• Caitlin Baker

25 Diverse Books on Health Equity & the Environment.

This month, MAR explores themes of Health Equity and the Environment, both of which are timely topics frequently making news headlines both close to home and farther away. BIPOC communities certainly face a great deal of racism and discrimination in both areas, but how does this apply directly to us moms beyond being currently relevant areas where injustice is experienced? Here are 25 titles ranging from children's board books to Adult non-fiction on Health, the Environment, and Equity that you can add to your library today.

15 of the 25 book covers from the list on a red background

Like many other occurrences in everyday life, I am not put in unsafe situations due to my skin colour, and the heaviness is not lost on me when I consider that being in an unsafe situation due to race in the healthcare system can literally mean the difference between life and death, and that’s not only considering physical health but also mental health.

MAR Recommends: 25 Books on Health, Environment, and Equity.

As a white mother currently raising two white children and pregnant with my third, health equity is something I’ve been considering often lately, particularly in acknowledging the great deal of privilege I possess. My children and I can easily access healthcare knowing that we will not face discrimination based on the colour of our skin. I can be supported through pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period without fear of judgement, assumptions and biases, or receiving care less than an acceptable standard due to my race. Both myself and my unborn child are automatically assured healthier outcomes, less risk, and lowered rates of both fetal and maternal mortality simply because we are white. I can make choices in where and how I birth without worrying others will judge me on the basis of racial discrimination or certain birth traditions in my culture.

Going further and considering how intersectionality comes into play, my privilege only expands when you consider that I speak English as a first language, am cisgender, middle class, married to a white cis man, and both myself and my husband have stable careers. And in the event that I should experience substandard medical care, I can safely report this knowing that it likely was not due to racial prejudice, but perhaps due to a provider not doing their job correctly. When the care I am offered is less than expected, I can brush it off as “they must be having a bad day” or “it’s busy and they are really run off their feet”, rather than fearing that the care I am receiving is due to assumptions the provider is making about me. I can also advocate for myself and speak up when I don’t think I’m receiving the care and attention I deserve, without fear of repercussion or further discrimination due to my race.

Like many other occurrences in everyday life, I am not put in unsafe situations due to my skin colour, and the heaviness is not lost on me when I consider that being in an unsafe situation due to race in the healthcare system can literally mean the difference between life and death, and that’s not only considering physical health but also mental health. As someone who has struggled with anxiety and depression following the births of both of my children, I am exceedingly grateful for the access I had to kind and compassionate care - something that many BIPOC moms definitely do not experience. I certainly won’t pretend that our healthcare system is perfect, particularly when it comes to support for mental health, but it is definitely also important to acknowledge that those who are lucky to be receiving good care are likely not BIPOC individuals.

Considering how racial inequity factors into issues with the environment, I’d argue that this is inextricably tied to health. Because I am white, living in a predominantly white middle-class community, I benefit from clean air, clear drinking water, easy access to affordable healthy food, and exponentially lowered risk of environmental toxicity. I don’t have to worry that my children will encounter harmful toxins in their environment while enjoying parks, playgrounds and exploring the natural world. Boil water advisories are extremely rare, and when they have occurred, it is for a very short period of time, as opposed to being the daily ongoing reality faced by many Indigenous communities in Canada. Simply put, my family is automatically granted good health in many areas due to the privilege we possess and the environment in which we live.

Everyone deserves to reach their full health potential and not be disadvantaged from attaining it because of their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, age, social class, socioeconomic status or other socially determined circumstance. Unfortunately, our systems have been created and sustained in a way that DOES disadvantage Indigenous, Black, and Families of Colour. This month, MAR recommends a wide variety of reading material on the topics of both health and environment, and encourages you to consider how factors of race impact these two areas of everyday life. Hopefully these books can open dialogue in your household around important issues such as safe access to clean drinking water and healthy food, the importance of connections with nature and environment to traditional Indigenous ways of knowing, traditional medicine and healing, and mental health. When reading these books, or others, you can ask yourself:

  • "Is this written from a white-centric point of view?",

  • "Would BIPOC parents experience any barriers to access to follow the recommendations in this book?", and

  • "How is my perception and understanding of this information impacted by my internalized racist biases?".

The offerings this month are varied, including everything from fiction and biographies to even a colouring book on the adult list that we hope may provide a unique activity to do alongside your children as a further way to open conversation.

Happy reading (and colouring)!

Board Books

Happy Healthy Baby Series by Elizabeth Verdick & Marjorie Lisovskis

“The Happy Healthy Baby series features bouncy rhythms and bright photos and illustrations that capture the moments and moods of baby’s day and hold baby’s attention. As the books are shared with them, babies absorb concepts of love, safety, and confidence. These sturdy-format books include tips for parents and caregivers.” - Strong Nations

Nibi is Water by Joanne Robertson

“A first conversation about the importance of Nibi—which means water in Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe)—and our role to thank, respect, love, and protect it. Babies and toddlers can follow Nibi as it rains and snows, splashes or rows, drips and sips. Written from an Anishinaabe water protector’s perspective, the book is in dual language—English and Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe).” - Strong Nations

Soup Day by Melissa Iwai

“Iwai’s writing debut beautifully depicts the loving relationship between a mother and daughter as they go about a winter ritual—making soup. The two brave the snow to buy vegetables at the market, then it’s back home to chop them all up, Mommy’s hand helping her child’s to chop the softest of the vegetables. Step-by-step the two mix the ingredients together. While it cooks, they fill the time by playing. Mommy adds the spices, and the daughter gets to choose the pasta shape for the soup. The two clean up while it cooks. Finally, Daddy is home and it is time to eat the soup, as much a product of the love that went into it as the vegetables.” - Kirkus Reviews

