TMS 2021 Gift Guide: World Expanding, Confidence Building Books for Kids Under 10! – The Mary Sue

Three books featured on the 2021 TMS Bookish Gift Guide for pre-5th grade. (Image: Quill Tree Books, Roaring Brook Press, and Tundra Books (NY).)
With Diwali kicking off the holiday season and a supply chain issue in books (and everything at this point), now is the time to get those book orders in. Each of our four bookish gift guides this year will feature a handful of books, age recommendations, and more. If you know a voracious reader who prefers a challenge, then don’t worry—other guides will include a preteens list and a YA+ list. The adult gift guide won’t be books, and that’s all I can say about that right now!
While we love a good classic or celebrity book—looking at you, Lupita N’yongo—these books by authors/illustrators were released in the last three years. Each pick notes some themes and a general age recommendation, useful whether you’re looking to donate a book or you know the kiddos personally. Either way, they’re reading.
(Image: Roaring Brook Press.)
This story follows one young water protector taking a stand against a black snake threatening to destroy the earth and poison the water. While fictionalized, this book takes inspiration from the many Indigenous-led environmental movements in North America. Releasing a few months ago, We Are Water Protectors is already seeing widespread recognition and success.
This story touches on Indigenous heritage, the environment, and health. Recommended age range is two to seven or those in preschool to first grade.
(Image: Dial Books.)
Based on the author/illustrator’s own experience, this book is about a boy who moved from Puerto Rico to New York City. At first, Miguel is homesick and feels frustrated because he misses the food, his neighbors, his Abuelo’s stories and his pet frog, Coquí. However, Miguel soon learns there’s actually a lot in common and finds unique ways to keep Puerto Rico with him.
This story touches on new experiences, moving, disability, and family. Recommended age range is three to seven, or those in preschool to second grade.
(Image: Tundra Books (NY).)
A complete coincidence that there are two amphibians on this list, but if frogs carry wisdom, maybe we should listen? Anyways, Carol has used her bossy toad hat to guide her through life, and when a pigeon plucks it away, Carol is unsure what to do. She makes another hat, and it, too, is taken from her—the funny, heart-warming story about a girl learning to be self-reliant and listen to her own heart.
This story touches on self-esteem. Recommended age range is four to eight, or those in kindergarten to third grade.
(Image: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.)
In early grade school, we learn what pronouns are and how to use them, meaning a conversation about others’ pronouns should fit nicely into what kids are already learning. Corrigan and Milton’s picture book explains what they are, how to use them, and what to do if you accidentally misgender someone.
This book actually comes out December 3, so if pre-ordering just to reship is an issue, They She He Me: Free to Be! by Maya Christina Gonzales and Mathew SG is a good choice—especially if you want a book to introduce them to the topic younger.
This story touches on identity, language, and self-esteem. Recommended age range is five to nine, or those in second to third grade.
(Image: Schirmer Trade Books.)
Tracing her life as a musician who defied both racial and gender expectations, the middle schoolers of the Kaufman Music Center in NYC wrote and illustrated this book about Florence Price. Price is the first Black woman to be recognized as a symphony composer and performed at a major American orchestra in 1933. The collaborative, short book releases November 18.
This story touches on perseverance, racism, sexism, and music history. While there is no official age range I could find, this seems ideal for those 7+.
(Image: Pan African Publishing House.)
The second book in the Reign series (doesn’t have to be read in order) is a non-fiction picture book exploring 20 ethnic groups of the African Diaspora within North and South America. Each entry features illustrations and historical information, and shows the similarities and differences between these groups.
Recommended age range is 8+, or those in third to fifth grade.
(Image: Quill Tree Books.)
The first chapter book on this particular list, Red, White, and Whole, is a novel told in verse. As the only Indian-American student in her school, Reha feels like she has to live two different lives—one at home to please her family and one at school to fit in. Though Reha feels most disconnected from her mother, Amma, this is challenged when she finds that her mother is very, very sick. Reha is determined to become a doctor to aid Amma’s pain and be the “perfect daughter” to help her mother feel more comfortable.
This story touches on immigration, emotions, long-term illness, and poetry. Recommended age range is 8+, or those in third to seventh grade.
(Image: Harry N. Abrams.)
Like the previous entry, the final entry is another chapter book and can be a child’s first introduction to (non-picture book) science fiction. Thirty years after humans went extinct, a twelve-year-old robot (XR_935) has known nothing but peace and prosperity. Things change, however, when the impossible occurs as XR_935 finds a human girl named Emma.
Together with two other robots, they embark on a journey for answers. Did I mention the perspective is in the first person with the robot being the main narrator?! If that didn’t sound exciting enough, The Last Human is set to be adapted into a movie by the same producers of the best Spider-Man film, Into the Spider-Verse.
This story touches on friendship and dystopian society. Recommended age range is 8+, or those in third to seventh grade.

If you feel so inclined, there are many great books lists on the several articles we have about conservatives banning or “reviewing” books because they dare talk about race, gender, etc. (From Pennsylvania to Texas.)  Either way, keep on the lookout for the upcoming gift guides in the books sections and other places on The Mary Sue!
(image: Quill Tree Books, Roaring Brook Press, and Tundra Books (NY))
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(she/her) Award-winning digital artist and blogger with an interest in art, politics, identity, and history—especially when they all come together. This Texan balances book-buying blurs with liberal Libby use.
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