The Suburban Mosaic Book of the Year program started 14 years ago to promote cross-cultural understanding through literature, amid the changing face of suburban communities.
As the book selection committee of librarians and teachers releases its list of titles for the 2017-18 school year, organizer John Brennan said he believes the mission of the group is especially important in today's political climate.
"People talked about the importance of diversity when we started out with this thing. That's kind of an easy word. What we really need to face out here in the suburbs is racial justice," said Brennan, of Mount Prospect. "Apparently diversity is under attack. In a way, this kind of reading program is as timely as ever."
The program invites readers to read and discuss up to six books that deal with issues of racial and social justice. Some two dozen libraries and school districts in Cook and Lake counties are involved in the program. Libraries sponsor book discussion groups, and schools have put the books on student reading lists and encouraged teachers to use them in the classroom.
With the national debate about immigration growing louder, two of the titles on this year's list address the topic.
"Lucky Boy" by Shanthi Sekaran is the committee's adult reading selection. The novel follows a Mexican immigrant along her journey across the border, and how her child eventually ends up in the care of a married couple in California that can't have children.
The book chosen for students in grades 1-2 is "We Came to America," by Faith Ringgold. It details the many groups that have immigrated to the United States over its history.
"Immigration is a common topic, and things keep popping up," said Adelaide Rowe, head of youth services at the Elk Grove Village Public Library, and a member of the book selection committee.
Other titles this year are: "The Water Princess," by Susan Vette (preschool); "Save Me a Seat," by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan (grades 3-5); "Ghost: Running For His Life or From It?" by Jason Reynolds (middle school); and "March: Book Three," by congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell (high school).
Rowe said despite the complex topics addressed in the Suburban Mosaic books over the years -- such as racism, religion and mental illness -- the selection committee aims to choose books that are readable.
Librarians will be ordering this year's selections soon, while schools are planning to have the books by fall.
All of the books going back to 2004 are still available at the Elk Grove Library, Rowe said.
For more on the program and lists of previous years' titles, visit suburbanmosaicbooks.org.