Early Readers to Ignite Imaginations | Read Woke

These books nurture literacy, empathy, and understanding.

When I was a young girl, the early readers we were given in elementary school were a step above picture books but fell short of the captivating narratives in chapter books. Their plots were  rudimentary, serving only to encourage reading proficiency. While they were undoubtedly helpful in that regard, I now realize they missed a golden opportunity to celebrate diversity and ­engage young minds in meaningful ways.
Surveying early readers today, I am heartened to see a shift. Writers are weaving tales that are unique, diverse, and inclusive, all the while fostering literacy skills. By exploring a multitude of experiences, they have the power to shape perceptions and ignite imaginations.
My own early reader series, “Hair Magic” (Lerner), follows Imani, a girl with magical hair, as she learns invaluable life lessons. In rewriting the narrative of early readers, we are not only nurturing literacy but also fostering ­empathy, understanding, and a sense of belonging. These series picks aim to do just that.
Get on the Ice, Mo! by David A. Adler, illus. by Sam Ricks. Penguin. 2022.
K-Gr 3–Mo, who is Black, loves sports and won’t let anything get in his way, not even his small size. While practicing ice hockey, he can’t stop falling. During the game, he sits on the bench until the coach calls him in…and Mo scores the winning goal! More “Mo Jackson”
titles on volleyball, swimming, and other sports will have readers cheering.
Parker’s Big Feelings by Parker Curry and Jessica Curry, illus. by Brittany Jackson and Tajaé Keith. S. & S./Simon Spotlight. 2023.
PreS-Gr 1–When no one picks Parker as a class partner at her new school, she feels down and misses her friend, Gia. At home, she tries to read, but her siblings won’t leave her alone. How will Parker navigate all these feelings? Young readers will learn some valuable social-emotional skills in this “Parker Curry” book starring a girl who is Black.
Ava Lin, Best Friend! by Vicky Fang. Candlewick. Jun. 2024.
K-Gr 3–Fang draws on her experience growing up in a Chinese American family to bring Ava Lin’s story to ­readers. Ava loves bubble tea and balancing pasta on her nose. She is also starting first grade and determined to find a best friend. But that means figuring out some ­social rules. Readers will fall for this “Ava Lin” series starter.
Jeet and Fudge: Find Yoga by Amandeep S. Kochar. Paw Prints. 2023.
K-Gr 2–Jeet and his friend Jamal are so nervous about starting second grade that their dogs are nervous, too! Jeet’s mother suggests they try yoga—along with their dogs—so the four engage in poses and mindful breathing. After they get into it, their anxiety settles, while their moods lift. Yoga holds deep religious meaning for Jeet and his Sikh family. The back matter shares more information about yoga. Part of the “Jeet and Fudge” series.
Ty’s Travels: Showtime! by Kelly Starling Lyons, illus. by Niña Mata. HarperCollins. Mar. 2024.
PreS-Gr 3–Ty loves school, and when it’s playtime, he spots a drum set and starts to play. He imagines himself onstage, in the spotlight, entertaining a crowd. But Ty needs friends to fill out the band, and soon all the students are dancing to the beat. This book screams Black-boy joy. Find more of it in other “Ty’s Travels” books.
Ready? Set. Rides! A Raymond and Roxy Book by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illus. by Derek Anderson. Random. 2023.
Gr 1-3–Raymond and Roxy are at the Wild World amusement park on their first day of summer vacation. ­Raymond craves the fast rides. The pony rides aren’t speedy enough for him, and neither is the Wild Cat Racer. Will he find the adventure he seeks? Find out in this book published 20 years after Ready? Set. Raymond!
Cicely Lewis (X: @cicelythegreat) welcomes suggestions.

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