Social Issues

These books are more than just windows into loveable characters and interesting places. They are also lessons in life and human understanding. As part of the Lifelong Literacy campaign, the Library of Congress invites you to open your heart and mind to real-world issues played out in fiction.

“Holes” by Louis Sachar
Stanley Yelnat's family has a history of bad luck, so he isn't too surprised when a miscarriage of justice sends him to a boys' juvenile detention center, Camp Green Lake. There is no lake, and it's hardly a camp. As punishment, the boys must each dig a hole a day in the hard earth of the dried-up lake bed. The warden is really using the boys to dig for loot buried by the Wild West outlaw Kissin' Kate Barlow.

“Esperanza Rising” by Pam Munoz Ryan
Esperanza's expectation that her 13th birthday will be celebrated with all the material pleasures and folk elements of her previous years is shattered when her father is murdered by bandits. His powerful stepbrothers then hold her mother as a social and economic hostage, wanting to force her remarriage to one of them. Esperanza and her mother flee to the United States and work in California's agricultural industry. They embark on a new way of life, away from the uncles, and Esperanza unwillingly enters a world where she is no longer a princess but a worker.

“Maniac McGee” by Jerry Spinelli
Maniac Magee is a folk story about a boy: one that can outrun dogs, hit a home run off the best pitcher in the neighborhood and tie a knot no one can undo. "Kid's gotta be a maniac," is what the folks in Two Mills say. It's also the story of how this boy, Jeffrey Lionel "Maniac" Magee, confronts racism in a small town, tries to find a home where there is none and attempts to soothe tensions between rival factions on the tough side of town.

“Because of Winn-Dixie” by Kate DiCamillo
The summer Opal and her father move to Naomi, Fla., Opal goes into the Winn-Dixie supermarket—and comes out with a dog, which she dubs Winn-Dixie. Because of Winn-Dixie, her father tells her 10 things about her absent mother, one for each year Opal has been alive. Winn-Dixie is better at making friends than anyone Opal has ever known, and together they meet a cast of characters.

“Walk Two Moons” by Sharon Creech
Thirteen-year-old Salamanca Tree Hiddle, proud of her country roots and the "Indian-ness in her blood," travels from Ohio to Idaho with her eccentric grandparents. Along the way, she tells them of the story of Phoebe Winterbottom. Beneath Phoebe's stories is Salamanca's own story and that of her mother, who left on April morning for Idaho, promising to return before the tulips bloomed. Sal's mother has not, however, returned, and the trip to Idaho takes on a growing urgency as Salamanca hopes to get to Idaho in time for her mother's birthday and bring her back, despite her father's warning that she is fishing in the air.

“Hope Was Here” by Joan Bauer
Ever since the boss promoted her from bus girl two-and-a-half years ago, Hope has been a waitress. She takes pride in making people happy with good food, as does her aunt Addie, a diner cook extraordinaire. The two of them have been a pair ever since Hope's waitress mother abandoned her as a baby, and now they have come to rural Wisconsin to run the Welcome Stairways café for G.T. Stoop, who is dying of leukemia. But he's not dead yet, as the kindly and great-hearted restaurant owner demonstrates when he decides to run for mayor against the wicked and corrupt Eli Millstone.

  • Newbery Honor Book (2001)

“Rules of the Road” by Joan Bauer
Sixteen-year-old Jenna Boller has the world by the tail. She's just received her driver's license and she loves her job at Gladstone's Shoe Store. Even better, she's been tapped to drive Mrs. Madeline Gladstone, the imposing president of the shoe store chain, from Chicago to Dallas. During the road trip, Jenna educates herself in the ways of big business and dealing with difficult people. She also ruminates about her alcoholic father, her ailing grandmother and her mom and sister waiting at home. She arrives back in Chicago both braver and wiser.

  • Top young adult books of the last 25 years by the American Library Association; Los Angeles Times Book Prize (1998)

“When Zachary Beaver Came to Town” by Kimberly Willis Holt
Toby Wilson is having the toughest summer of his life. It's the summer his mother leaves for good and the summer his best friend's brother returns from Vietnam in a coffin. And the summer that Zachary Beaver, the fattest boy in the world, arrives in their sleepy Texas town. While it's a summer filled with heartache of every kind, it's also a summer of new friendships gained and old friendships renewed. And it's Zachary Beaver who turns the town of Antler upside down and leaves everyone, especially Toby, changed forever.