May We Have Enough to Share by Richard Van Camp

“Award-winning author Richard Van Camp wrote this book to express his gratitude for all that surrounds him and his family. The strength of their connections, the nature that provides for them, the love that is endless. Complemented by photos from photographers who celebrate their own gratefulness on the collective blog Tea & Bannock, the simple verse in May We Have Enough to Share is the perfect way to start or end your little one's days in gratitude.” - Orca Books

Picture Books

Trudy’s Rock Story by Trudy Spiller

“When a young girl from the Gitxsan Nation argues with her brother, she remembers the teachings of her grandmother and goes in search of a stone to share her feelings with. This engaging First Nation’s story teaches children that it is okay to have feelings and shows them how to process and release negative thoughts.” - Strong Nations

**Also available in French (Le Caillou de Trudy)**

The Whale Child by Keith Egawa and Chenoa Egawa

“The whale child has been chosen to turn into human form and teach the lessons of the ocean to his human sister, Alex, who lives in the Pacific Northwest with her Coast Salish mother and Polynesian father. For several days, the whale in boy form leads Alex on an environmental learning journey, taking her on daily walks to educate her about the negative impact that human culture has had on the environment. He teaches Alex about water pollution, overfishing, and climate change that inevitably leads to the extinction of many animal species and the destruction of ecosystems. When he returns to the ocean in his original whale form, it is up to Alex now to teach what she has learned to other humans.” - Kirkus Reviews

Harlem Grown: How One Big Idea Transformed a Neighborhood by Tony Hillery

“Harlem Grown tells the inspiring true story of how one man made a big difference in a neighborhood. After seeing how restless they were and their lack of healthy food options, Tony Hillery invited students from an underfunded school to turn a vacant lot into a beautiful and functional farm. By getting their hands dirty, these kids turned an abandoned space into something beautiful and useful while learning about healthy, sustainable eating and collaboration.” - Simon & Schuster

The Doctor with an Eye for Eyes: The Story of Dr. Patricia Bath by Julia Finley Mosca

“As a girl coming of age during the civil rights movement, Patricia Bath made it her mission to become a doctor. When obstacles like racism, poverty, and sexism threatened this goal, she persevered―changing the world with a new treatment for blindness! Includes a complete biography, fun facts, a colorful time line of events, and a special note for readers from Dr. Bath herself.” - Scholastic

Nibi’s Water Song by Sunshine Tenasco

“Determination, teamwork and perseverance together bring clean water for Nibi and all her friends. Nibi is the Anishinaabemowin word for water. In Nibi's Water Song , an Indigenous girl is on the search for clean water to drink. Nibi is thirsty, so thirsty her mouth is clucking. Her joyful determination to find water carries an optimistic message about working together to bring change.” - Scholastic

Middle Grades

Environmentalists from our First Nations by Vincent Schilling

“Like the other books in the First Nations Series for Young Readers, this books offers ten short and engaging biographies of First Nations/Native activists who advocate not only for the environment but for Native rights. Their stories are full of highs and lows, triumphs and setbacks. Environmental trailblazers, these men and women are role models for children everywhere.” - Strong Nations

Siha Tooskin Knows the Best Medicine by Charlene & Wilson Bearhead

“When Siha Tooskin—Paul Wahasaypa—finds himself not feeling at all well he learns that there are answers for him from the healing practices of his own people and from Western medicine. Pay a hospital visit to Paul as he learns more about where “modern medicine” really comes from and how we can all benefit from Indigenous and Western healers as Paul seeks the best medicine for his own wellness.” - Strong Nations

Stargazing by Jen Wang

“Christine is a Chinese American girl living in an Asian suburb who’s focused on her music and grade school work. Change comes when her parents offer the in-law apartment her grandpa used to live in to a struggling Chinese American mother and child from church, encouraging Christine to befriend Moon, the daughter. The only thing is, they are complete opposites.[...] Despite all that, the two become fast friends, stretching each other’s interests with K-pop, art, and the like. Moon later shares a deep secret with Christine: She receives visions from celestial beings that tell her she belongs with them. Trouble soon follows, with struggles with jealousy, social expectations, and devastating medical news for Moon. Wang is a master storyteller, knowing when to quietly place panels between each moment to sharpen the emotional impact or to fill it with life. It is so very rare and refreshing to see diversity within the Asian American community authentically portrayed; Wang allows each character complete ownership of their identity, freeing their truths and, in the process, allowing readers to do the same.” - Kirkus Reviews

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

“Castle “Ghost” Cranshaw feels like he’s been running ever since his dad pulled that gun on him and his mom—and used it. His dad’s been in jail three years now, but Ghost still feels the trauma, which is probably at the root of the many “altercations” he gets into at middle school. When he inserts himself into a practice for a local elite track team, the Defenders, he’s fast enough that the hard-as-nails coach decides to put him on the team. Ghost is surprised to find himself caring enough about being on the team that he curbs his behavior to avoid “altercations.” But Ma doesn’t have money to spare on things like fancy running shoes, so Ghost shoplifts a pair that make his feet feel impossibly light—and his conscience correspondingly heavy.“ - Kirkus Reviews

Strange Birds: A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers by Celia C. Pérez

“When three very different girls find a mysterious invitation to a lavish mansion, the promise of adventure and mischief is too intriguing to pass up. Ofelia Castillo (a budding journalist), Aster Douglas (a bookish foodie), and Cat Garcia (a rule-abiding birdwatcher) meet the kid behind the invite, Lane DiSanti, and it isn’t love at first sight. But they soon bond over a shared mission to get the Floras, their local Scouts, to ditch an outdated tradition. In their quest for justice, independence, and an unforgettable summer, the girls form their own troop and find something they didn’t know they needed: sisterhood.” - Penguin Random House

Young Adult

One Earth: People of Color Protecting our Planet by Anuradha Rao