Meaningful children’s books every child should read.

What books should every child read? This is the question I’m trying to answer today, in 2021. I’m drawn to books with meaning, values and messages so you’ll find a list below of books that my kids have loved and I’ve loved reading with them. I’ve collated this list for 17 years, and I’m pretty happy with it. It’s not for every child, I’m sure, but it’s certainly worth a look if you’re looking for some book recommendations for inspiring children’s books.

I consider myself to be a conscious Mama, reasonably liberal in my thinking and a social realist. My outlook will have influenced my own choices in books for my children. I tend to be the mum that reads and discusses issues earlier than most of my children’s peers parents. I try not to shy away from sensitive topics (more on this below) and, I prefer a drip-feeding approach in an age-appropriate way.

Go straight to the list here or keep reading to hear more about me and what’s behind the book choices and my approach.

Who am I?

I’m Samantha, a mixed heritage British born London based family portrait photographer of predominantly children and babies. I’m a mother of a 9-year-old multiethnic boy and a 20-year-oldmultiethnic girl.

I feel I have something of value to share. So it’s time to speak to this question of what books should every child read? As a mixed-heritage woman of Black and Indian descent with multiracial children, I feel I have a somewhat unique perspective that I’d love to share.

Commercial Photographer London

How do you like to read?

I have read a lot of books with my children and without them. We have read together and solo. We have read on the sofa, before bedtime, on a train, plane, in a car, on a bus, in the doctor’s surgery, on the beach.

Yeah, we’ve read a fair bit, and I still read most days with my son. But I’m pretty curious, how and when do you read with your kids? At what age will you stop, or did you stop reading with them?

What they like to read vs what I’ve chosen for them

Throughout the years, they’ve both enjoyed an array of books. They’ve had their phases of reading. I wouldn’t say either of them are voracious readers, but they’ve both had their moments.

Whilst my son enjoys reading silly humour, a little fantasy, sports and wildlife on his own until well past his bedtime, I like to deliver other things through my reading with him, which he enjoys.

We tend to cover life lessons, morals and serious topics in an age-appropriate way.

We’ve covered stories of:

  • courage and overcoming obstacles
  • difference and similarity
  • determination
  • confidence
  • independence
  • managing our mental and physical health and;
  • accounts that are about all around being the best humans we can be whilst we are kind to ourselves too…

My daughter (now 20) enjoyed reading humorous literature balanced with serious real-life issues when she was younger. She loved the author Jaqueline Wilson, a social realist, so she attracts readers who enjoy that balance of light entertainment and serious problems.

Social issues, gender, cultural and racial diversity and bias

I’m very open with my kids in an age-appropriate way. Often our reading will cover diversity, race, culture, gender, class, and so on. For me, it’s about tuning into compassion and acceptance through understanding.

As a black ‘other’ Mum who grew up in London, UK, I want my kids to see people who look like them in their books, educational materials, TV, sport, art, celebrity culture and most of all, in everyday life. I didn’t have this at all when I grew up. 

I believe seeing people who look like us and our families, reading about people who look like us or reading books written by people who look like us can offer relevance and connections, inspiration, understanding and impact where other literature cannot.

So over the years, I’ve tried to become so much more conscious of choosing a variety of literature to make sure he sees everything he can in his reading. I also teach him how to read in between the lines of literature that doesn’t show diversity in the story and encourage him to ask questions and answer questions so we can have a discussion.

I welcome sensitive topics.

In our reading, I’ve chosen kids books about feelings and emotions and kids books about diversity. I’ve also included kids books by black authors and Asian authors. We’ve explored black characters, role models and a little history and, we’ve even touched up death a few times.

I believe in educating children from a young age on sensitive topics; some do not share my opinion; however, I think reading about sensitive issues can be done in an age-appropriate way. So I have chosen the time I’ve felt it was right to introduce specific topics to my children.

I believe by doing that I’m helping my children be more conscious, accepting and understanding of children and adults—individuals who will have, on some level, tools to help themselves.

