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

Dayna Lorentz Author Of Wayward Creatures
By Dayna Lorentz

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.

The books I picked & why

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By Gordon Korman,

Book cover of Restart

Why 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.

Maybe He Just Likes You

By Barbara Dee,

Book cover of Maybe He Just Likes You

Why 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.

A Good Kind of Trouble

By Lisa Moore Ramée,

Book cover of A Good Kind of Trouble

Why 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. 

Amal Unbound

By Aisha Saeed,

Book cover of Amal Unbound

Why 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.

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster

By Jonathan Auxier,

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

Why 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.

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