  • National Book Award (1999)

“The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place” by E.L. Konigsburg
Twelve-year-old Margaret Rose Kane is incorrigible. Not only does she refuse to bend to the will of her manipulative cabin mates at Camp Talequa, she stands up to and inadvertently insults the camp director Mrs. Kaplan. When Margaret is finally banished/rescued from Camp Talequa, she spends the rest of the summer with her Hungarian great-uncles, Alexander and Morris Rose. Margaret adores her great-uncles, and loves the house at 19 Schuyler Place, especially the three peculiar clock towers that the Rose brothers have been building for as long as she can remember—but the city council threatens to tear down.

“The Preacher's Boy” by Katherine Paterson
As the year 1899 draws to a close, the people in Robbie's rural Vermont community anticipate the coming of the 20th century with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. Some fear that the end is near. Others, like Robbie's minister father, thinks "the world's at a sort of beginning." Robbie does not know what to believe. As the son of a preacher, he is expected to exhibit exemplary behavior, but he cannot seem to turn the other cheek to those who make fun of his "simple-minded" brother. In a fit of anger, Robbie comes dangerously close to drowning a boy and sets off a chain of irreversible events; he must rely on his conscience to lead him toward redemption.

“Ramona and Her Father” by Beverly Cleary
Ramona’s father, Mr. Quimby, loses his job without warning, and her 7-year-old view of this all-too-frequently a family crisis rings every change of mood from tears to laughter. Not surprisingly, Ramona takes an active hand in the problems that develop. Sometimes Mr. Quimby's temper frays under the strain of his uncertain future and Ramona's attentions, but he proves as resilient as his daughter and the Quimbys cope better than they realize.

  • Newbery Honor Book (1978)

“Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” by Mildred D. Taylor
Through 9-year-old Cassie Logan unfolds the story of one African-American family, fighting to stay together and strong in the face of brutal racist attacks, illness, poverty and betrayal in the Deep South of the 1930s.

  • Newbery Medal (1977)

“Yolonda's Genius” by Carol Fenner
When their widowed mother decides that Chicago is no place to raise 11-year-old Yolonda and 6-year-old Andrew, the African-American family moves to a Michigan suburb. Yolonda's schoolwork is outstanding; her teachers' reactions prompt her to see if she matches the dictionary definition of a genius. This little exercise yields a startling realization—musically gifted Andrew could be a real genius as well. Yolonda is determined to have her brother's ability acknowledged, and it ultimately is by legendary blues artist B.B. King.

  • Newbery Honor (1996)

“View From Saturday” by E.L. Konigsburg
It was a surprise to a lot of people when Mrs. Olinski's team won the sixth-grade Academic Bowl contest at Epiphany Middle School. It was an even bigger surprise when they beat the seventh grade and the eighth grade, too. Mrs. Olinski, returning to teaching after having been injured in an automobile accident, found that her Academic Bowl team became her answer to finding confidence and success. What she did not know, at least at first, was that her team knew more than she did the answer to why they had been chosen.

“A Friendship for Today” by Patricia C. McKissack
Rosemary enters sixth grade in 1954, just after her Missouri town acts upon the Supreme Court school desegregation decision and closes the "colored school" the girl has attended. Since her best friend, J.J., contracts polio just before school starts, Rosemary is the only black child in her class at her new school. Her first day her assigned seat is right next to Grace, her neighborhood nemesis, who comes from a racist family. The two ultimately form a friendship that crosses racial boundaries.

“Small Steps” by Louis Sachar
Two years after being released from Camp Green Lake, Armpit is home in Austin, Texas, trying to turn his life around. The only person who believes in him is Ginny, his 10-year old disabled neighbor. Together, they are learning to take small steps. And he seems to be on the right path, until X-Ray, a buddy from Camp Green Lake, comes up with a get-rich-quick scheme.