We have spent far too long not talking about topics to our kids IMHO or withholding things until it becomes “necessary” to talk about things. So why make it a thing? Why not introduce things slowly anyway? It makes conversations so much easier when they are older – well, that’s my own experience.

Therefore we talk about these subjects in my home. I don’t feel like I’m ruining them; instead, I empower them to be the best and most beautiful humans they can be for themselves and others.

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Does this have anything to do with my racial background?

Well, yes, actually, hell yeah.

Why?

Because I’m all about educating my “mixed”, “other”, “multi-ethnic” (whatever we wish to describe them as!) children. I guess I’ve seen and experienced a lot in my life—racism, systemic racism, bias, and so on. What I do with reading is show my kids as much as I can to equip them with some tools to help them in life.

No doubt, I want the best for my children. Although I’m sure they have and will experience bias in their lives because of their skin colour and ethnicity, I want them to treat all others as equals. 

Meaningful children’s books every child should read

Here are a few of the books that my kids loved. I’ll start with ages 7-12 first and then a small selection for younger readers too.

Ages 7-12 Years

Books every Child should read

Malala’s Magic Pencil

By nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai

This beautifully illustrated volume tells Malala’s story for a younger audience and shows them the worldview that allowed Malala to hold on to hope even in the most difficult of times.

Books every Child should read

Wonder

By R.J. Palacio

“A landmark Young Adult novel that captured the hearts and minds of millions of readers, Palacio’s tender examination of physical difference and its emotional consequences is undeniably powerful. ”

Waterstones

Meaningful children's books every child should read

The boy at the back of the class

Told with heart and humour, The Boy at the Back of the Class is a child’s perspective on the refugee crisis, highlighting the importance of friendship and kindness in a world that doesn’t always make sense.

Varjak Paw

By award winning writer SF Said

The best-selling story of Varjak Paw, a much-loved story with stunning illustrations from Dave McKean

‘Stylish, original and inventive, Varjak Paw is a modern children’s classic’ Jacqueline Wilson

Little Legends – Exceptional Men in Black History

An important book for readers of all ages, this beautifully illustrated and engagingly written volume brings to life the true stories of black men in history.

New York Times bestselling author-illustrator Vashti Harrison shines a bold, joyous light on black men through history.

The London Eye Mystery

The London Eye Mystery is a children’s mystery novel by English author Siobhan Dowd. First published in 2007, it tells the story of how Ted, a boy with Asperger syndrome, and his sister Kat, solve the mystery of how their cousin, Salim, seemingly vanishes from inside a sealed capsule on the London Eye.

Books every Child should read

Skellig

By visionary writer David Almond

“Touched with a visionary intensity, this strange, hugely readable and life-affirming tale exercises every muscle of the imagination.” Guardian

“Truly original, mysterious and affecting … Almond treads with delicate certainty, and the result is something genuine and true.” Philip Pullman

The Butterfly Lion

Written by Master storyteller Michael Morpugo.

A lyrical and moving tale of a young boy growing up in Africa, and his lifelong friendship with a white lion.

The Butterfly Lion examines the life-long bond that exists between a lonely young boy and a lion cub he befriends, a bond that is sustained across both time and distance.

Dream Big Little One

By author, illustrator and filmmaker Vashti Harrison

This beautifully illustrated board book edition of instant bestseller Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History showcases women who changed the world and is the perfect goodnight book to inspire big dreams.

Little Leaders series

By author, illustrator and filmmaker Vashti Harrison

This includes:

Exceptional Men in history

Visionary women around the world and,

Bold Women in Black History

Inspirational, Engaging, trues stories or bold, trailblazing and visionary black

A lyrical and moving tale of a young boy growing up in Africa, and his lifelong friendship with a white lion.

A lyrical and moving tale of a young boy growing up in Africa, and his lifelong friendship with a white lion.

A beautiful tale of friendship, The Butterfly Lion examines the life-long bond that exists between a lonely young boy and a lion cub he befriends, a bond that is sustained across both time and distance.

