Picture books are a great entry point to many difficult conversations with our kids. Read on for more about this creative project to help kids connect with and understand the global social and environmental justice goals as defined by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in an age-appropriate way.
This picture book list is part of a series of picture book lists that align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. We’ve created a picture book list for each of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as well as a FREE coloring poster to track progress and explore the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals with kids.
Learn More & Download The Free Coloring Poster
To learn more about the FREE coloring poster and see all 17 picture book lists, head to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Coloring Poster and Picture Book List homepage. Alternatively, simply sign up for our email list below and receive a link to download the FREE coloring poster.
What Are The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals?
In 2015, the United Nations adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a collective framework for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. The Sustainable Development Goals have broad intentions to end poverty and other deprivations while recognizing the need to simultaneously improve health and education, reduce inequality, spur economic growth, and tackle climate change.
Quality Education | United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #4
Education is a foundational component of prosperity, and the United Nations has included quality education as an integral component of the sustainable development agenda since its inception. The goal implores each of us to advocate for and support inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
Videos To Understand the Global Goals
To accompany the picture book list, these videos are great introductions to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (also called the Global Goals) for students in Primary and Secondary Schools.
Understand Goal 4: Quality Education (Primary)
Understand Goal 4: Quality Education (Secondary)
A Note On Buying and Borrowing Books
We’ve included affiliate links to each of the books below. If you purchase through one of these links, Raising Global Kidizens earns a very small commission that has no impact on your purchase price.
If you can find the books from your local library, from a friend, at an independent bookstore, or through a used book shop, those sources are ideal. Using the library is zero waste, saves money, and saves space in your home because you can read all the books without storing all the books on your bookshelves. If you’re not sure of the best way to use your local library, check out these tips to make the most of your local library. With a little exposure, your kids will learn to LOVE the library!
If you prefer to listen to audiobooks, we recommend using Libro.fm, our favorite audiobook app. We’ve tried several audiobook apps and love that Libro.fm supports independent bookstores and offers a great user experience.
Picture Books About Education
The following list of picture books about education includes books that touch on why education is important and how it can help children and families open doors to new opportunities. Further, many of these stories highlight how education is not accessible to so many children around the world for a variety of reasons. Especially for those of us living in places where education is standard practice for all our children, these stories can offer humbling and meaningful reminders that we should not take education for granted.
Armando and the Blue Tarp School by Edith Hope Fine
A young boy longs to go to school, but he must help his father sift through trash for items to sell to support the family. School is not something all students have the opportunity to attend, and we shouldn’t take it for granted. This book grants kids a new perspective on the privilege of school.
Ages 6-9 | Pages 32
Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai
This might have been one of my favorite books we read while building our list of books for each of the United National Sustainable Development goals. It’s an autobiographical book written by internationally renowned social justice advocate Malala Yousafzai.
She shares her story about the realities she faced fighting for education for girls and other basic rights for people in her home country. The book found a great balance between describing the perils and circumstances she encountered and an appropriate tone for a picture book for children. The story references the pain caused by the Taliban and also alluded to their attempts to kill her without feeling scary for children. This is a book I would definitely consider for our home library.
Ages 4-8 | Pages 48
Told from the perspective of a fictional young girl born with cerebral palsy who attends a public school with her peers, this story shares about the Mills vs. Board of Education of the District of Columbia legal case in the United States that led to laws ensuring children with disabilities could attend public school.
The book is written very much like a story (and not like a non-fiction textbook) with colorful and relevant illustrations to engage young learners. The main character also discusses how attending public school with her peers makes her feel included and not ostracized, even though she does need some extra help throughout the school day.
This is a great book to reinforce that everyone deserves access to quality education, even if they have physical or intellectual impairments.
Ages 5 – 9 | Pages 32
Beatrice’s Goat by Page McBrier
A little girl living in Uganda longs to go to school. Her family does not have enough money to send her to school, and she needs to stay home to help her mother. One day, the family receives a goat as a gift. The goat provides the family with nutrition from its milk and extra milk to sell to make a bit of money for the family. After many months, the girl has saved enough money from the goat’s milk that they sell to pay for school. She is very excited to have an opportunity to attend school and appreciates the big difference the single goat made to her family.
