The best children’s books exploring ideas of justice and accountability

Who am I?

As a parent, I’ve been struck by the fierce sense of justice my children have, from the unfairness of one getting more screen time to bigger injustices, like bullying or discrimination. Kids have an innate sense of what’s right, of what’s fair, but they can also lack a sense of nuance and have rather Byzantine notions of what justice requires. I wrote Wayward Creatures to explore a different way of thinking about justice and accountability. Restorative justice practices seek to bring the offending party together with the people hurt by their actions to acknowledge the harm caused and find a solution together. These five books explore other aspects of what it means to seek justice.

I wrote...

Wayward Creatures

By Dayna Lorentz,

Book cover of Wayward Creatures

What is my book about?

Twelve-year-old Gabe is frustrated with his family, his friends—his whole life, if he’s perfectly honest. In a desperate attempt to recapture the attention of his friends, Gabe sets off fireworks in the woods near his house and ignites a forest fire. A coyote named Rill—tired of her family and longing for adventure—is caught in the chaos of the flames. 

Gabe’s and Rill’s paths irrevocably cross when Gabe is tasked with cleaning up the forest through the court’s restorative justice program. The damage to the land and both their lives is beyond what the two can imagine. But together, they discover that sometimes it only takes one friend to find the place where you belong.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Restart

Dayna Lorentz Why did I love this book?

I love stories that force characters to grapple with big questions. In both Wayward Creatures and Restart, the main character has done something they realize is huge and has hurt a lot of people. Only in Restart, the narrator, Chase, has suffered a traumatic brain injury and doesn’t remember anything about who he was or what he did. The story asks readers to think about what justice and accountability require, both inside and outside the courtroom.

By Gordon Korman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Restart as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

The amazing New York Times bestseller about what you can do when life gives you a second chance.

Chase's memory just went out the window. Chase doesn't remember falling off the roof. He doesn't remember hitting his head. He doesn't, in fact, remember anything. He wakes up in a hospital room and suddenly has to learn his whole life all over again . . . starting with his own name. He knows he's Chase. But who is Chase? When he gets back to school, he sees that different kids have very different reactions to his return. Some kids treat him…

Book cover of Maybe He Just Likes You

Dayna Lorentz Why did I love this book?

As the title suggests, this book asks readers to think about how to tell when action is required to bring justice to a situation. Mila finds herself on the receiving end of unwanted attention from boys in her class, but her friends tell her she’s overreacting. What’s a hug or a touch from a boy? It’s all just playful flirting, right? But it doesn’t feel playful or fun to Mila. In the end, Mila sets the record straight and makes her feelings heard. The ending features a restorative circle, which is an in-school version of the restorative justice process Gabe goes through in my own book.

By Barbara Dee,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Maybe He Just Likes You as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

2019 The Washington Post Best Children’s Book of the Year (Erin Entrada Kelly Pick)
A 2020 ALA Notable Children’s Book

“The novel’s all-too-familiar scenario offers a springboard for discussion among middle schoolers…Easily grasped scenarios and short chapters help make this timely #MeToo story accessible to a wide audience.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Realistic and heartbreaking.” —BCCB

Barbara Dee explores the subject of #MeToo for the middle grade audience in this heart-wrenching—and ultimately uplifting—novel about experiencing harassment and unwanted attention from classmates.

For seventh-grader Mila, it starts with some boys giving her an unwanted hug on the school blacktop. A few…

Book cover of A Good Kind of Trouble

Dayna Lorentz Why did I love this book?

Sometimes seeking justice means pushing on the status quo, both in yourself and in your world. Shayla faces challenges at home, at school, and in her community—her sister has become involved in Black Lives Matter and challenges Shayla’s identity as a black person, her multiracial friend group from elementary school fractures under the pressures of junior high, and a police shooting in her community and the resulting trial has raised tensions in her town. Shalya has to decide what’s important to her and when and how to stand up for what she believes in. 

