Posted by: Kathy Temean | November 23, 2020

Writing for Social Justice

Hi kidlit reader, Mira Reisberg here from the Children’s Book Academy and Picture Book Palooza/Extravaganza organizer. With all the craziness that’s been going on, I want to speak about one of the exciting panels and breakout rooms – Writing for Social Justice (AKA infusing your stories with underlying social justice themes).

We live in a time of profound societal change and unprecedented danger, while social media highlights the immense economic and political inequalities around the world, which have helped lead to this moment in history. Now, more than ever, we want to foster kindness, empathy, and justice. Huge and far-reaching movements have formed to promote social change, covering everything from removing Confederate monuments from federal property, to reallocating police budgets, to neighborhood pandemic groups that fill in the huge gaps the federal government ignores.

Most editors and agents have Liberal Arts backgrounds in which they have learned about the importance of environmental and social justice, including:

  • poverty
  • Disability and neurodiversity
  • small acts of kindness/inclusion
  • immigrants/refugees
  • civil rights
  • differences and superiority
  • gender stereotypes
  • gender transitions
  • peaceful protest/political activism
  • Climate change
  • Anti-racism
  • LGBTQ rights
  • Disabilities

Books about, or infused with, social justice allow kids insight into what it feels like to be a refugee, to encounter racism, to be seen as different or less than, or to have to fight against great odds for rights and freedoms which others take for granted.  Books are often windows into worlds children cannot imagine or haven’t experienced but must learn about if they are to develop into empathetic citizens. Explaining the basics of human rights in age appropriate ways with stories and examples can set the foundation for a lifelong commitment to social responsibility and global citizenship.

Young people have an innate sense of right and wrong, fair and unfair, so children’s books centering on social justice themes don’t need to be heavy-handed or preachy.  Some books offer an overview of rights; the majority show individuals and organizations past and present who have struggled to overcome injustices. Including characters of different races, religions, genders, abilities, sexual orientations, and other backgrounds at an early age will hopefully lay the foundation for kids deeper engagement with these issues later on. There are many ways of doing this as you’ll learn from these awesome authors.

Tina Shepardson was that child who loved to write stories on paper (yes, on paper), draw pictures, hole punch them, tie them with string and yarn, and read them to the younger kids in her neighborhood. The crinkling sound of the pages was Tina’s favorite sound in the world! She even made paper doll characters to act out the scenes. This was a huge door opener for her into babysitting and eventually teaching. As an author, Tina is thrilled to share her stories! Tina’s mission is to inspire children to be the best person they can be and to nurture their love of reading.

Inspired by a true story, Walkout is about democracy in action as the main character Maddie organizes a safe school’s anti-violence walkout. Other kids throughout the States are walking out, but Maddie’s principal has announced that only older grades can participate.  At the same time, Maddie’s best friend Stella is too scared to help. Can Stella find her courage and join Maddie in walking out?

Tina will be giving a presentation about Teaching Democracy through Kid Lit.

Jolene Gutiérrez grew up on a farm, surrounded by animals, plants, and history. She holds a Master’s degree in Library Science and is an award-winning teacher-librarian who has been working with diverse learners at Denver Academy for the past 25 years. She is a wife of 21 years and mama to two teenage humans and three preteen dogs. An active member of SCBWI and The Author’s Guild, Jolene is a We Need Diverse Books mentorship finalist, a Writing with the Stars 2018 mentee (with picture book author Stacy McAnulty), a Highlights Foundation scholarship winner (twice), a Children’s Book Academy scholarship winner and graduate, and the winner of the Cynthia Levinson nonfiction picture book biography scholarship to the Writing Barn. She’s an active member of debut author support groups Picture Book Buzz and Perfect2020PBs.

In Jolene’s delightful book Mac and Cheese and the Personal Space Invader, Mac and Cheese are the class guinea pigs, and Oliver is their biggest fan. So he watches them to learn how he can be a good friend. But while snuggling might be fine for guinea pigs, Oliver’s classmates don’t like him getting into their personal space bubbles. With the help of his teacher and classmates, Oliver learns that being a friend means respecting personal space.

In Bionic Beasts: Saving Lives with Artificial Flippers, Legs, and Beaks, Jolene asks what happens when a young elephant steps on a buried landmine? What happens when a sea turtle’s flipper is injured by a predator? Thanks to recent advances in technology, we have new ways to design and build prosthetic body parts that can help these animals thrive. Jolene will be sharing tips and techniques for Writing about Neurodiversity and Disability

 Vincent X. Kirsch – is an author, illustrator, playwright and screenwriter living in Asheville, North Carolina. In the past, he has lived in Florence (Italy), New York City, Boston and Los Angeles. Vincent’s most recent illustrations are two-dimensional adaptations of the “Paper Box Playhouse” toy theaters that he has been fiddling around with for most of his life. His distinctive work is very influenced by theater, puppetry, poster art, classical painting techniques and Hollywood films. And his whimsical character designs and storylines range from the fantastically out-of-this-world to inspiringly down-to-earth.

Archie and Zack love each other. But Archie hasn’t told Zack yet. And Zack hasn’t told Archie. They spend just about every minute together: walking to and from school, doing science and art projects, practicing for marching band, learning to ride bikes, and so much more. Archie tries to write a letter to Zack to tell him how he feels: “From A to Z.” None of his drafts sound quite right, so he hides them all away. This new picture book from Vincent X. Kirsch celebrates young, queer love in a whimsical, kid-friendly way. Vince will be presenting on Great Things About Being Gay

M.O. Yuksel is a multi-cultural children’s book author with a passion for research and writing stories about diverse historical figures, whimsical characters, and fascinating cultures. She has a B.A. in English Literature from Fordham University, and an M.A. in Central Asian History and International Affairs from Columbia University. When not writing, M.O. Yuksel is usually on the soccer field cheering for her kids or traveling to exotic places, immersing herself in the local culture. She loves nature, bike riding, and eating shameless amounts of chocolate. She teaches yoga and meditation when she’s not bouncing off the walls from indulging in shameless amounts of chocolate. Once in a while, she’ll venture to teach her friends how to pronounce her real name – Munevver (Mar-vel-ous). But her friends never make it past the Mar and prefer to use her nickname – Mindy. She lives in New Jersey with her three sons, one husband, and a flying carpet.

In My Mosque is Mindy’s lyrical picture book celebrating the traditions and joys found in mosques around the world, and will be available early Spring of 2021. Coming in late 2022, Mindy’s One Wish is a gorgeously illustrated picture book biography about Fatima al-Fihri, a 9th-century woman who pioneered the oldest university in the world in Fez, Morocco. Mindy will be speaking about Fighting Racism with Muslim KidLit

In addition, the Palooza has some super smart moderators and hosts. Debut author Doris Imahiyerobo will discuss writing about family stories that also cover social justice issues, introduce panelists, and keep the program on track. Author Shirin Shamsi will talk about why writing as an #ownvoices author matters and host the breakout party room where she will give feedback to guest responses to our writing about social justice ideas worksheet (coming soon).

These wonderful authors will be sharing their insights and experiences around social justice themes, topics, and characters. If you want to hear them and others live and in their element, join us for the 2020 Picture Book Palooza coming to a computer or device near you on December 5th & 6th.  You won’t want to miss it.

All of these presenters are graduates of our Craft and Business of Writing Children’s Picture Books course, which is now open for registration with a $100 PBLove discount right here:

And if you’d like to apply for a scholarship for it, here’s the link:

Sending much creative love,


Talk tomorrow,



  1. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you so much for sharing information about our #PBPalooza social justice panel, Kathy!


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