The 1000 Year Old Boy

“The 1000-year-old Boy is a breathtakingly epic story that you won’t be able to put down. In Alfi e, Ross Welford has created an unusual and fascinating boy who you are rooting for right from the first word. An original, surprising, moving and compelling read – I loved it” – M. G. Leonard, author of Beetle Boy

Young Gifted and Black

Jamia Wilson has carefully curated this range of black icons and the book is stylishly brought together by Andrea Pippins’ colourful and celebratory illustrations. Written in the spirit of Nina Simone’s song “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black,” this vibrant book is a perfect introduction to both historic and present-day icons and heroes.

“…to be revisited again and again…The candy-colored pages and straightforward stories are hard to resist…” -The New York Times

Have You Filled A Bucket Today?

‘Have you filled a bucket today’ – a brilliant book on positivity which is useful in instilling values of caring, giving, and sharing in young readers. 

With bright illustrations and beautifully written sentences, that are simple to read, kids are taught a metaphor to be kind and loving towards themselves and others. Mindfulness and wellness is an important topic to teach kids early on and this message is delivered in an interesting and lovely way.

This book is probably great for all ages from 5 to all the way up to adults!

You Are Awesome

If you believe you can’t do something, the chances are you won’t try. But what if you really could get better at maths, or sport or exams? In fact, what if you could excel at anything you put your mind to?

You Are Awesome can help you do just that, inspiring and empowering young readers to find the confidence to realise their potential. The first children’s book from Times journalist, two-time Olympian and best-selling author Matthew Syed, it uses examples of successful people from Mozart to David Beckham to demonstrate that success really is earned rather than given, and that talent can be acquired. With hard work and determination, practice and self-belief, there’s no reason why anyone can’t achieve anything.

Practical, insightful and positive, this is the book to help children build resilience, embrace their mistakes and grow into successful, happy adults.

Relax Kids, The Wishing Star


Using guided meditations based around traditional stories this is a gentle and fun way of introducing older children to the world of meditation and relaxation. It is designed to counteract some of the tensions with which we are all familiar at the end of a busy day, and offer parent and children together some quality time to relax and share.

The meditations and visualisations aim to develop children’s imagination and provide them with skills that will be invaluable for the rest of their life. For children aged 5 upwards. The Relax Kids series is available in Europe, and in US since 2015. As featured on BBC’s Dragon’s Den.

Listening To My Body

Listening to my Body is an engaging and interactive book that guides children through the practice of naming their feelings and the physical sensations that accompany them.

By counsellor and author Gabi Garcia

Good Night Mr Tom

Winner of the Guardian Children’s Fiction Award The story of young Willie Beech, evacuated to the country as Britain stands on the brink of the Second World War.

A sad, deprived child, he slowly begins to flourish under the care of old Tom Oakley – but his new-found happiness is shattered by a summons from his mother back in London. As time goes by Tom begins to worry when Willie doesn’t answer his letters, so he goes to London to find him, and there makes a terrible discovery.

This book has sensitive topics, so please check before buying. I’d probably guess age 11 or 12 plus for most children for them to fully understand the text, but it really depends on your child.

Meaningful children's books every child should read

The Boy In The Striped Pajamas

If you start to read this book, you will go on a journey with a nine-year-old boy named Bruno. (Though this isn’t a book for nine-year-olds.) And sooner or later you will arrive with Bruno at a fence.

Fences like this exist all over the world. We hope you never have to encounter one

‘A small wonder of a book’ Guardian

This book has sensitive topics, so pleaseThis book has sensitive topics, so please check before buying. I’d probably guess age 11 or 12 plus for most children for them to fully understand the text, but it really depends on your child.

Ages 3 plus

Here are some of the books my children loved, plus a couple of newer ones I thought would be great reads and would love to have read to my kids.

Many more books are available now with positive examples of Black, Asian, Indian, and Mixed and multi-ethnicity groups. And although I haven’t read any of the newer, more diverse books for younger children, I have noticed a few beautiful books that have caught my eye because they celebrate black hair, brown skin and black culture. I’ve included a couple below.

