AmazeWorks staff posing with our arms gesturing outward, toward our photoshopped #BooksForBelonging picks of different AmazeWorks picture books. White text reads, "Books for Belonging; #GTMD23"

AmazeWorks Staff #BooksForBelonging Picks


AmazeWorks Elementary Curriculum provides picture books and lessons to schools so those stories are heard. Throughout November for Give to the Max season, AmazeWorks staff shared our favorite books from our anti-bias elementary curriculum. This was for our #BooksForBelonging campaign, raising money to bring more identity-affirming books like these into classrooms across Minnesota and the US.

Now, we’ve brought all of our favorites together so you can find them in one place! Here are the reasons we chose these Books for Belonging: 

Andrew Zhao, Director of Programs and Partners

Cooper’s Lesson, by Sun Yung Shin

Andrew holding a copy of "Cooper's Lesson" in front of stacks of AmazeWorks book boxes. He's wearing a dark green and navy blue plaid button-up shirt.

I would’ve loved to have had “elementary school Andrew” read Cooper’s Lesson by Sun Yung Shin. I am a first generation Chinese American whose parents immigrated here while they were in college. Growing up, I regularly felt myself at the intersection of these two cultures where I never quite fit in with either. I looked too different to be fully accepted here and I was too foreign to be considered authentically Chinese when I visited my family abroad.

Cooper’s experience of not understanding Korean and also feeling out of place with his peers, but ultimately finding a path to appreciate and learn about his cultural identity would’ve been very empowering for me.

Jenni Bratulich, Director of Advancement

All the Colors of the Earth by Sheila Hamanaka

A selfie of Jenni posing with children's book, "All the Colors of the Earth." The book pictures two children riding a flying eagle in a yellow sky. Jenni wears a matching yellow cardigan and a black floral shirt.

Growing up in a small rural town in North Dakota, I had very few windows into the lived experiences and identities of people who were different from me. Everywhere I looked, most of the people I interacted with, the books I read, and stories I heard mirrored my own identity, affirmed my lived experience, which did very little to prepare me to understand or respect the differences of those who were different from me.

I wish I would have had books like All The Colors of the Earth early in my childhood development so that even if I couldn’t see difference around me, I was given the gift of understanding difference and asking questions without the fear and anxiety that came as an adult trying to navigate all of the differences that existed beyond the town I grew up in. I love how this book celebrates our differences as something beautiful, not something to fear or ignore.

Melissa Andersen, Education Director

Jingle Dancer, by Cynthia Leitich Smith

As a White, cis-gender, able-bodied woman, I know I carry identity privilege in many ways. For me, there were mirrors to see myself reflected in books as a child in many ways. What I really missed out on was the presence of strong, positive windows into the lives of those who were different from me. Much of our AmazeWorks Elementary Curriculum would have provided me with an understanding and appreciation of differences along with the tools to notice, name, and reject bias that I have had to intentionally seek out on my own as an adult.

One book in our curriculum that would’ve been a great window for me is Jingle Dancer. I grew up next to the Bad River Reservation in Wisconsin, and I wish I would’ve had more windows into the beautiful culture of my Ojibwe peers, rather than the misinformation I learned from history lessons at school or the things I heard some of my family members say. I would’ve loved to better understand and connect with my Ojibwe friends, and perhaps those friendships would’ve lasted into my adulthood rather than fading away in our teen years.

Melissa Hendrickx, Business and Operations Director

I Walk with Vanessa: A Story about a Simple Act of Kindness, by Kerascoët

Melissa Hendrickx smiling and posing with the picture book, "I Walk with Vanessa." She is wearing a gray t-shirt and standing in front of an AmazeWorks book shelf with book boxes stacked on top of it.

I was very shy as a child. Even if I saw mistreatment happening, I was often too scared or unsure of how to intervene. The book I Walk with Vanessa shows, in a relatable way, how that can weigh on a child who wants to do the right thing, but initially is too hesitant. In the conclusion, it provides a concrete solution for befriending someone. These are the types of examples that would have resonated with me in elementary school.

Rebecca Slaby, Executive Director

Star of the Week: A Story of Love, Adoption, and Brownies with Sprinkles, by Darlene Friedman

Rebecca posing with the picture book, "Star of the Week," and smiling. She is standing in front of an AmazeWorks book shelf with book boxes stacked on top.

Growing up, I wish I’d had the book, Star of the Week, which is in our Kindergarten book box. Star of the Week is about a young Chinese American girl who is adopted by White parents. When it is her turn to be Star of the Week for her Kindergarten class, she must create a poster about herself. While she is excited to share about her family, she is nervous about how to explain her adoption and doesn’t know what to say or include about her birth parents.

For me as a Korean adoptee, I would have loved to have had my Asian-ness and my transracial, adoptive family structure reflected in a story or picture book. It would have given me some language to express my own ambivalence about sharing about my adoption and birth family. It would have also helped my friends and classmates have empathy for and understanding of my identities and lived experiences without my having to explain these things to others myself as a child.

Ryan Kersey, Education Sales and Operations Manager

A selfie of Ryan posing with picture book, "Except When They Don't." He is wearing a pink pastel tie dye collared shirt, and AmazeWorks book boxes are stacked behind him.

Except When They Don’t, by Laura Gehl

The book Except When They Don’t would have been amazing to see growing up in my classroom. We are told in many different ways on what makes you a boy or a girl. This book shows that it is ok to be exactly who you are and to lean into playing, doing, and expressing whatever they want without the standard of having to be “one way” for your gender.

Sophie Herrington, Development and Communications Coordinator

Stella Brings the Family, by Miriam B. Schiffer

Sophie holding the picture book, "Stella Brings the Family," featuring a red-headed child holding hands with her two dads. Sophie is wearing a black sweater with thin white stripes and is standing in front of the AmazeWorks book shelf with book boxes stacked on top.

I wish I’d had Stella Brings the Family as a kid, about a child with two dads wondering who she’ll bring to her classroom’s Mother’s Day celebration. Growing up with a mother and a father in my home and so many other dominant identities and lived experiences, I never had to think about the way some holidays and events could be exclusive. This book would have helped me think more critically about how to make sure everyone could be included while also showing up as their full, authentic selves.

We are so proud to have raised $11,815 for our #BooksForBelonging campaign. Thank you for helping us get there!

Want to help even more children to read these books in their classrooms? Donate to AmazeWorks to help all children see themselves on the pages of a book AND see windows into identities and lives different from theirs. 📚

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