By Lisa Moore Ramée,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked A Good Kind of Trouble as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

From debut author Lisa Moore Ramee comes this funny and big-hearted debut middle grade novel about friendship, family, and standing up for what's right, perfect for fans of Angie Thomas's The Hate U Give and the novels of Renee Watson and Jason Reynolds.

Twelve-year-old Shayla is allergic to trouble. All she wants to do is to follow the rules. (Oh, and she'd also like to make it through seventh grade with her best friendships intact, learn to run track, and have a cute boy see past her giant forehead.)

But in junior high, it's like all the rules have changed.…

Book cover of Amal Unbound

Dayna Lorentz Why did I love this book?

Amal’s story asks the question of how to fight for justice against seemingly impossible odds. In rural Pakistan, Amal faces responsibilities to her family that force her to leave school, seemingly crushing her dreams of becoming a teacher. After a run-in with the son of the village’s landlord, Amal finds herself forced into indentured servitude. Injustice upon injustice weigh against her, but through her intellect and ingenuity, she finds a way to escape her service and free her town by bringing the corrupt landlord to justice.

By Aisha Saeed,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Amal Unbound as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, 12, and 13.

What is this book about?

A New York Times Bestseller!

Amal has big dreams, until a nightmarish encounter . . .

Twelve-year-old Amal's dream of becoming a teacher one day is dashed in an instant when she accidentally insults a member of her Pakistani village's ruling family. As punishment for her behavior, she is forced to leave her heartbroken family behind and go work at their estate.

Amal is distraught but has faced setbacks before. So she summons her courage and begins navigating the complex rules of life as a servant, with all its attendant jealousies and pecking-order woes. Most troubling, though, is Amal's increasing…

Book cover of Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster

Dayna Lorentz Why did I love this book?

What if justice is helped along by a magical soot golem? In a fantastical Victorian London, an orphaned girl Nan works as a chimney sweep, a job which can only be done by children skinny enough to fit through the chimney pipes. (Mary Poppins lied to us!) When she’s nearly killed while trapped in a tight bend, she’s saved by the “char” her former guardian, known only as the Sweep, left with her, who grows into a soot golem that Nan then must care for. Their adventures lead them to fight to bring awareness to the plight of chimney sweeps and justice for the children forced to risk their lives in the flues.

By Jonathan Auxier,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Sweep as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

From the New York Times bestselling author Jonathan Auxier comes an enchanting standalone novel about the power of friendship and the beauty of finding home

Nan Sparrow is one of London's countless "climbers"-children who spend their days cleaning chimneys. The work is brutal and dangerous. Thanks to her wits and will, Nan has managed to beat the deadly odds time and time again. But when she gets stuck in a chimney fire, it seems the end has come. Instead, she awakens to find herself unharmed in an abandoned attic. And she is not alone. Huddled in the corner is a…

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The Finest Lies

By David J. Naiman,

Book cover of The Finest Lies

David J. Naiman Author Of The Finest Lies

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Who am I?

Anyone with siblings knows the deal. Your sibling becomes your first best friend and closest confidant but also your first competitor and fiercest critic. Navigating that relationship as a teen is fraught with peril. If done poorly, it can leave deep scars. If successful, it can teach you the foundations of how to build healthy relationships for the rest of your life. This theme has everything a writer needs to craft an emotional narrative, and these books do it best.

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What is my book about?

A mysterious stranger traps teen siblings in a precarious game where each must overcome their embittered past for the other to survive.

This suspenseful, yet winsome novel explores the power of family and forgiveness. But take heed. The truth can cut like shards of glass, especially for those who’d rather avoid it. Sometimes, only the finest lies will do.

The Finest Lies

By David J. Naiman,

What is this book about?

High schooler Nicole Hallett has just about had it with her brother Jay, so when a mysterious man appears with an offer to replace him with a better one, she doesn’t hesitate. Nicole has always been impulsive, but this time, she finds herself in predicament far worse than anything she’s experienced. Just like that, an average snow day—usually filled with hot cocoa and snowball fights—is commandeered by the stranger, who forces the siblings into a dangerous game.

Confronted by past reflections, tested by present complications, and threatened by future possibilities, Nicole has until the end of the day to disentangle…

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