Ages 4-8 | Pages 40
Nasreen’s Secret School by Jeanette Walsh
A young girl in Afghanistan sees her father and her brother taken by the Taliban. Her mom leaves to find her brother and never returns. In utter sadness, she stops talking and sits home.
Her caretaker believes that she will benefit from attending school, something girls are not allowed to do under the regime of the Taliban. For months, the caretaker brings her to the secret school for girls and she remains silent. Eventually, one little girl is able to befriend her, and this sad little girl starts talking.
Ages 6-8 | Pages 40
Yasmin’s Hammer by Ann Malaspina
Two young girls lose their farm to a cyclone in Bangladesh and move to the city with their family in search of jobs. Unfortunately, they do not have enough money to send the sisters to school. Instead, the girls must work each day to earn money for the family. Throughout the story, the main character longs to learn to read and eventually the family saves enough money to allow the girls to get an education.
Ages 6-9 | Pages 40
Ruby’s Wish by Shirin Yim Bridges
Based on a true story, Ruby is a young girl in a family with many children. She lives in China at a time when few girls receive an education and women are expected to tend to the home.
Despite tradition, Ruby tells her grandfather that she wishes to have an education, and she is one of very few girls allowed to pursue university. This makes her very happy. This story can help children recognize that not all kids have equal opportunity for education even if it’s deserved.
Ages 8-12 | Pages 36
Running Shoes by Frederick Lipp
A young girl dreams of going to school but she lives eight kilometers from school and has no shoes to wear to protect her feet to get there. One day, she receives a pair of shoes from a special visitor. The shoes enable her to go to school, an experience that ultimately changes her life. This book gives little ones insight into the small but meaningful barriers to education that others experience and they may take for granted.
Ages 7-9 | Pages 32
All children deserve access to a good education, and separate schools based on race, gender, or any other demographic factor are not equal. This book tells the true story of a young girl, Sylvia Mendez, whose family fought for integrated schools in California to ensure that all students (including those of Mexican descent like Sylvia) had access to a good and fair education.
Ages 6-9 | Pages 40
The Hard Times Jar by Ethel Footman Smothers
A young girl in a migrant family longs to read books of her own, but her family cannot afford anything beyond the basics. As the family travels, the family has a bit of extra money in a jar for hard times. Sometimes she attends school, and other times while traveling, she works to help the family earn money. This book highlights how some families make do with very little while also highlighting the varying degrees to which children have access to good education.
Ages 5-8 | Pages 32
The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read by Rita Lorraine Hubbard
Mary Walker was enslaved until she was 15 and spent her nearly her entire life unable to read. She longed to learn to read but never felt she had time as she worked diligently to care for her family for many decades. Beyond the useful skills literacy offers, Mary Walker exemplifies how the ability to read also provides happiness and a sense of freedom. At 116 years old, Mary finally learned to read and, as she said, felt like she gained the freedom of a bird who can fly when she was able to read the words she saw all around her.
Ages 5-8 | Pages 40
A Computer Called Katherine by Suzanne Slade
This is an engaging, non-fiction story about Katherine Johnson, a math whiz from a young age, who defied the odds as a young, Black female and became a NASA mathematician. She flew through school, graduated early from school, and took college classes beyond what was offered to the general student body. At a time when neither women nor Black people had equal access to education and professional opportunities, she showed many people that Black women were more than capable of excelling in highly technical positions.
Ages 4-8 | Pages 40
Ten Cents A Pound by Nhung N. Tran
A young girl desires to help her family but she wants to leave her home to get an education (something she cannot access from her home in the mountains). Throughout the story, the young girl offers to stay home to help her mother on many occasions. But each time, her mother encourages her to leave for the books and education will set her free to become something more than her mother who works for ten cents a pound in the mountains as a laborer. This story reinforces to readers that quality education is a path to prosperity and one not always readily available to everyone. Many children and families must make significant sacrifices to provide their children with basic education like reading and math.
Ages 5-9 | Pages 24
Neema’s Reason to Smile by Patricia Newman
This is the story of Neema, a young Kenyan girl who dreams of one day being able to afford to go to school. Slowly, and with great purpose, Neema makes a plan to save money in her dream basket and make her dream come true. One day, a mysterious young girl skips down the street wearing a red skirt and white shirt. Soon, she guides Neema all the way to a new school.