Meaningful children's books every child should read

Hair Love

New York Times Bestseller and tie-in to Academy-Award Winning Short Film Hair Love

I love that Hair Love is highlighting the relationship between a Black father and daughter. Matthew leads the ranks of new creatives who are telling unique stories of the Black experience. We need this.
– Jordan Peele, Actor & Filmmaker

It’s up to Daddy to give his daughter an extra-special hair style in this ode to self-confidence and the love between fathers and daughters, from Academy-Award winning director and former NFL wide receiver Matthew A. Cherry and New York Times bestselling illustrator Vashti Harrison.

The Gruffalo

Walk further into the deep dark wood, and discover what happens when a quick-witted mouse comes face to face with an owl, a snake… and a hungry Gruffalo!

Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s The Gruffalo is an undisputed modern classic and has become a best-selling phenomenon across the world with over 13.5 million copies sold.

This award-winning rhyming story of a mouse and a monster has found its way into the hearts and bedtimes of an entire generation of children and will undoubtedly continue to enchant children for years and years to come.

No home should be without The Gruffalo!

The Snail And The Whale

One tiny snail longs to see the world and hitches a lift on the tail of a whale. Together they go on an amazing journey, past icebergs and volcanoes, sharks and penguins, and the little snail feels so small in the vastness of the world. But when disaster strikes and the whale is beached in a bay, it’s the tiny snail who saves the day.

The Snail and the Whale is a delightful tale of adventure and friendship by the award-winning team behind The Gruffalo, Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler.

You Choose

Imagine you could go anywhere, meet anyone and do anything. Where would you live? Where would you sleep? Who would be your friends? What games would you play? Go on . . . you choose!

With the help of Nick Sharratt’s wonderfully detailed illustrations, Pippa Goodhart explores a whole range of scenarios where choosing is made fun! This is a timeless classic which children will love to return to again and again – and there’s something new to find on every read!

 Meaningful children's books every child should read

Sulwe

Sulwe’s skin is the colour of midnight. She’s darker than everyone in her family, and everyone at school.

All she wants is to be beautiful and bright, like her mother and sister.

Then a magical journey through the night sky opens her eyes and changes everything.

In this stunning debut picture book, Lupita Nyong’o creates a whimsical and heartwarming story to inspire children to see their own unique beauty.

Monkey Puzzle

Boasting exciting extra content, this twentieth-anniversary edition of Donaldson and Scheffler’s picture book favourite confirms what a beautifully written and illustrated story Monkey Puzzle is. The charming tale of a young ape searching for their mummy, Monkey Puzzle is a delight for all pre-schoolers.

Daisy Eat Your Peas

Daisy does NOT like peas. And there is NOTHING that will get her to eat them.

Mum says she can have an extra pudding, a chocolate factory or a space rocket with DOUBLE RETRO LASER BLAMMERS – but it just won’t work! Can quick-thinking Daisy save her tea time and come up with a cunning plan to turn the tables on Mum?

This wickedly funny story will appeal to cheeky children everywhere (especially fussy eaters!).

Books every Child should read

Room On The Broom

The witch and her cat fly happily over forests, rivers and mountains on their broomstick until a stormy wind blows away the witch’s hat, bow and wand. They are retrieved by a dog, a bird and a frog, and each animal asks for a ride on the broom. They climb on, one after the next, until the broom is so heavy that it snaps in two! What will happen next as they tumble into a bog and meet a greedy dragon?

Room on the Broom is a very funny story of quick wits and friendship and will captivate children with Julia Donaldson’s irresistible verse andAxel Scheffler‘s spectacular illustrations.

There are so many more books I could list, especially in the younger children section! But I shall stop here.

I hope this has been in some way helpful to you. Feel free to let me know what you think 🙂

Sam 😊

I’m Samantha. I’m a North London Family Photographer and International Lifestyle, Portrait and Still Life Photographer. Mindful Mama of 2, leaning into conscious living. Lover of plants and light.

I create meaningful portraits that resonate with your soul. I also help conscious brands better connect with their tribe through honest storytelling and impactful imagery. 

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