplies. Available in both English and Spanish, this book is an approachable way to teach kids about life on the border between the United States and Mexico.
- The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi - Unhei is nervous to start her new school after moving from Korea — especially since no one can pronounce her name. After choosing an American name from a jar, she realizes names like Suzy just don’t feel right. Kids with non-Anglo names will relate to Unhei’s choice between fitting in and staying true to herself.
Older Elementary/Middle School
- Nuestra América: 30 Inspiring Latinas/Latinos Who Have Shaped the United States by Sabrina Vourvoulias - Perfect for the lover of short stories, this anthology contains 30 biographies of Latino men and women who have impacted the world of sports, entertainment, politics, education and more.
- Strong as Fire, Fierce as Flame by Supra Kelkar - Set in India in 1857, this story follows 12-year-old Meera as she escapes death only to be enslaved by a British general. Older elementary-aged children will be on the edge of their seats as they wonder whether Meera will choose the comfort of the life she knows — or a chance to stand up for herself and her people.
- Loretta Little Looks Back: Three Voices Go Tell It by Andrea Davis Pinkney - Three members of the Little family tell the stories of their youth, from a cotton field in 1927 to a presidential election in 1968. This book is a mix of stories, spoken-word poems, gospel and more; all shining a light on America’s struggle for civil rights for all.
- Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids by Cynthia L. Smith - Kids will learn about Native culture, ethnic identity and ancestry through these 16 short stories by Indigenous authors.
- Midnight Teacher: Lilly Ann Grandson and Her Secret School by Janet Halfmann - Based on an inspiring true story, “Midnight Teacher” will teach kids the unjustness of slavery with the tale of an enslaved woman teaching her fellow people to read despite the threat of lashes with a whip.
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- The Girl and the Ghost by Hanna Alkaf - This ghostly story is based on a Malaysian folk tale that will captivate older readers. Soraya gets a pelesit, or spirit, from her grandmother and the two immediately become best friends. However, the spirit also has a dark side that could drag them both into the darkness forever.
- Jump at the Sun: The True Life Tale of Unstoppable Storycatcher Zora Neale Hurston by Alicia D. Williams - Written by Newberry Honor-winning author Alicia D. Williams, this colorful biography chronicles the life of legendary storyteller Zora Neale Hurston and her journeys everywhere from the general store to Howard University and beyond.
- Living Beyond Borders: Growing Up Mexican in America by Margarita Longoria - This collection of short stories, poems, comics and more will leave a lasting impression on kids as they learn about the authors who have struggled, persevered and navigated through the experience of being Mexican in America.
- We Belong by Cookie Hiponia - Go along with Stella and Luna as they learn the story of their mother’s younger days as a Filipino immigrant, told side-by-side with the tale of Mayari, the mythical daughter of a god. Written as a novel-in-verse, this story contains themes of sisterhood, motherhood, fitting in, cultural differences and family bonds.
- Thanks a Lot, Universe by Chad Lucas - Middle grades will be intrigued by this story of fitting in, anxiety, young crushes and other issues familiar to all adolescents. The two boys in the story navigate challenges ranging from foster care to panic attacks to keeping secrets.
- Finding Junie Kim by Ellen Oh - A powerful story about deciding how to speak out against racism, “Finding Junie Kim” focuses on main character Junie who has been trying to fit in at her middle school. Someone defaces her school with racist graffiti and soon after, she begins interviewing her grandparents about their experiences during the Korean War. Julie must decide how to put what she’s learned into action to stand up for herself and her culture.
- Measuring Up by Lily LaMotte - This award-winning story has been featured in magazines, television shows and library contests across the country. It follows the story of 12-year-old Cici as she tries to win a cooking contest and use her prize money to fly her grandmother from Taiwan to Seattle for her 70th birthday. In this quintessential story about fitting in, making new friends and living among two different cultures, multicultural children will see themselves represented in the gorgeously illustrated graphic novel.
- The Magic in Changing Your Stars by Leah Henderson - Protagonist Ailey Benjamin Lane is disappointed when he doesn’t land his desired role in the school play. But after his grandfather gifts him an enchanted pair of tap shoes, he’s transported back in time to 1930s Harlem where he goes on an adventure that will change his future. Filled with an all-Black cast of characters and plenty of lessons on history and culture, this story will delight older elementary and middle school kids.
- Turning Point by Paula Chase - This novel is told in dual perspectives from the points of view of best friends Rasheeda and Monique, who navigate challenges related to overbearing religious family members, racism in the ballet world, first crushes and more.
- Almost American Girl: An Illustrated Memoir by Robin Ha - Robin and her mom relocate from Seoul to Huntsville, Alabama and face challenges like learning the language and making new friends in this non-fiction graphic novel that will resonate with older kids who have had to move to a new school and start from scratch.
These books are only a few of the thought-provoking titles to inspire young readers during Read Across America. To learn more, visit your local library or visit the NEA Website
Sarah Pryor is a journalist, wife, mom and Auburn football fan living in Charlotte, N.C.