Ages 5-10 | Pages 40
The Magical Yet by Angela DiTerlizzi
Even though we don’t have the skills to do everything today, there is so much power in the magical “yet”. This rhythmic story with lovely illustrations reminds us all that we can learn more things and grow our skills. Equitable access to education offers children around the world an opportunity to fulfill their potential and exploit the power of “yet”.
Ages 5-8 | Pages 40
Dear Mr. Rosenwald by Carole Boston Weatherford
Education is not something we should take for granted. Not everyone has access to education. This book tells the story of one of the schools built with funding and support from Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears, Roebuck, and Co., who donated money for more than 5,000 schools in the rural South for Black children. The community had to come together and work hard to bring the school to fruition, but it was very important to them and represented hope for the future.
Ages 7-10 | Pages 40
Razia’s Ray of Hope: One Girl’s Dream of an Education by Elizabeth Suneby
Razia is a young girl in Afghanistan who longs to go to school like her brothers. However, she must convince her father and oldest brother to allow her to attend the new girls’ school in her town. She is sad that her brothers get to learn to read and write while she is not allowed to attend school. Eventually, she convinces her father and eldest brother that her education will help the family and they allow her to attend the girls’ school with other girls in the community.
Ages 8-12 | Pages 32
Rain School by James Rumford
In many places around the world, school buildings are very basic. In this story, when the children arrive at school, there is no school building at all. They must build it together with the teacher before they can enjoy the school year filled with learning. This book reminds readers that access to education and even simple spaces in which to learn are not readily available to everyone and should not be taken for granted.
At the end of the school year, as a result of very heavy rains, the school building (made from mud bricks and leaves) falls apart. They will have to rebuild it again for the next school year. But despite this obstacle, all the students and the teacher know the importance of education and are willing to put in the effort to rebuild the school to have a place to learn together.
Ages 4-7 | Pages 32
Walking To School by Eve Bunting
About both education and civil unrest, this book discusses the impact that animosity between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland had on education for children. In the story, young Catholic children had to walk through a Protestant neighborhood to get to school. On the walk, they endured taunting, name-calling, and other forms of disrespect from the Protestants. For many children, attending school is a safe and comfortable experience. But even when it’s not, getting a quality education is worth enduring hardship.
Ages 4-7 | Pages 32
For the Right to Learn: Malala Yousafzai’s Story by Rebecca Langston-George
In some parts of the world, people have to fight for the right to quality education. This is not consistent with the United Nations SDGs which notes education as a right for all people. This book shares the story of Malala Yousafzai, a young humanitarian advocate, who has and continues to fight for quality education for everyone around the world.
Ages 8-12 | Pages 32
This book profiles how individual children attend school in all sorts of ways around the world. The book includes schools like a floating school in Cambodia, a virtual school in Australia, a home school in the United States, a boarding school in Nepal, and many more.
Ages 2-5 | Pages 32
Off to Class: Incredible and Unusual Schools Around the World by Susan Hughes
As the world bears the impacts of climate change, schools in many places will have to change. This book highlights a variety of schools around the world that look different from each other but all make the most of local, sustainable resources to create schools that are durable in their own environments and support their local cultures.
Ages 9-12 | Pages 64
Are there any books about the importance of education and access to education that we missed? If so, leave them in the comments so we can check them out for the library and enjoy them too!
Download a Printable Book List and Library List
We’ve created a printable PDF of this book list that you can have as a resource for later. It includes images of each of the book covers as well as a single page of titles and authors to take to the library if you prefer to check out books while you visit. To download the list, drop your email address in the sign-up form below. After confirming your email address, you’ll receive the printable booklist in just a few minutes.
And if you have not done so already, be sure to check out the other booklists aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and print out the FREE Coloring Poster!
About The Author
Jen Panaro, a co-founder of Raising Global Kidizens, is a self-proclaimed composting nerd and an advocate for sustainable living for modern families. She’s also a serial library book borrower and a messy gardener.
As a mom to two boys, she is passionate about helping families be more responsible stewards to their communities and the planet. She also owns Honestly Modern, an online space focused on eco-friendly living for modern families.