The best children’s books with thought-provoking social themes

Who am I?

There is nothing more gratifying when you are reading your own books to a group of children to see that they are eager to know what is going to happen next. My top priority is to create a story that is a page-turner. My second wish is to include social topics that provoke ideas and questions. After I read to a group of schoolchildren, I like to encourage them to discuss the themes in the story; the children are always keen to give their views. Nonetheless, adding social topics to my children’s books needs to evolve naturally; ultimately, for me, the story is king! 

I wrote...

The Adventures of Cedric the Bear

By Lucia Wilson, Anne Bowes (illustrator), Katie Eggington (illustrator)

Book cover of The Adventures of Cedric the Bear

What is my book about?

In the first story, Cedric is enjoying being the centre of attention in the V&A Museum, until he gets bear-napped! In the second adventure, Cedric discovers the Button Bear who lives a miserable life with a mean tailor. Cedric vows to rescue BB and help him find his way home. 

In Cedric in Paris, we meet Cedric’s cousin Velours, a velvet cat. She is a Pet Paralympian and the favourite to win Le Grand Dash. Unfortunately, Olivier (a disabled human) goes missing and Velours must make a choice; to help Capitaine, Olivier’s support pet, find Olivier and miss the race or to follow her dream of winning a gold medal at the Pet Paralympics. (Cedric is inspired by a real-life, prize-winning teddy bear).

The books I picked & why

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Tales from Moominvalley

By Tove Jansson, Thomas Warburton (translator),

Book cover of Tales from Moominvalley

Why this book?

Tove Jansson was not only a wonderful writer, but also a superb illustrator. In this collection of stories, I particularly love "The Hemulen who loved Silence." Even now, I go back to this story to reconnect with the soulful main character who longs for solitude. It isn’t that he doesn’t like others, but he needs to be by himself sometimes, and more than the other hemulens around him. It is the story of an introvert, but not a loner. I can relate to the Hemulen! Tove Jansson stories are full of humour, insight, and thought-provoking ideas. They can also be a little bit scary. Like all the best children’s books, the Moomin books have hidden layers, providing a stimulating read for both adults and children. 

Great Expectations

By Charles Dickens,

Book cover of Great Expectations

Why this book?

Great Expectations is a cracking story full of twists and turns, fantastic characters, and races along as fast as the horses that pull the coach that carries Pip to London. It is a wonderful tale, rich in description for the mind’s eye and nose! In addition, Dickens provides subtle social commentary, revealing class divides and the power of money over social mobility. It is a touching story about love, friendship, loyalty, and kindness which contrasts with the darker elements of snobbery and revenge. It never fails to move me.

Ca ne va Pas, Charlie Brown (You Need Help, Charlie Brown)

By Charles M. Schulz,

Book cover of Ca ne va  Pas, Charlie Brown (You Need Help, Charlie Brown)

Why this book?

I bought this book in a charity shop to help me maintain my knowledge of French! I deliberately chose a children’s book because my level of French is modest, but I don’t really need a reason to pick up a Charlie Brown book. Charles M Schultz created an entire world of personalities with the peanut characters. They began life as a comic strip which makes it perfect for dipping in and out of, sometimes just for one joke! Beneath the humour and childlike simplicity, there are complex topics like mental wellbeing and self-esteem, all delivered via fiendishly clever punchlines. Like all the best illustrators, Schultz is able to convey emotion and energy with a few strokes of his pen. The Charlie Brown books are works of genius, in any language. 

The Railway Children

By Edith Nesbit,

Book cover of The Railway Children

Why this book?

The Railway Children is a rich family saga set in 1905 told from the perspective of the children, Bobbie, Phyllis, and Peter. They live a happy, comfortable life until their father is suddenly taken away by two police officers. The family is forced to move away and adapt to living in the countryside on a much-reduced income. The separation from their father is keenly felt by the children, whilst their mother hides her own distress to protect them. 

We eventually realise that an injustice has occurred, but how can the children hope to reunite with their father? The Railway might provide an answer. Edith Nesbit has created a warm and engaging novel where acts of kindness, sometimes misguided, are integral to the storytelling.

Ethel & Ernest

By Raymond Briggs,

Book cover of Ethel & Ernest

Why this book?

I really admire Raymond Briggs’ work; he’s a wonderful storyteller and a fantastic artist with a great eye for colour. Ethel & Ernest is a beautiful book. The strip-cartoon format works well and makes for an intense reading experience. Whilst this book has lots of humour and light, it also features some dark topics such as the Second World War, mental illness, and bereavement. It is generally considered unsuitable for children under the age of twelve. It’s a charming love story and a vivid social record. I find it heartbreaking at times. It becomes even more touching when you remember that it is based on Briggs’ own family.

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