Be the Change! Books to Inspire Activist Kids
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Activist kids? Is that possible? YES!
An activist is a person who works to bring about political or social change.
Use these children’s books about activism to teach and inspire your children and students. They’ll learn about activists who sparked change in their communities and the world.
You’ll read biographies and stories about change-makers and movement starters, females and males, young and old, who stood up for themselves and for other people.
These stories show us how passion and a desire to make a difference can culminate in big and small changes in the world.
And your kids will be inspired. Because even kids can make a difference in the world.
Be the Change! Books to Inspire Activist Kids
I Am One: A Book of Action by Susan Verde, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
Learn how one person can make a difference with one seed, step, brick, word, and voice. Simple, doable wisdom shows readers specific actions they can take. “I can use my One soft voice to start a friendship.” Or “I can light One candle to start leading the way.” Learn how ONE action can start a chain reaction in a movement or a social change. As usual, Reynold’s beautiful illustrations illuminate the text’s message perfectly. An inspiring must-read book for all children!
Get Up, Stand Up by Bob Marley & Cedella Marley, illustrated by John Jay Cabuay Using the lyrics of Bob Marley’s famous song, this picture book shows a brave girl who stands up for what’s right. As the song says, “Be a good neighbor and cherish your sisters and brothers. Practice being kind to yourself and one another.” Bold, colorful illustrations illuminate the song’s message in a compelling, kid-friendly way showing a little girl being kind to kids who have been teased or getting a ball back from someone who took it.
Say Something by Peter Reynolds
Speak up with your art, music, poetry, presence, and courage! The world needs your voice. The world needs you to say something when you see something that needs to change — from a person sitting alone to an empty lot.
All the Way to the Top: How One Girl’s Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything by Annette Bay Pimentel, illustrated by Nabi H. Ali
Jennifer uses a wheelchair because of her cerebral palsy. Using a wheelchair means that she can’t get into the neighborhood school with stairs or eat lunch in the cafeteria with the other kids. So, even though she’s a kid, Jennifer joins other activists to speak up for access to all places — asking Congress to pass a law called the ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act. When the law doesn’t look like it’s going to pass, Jennifer leaves her wheelchair to crawl up the steps (no ramps) of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. Eventually, Congress finally passes the ADA! Reading Jennifer’s true story will make you CHEER! Because Jennifer is amazing and you’ll want to be a force for change like her. What a role model!
Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea by Meena Harris, illustrated by Ana Ramirez Gonzalez
Based on a true story, read how sisters Kamala and Maya dreamed up a playground for their empty courtyard and rallied their community to help make it happen — from donations to bake sales, and a lot of hard work. These sisters made their big idea happen…with the help of many people! An inspiring story of how children can make a difference.
My Mommy Marches by Samantha Hawkins, illustrated by Cory Reid
A young girl proudly shares how her mommy marches in all kinds of weather, alone and with others, and how she tells the girl that sometimes words aren’t enough — you need to move your feet. Inspiring and full of heart.
Our House Is On Fire: Greta Thunberg’s Call to Save the Planet by Jeanette Winter
In this impactful book written, Greta learns about environmental problems and her education leads her to take small actions which grow into something bigger. Simple text narrates this story that crescendos into a climactic call to action moment. What will you do?
Let The Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson, illustrated by Frank Morrison
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more perfect historical picture book. I love the way the author uses the right amount of text to share the events leading up to a Birmingham, Alabama march made up only of children and teens. The illustrations are dynamic, too, showing expressive children and passionate adults — each two-page spread evokes an emotion. I LOVE this book so much. A must-read true story.
Sofia Valdez, Future Prez by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts ACTIVISM When Sofia’s abuela gets hurt from a mountain of trash, Sofia wants it to be removed and replaced with safe, beautiful community spaces. Her neighbors like the idea and want benches, fountains, place spaces, a pond, and more. But who will do the work? She’s only a kid. She bravely asks for the city’s help at a city hall meeting. Her voice, her activism, started a movement and a positive change for her community.
Greta and the Giants by Zoe Tucker, illustrated by Zoe Persico
Giants chopped down trees for houses and towns and cities until there is hardly any forest left. Greta wants to save the animals who are losing their homes so she decides to do something to help…
Amara and the Bats by Emma Reynolds
Amara loves bats! When she moves to a new town, she sees no bats because of the buildings and pollution. She rallies her new friends and the community to help her create a bat-friendly sanctuary. Teamwork, positive environmental themes, bat information, and inclusive characters make this story of a kid activist an inspiring choice to read.
Chasing Freedom by Nikki Grimes
A fascinating nonfiction picture book about Susan B. Anthony and Harriet Tubman — two women in history who changed the world!
I am Martin Luther King, Jr. by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos
This nonfiction biography series for young readers is absolutely fantastic. The latest is this book about Martin Luther King, Jr. whose cartoon illustration will give you a chuckle — since it’s he’s a kid with a mustache. We learn how the injustice in the world bothered Martin and that he wanted to do something about it. The book does NOT end with his death but ends on a positive note of standing strong and facing struggles.
The Only Woman in the Photo: Frances Perkins and Her New Deal for America by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Alexandra Bye
An excellent biography of a woman and activist that will make a worthy addition to your American history studies. Frances witnessed injustice and decided to do something about it. Even when women weren’t always taken seriously, she fought for big changes to make life better for workers. Her hard work was rewarded when Franklin D. Rosevelt asked Frances to be the secretary of labor in his cabinet of advisors.
The Girl Who Thought In Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin by Julia Finley Mosca
Dr. Grandin doesn’t fit in at school because her brain is different than other students. When kicked out, Dr. Grandin stays at her aunt’s farm where she connects with the animals. Her story continues with a new school and an understanding teacher, inventions, and a life after college that includes speaking about autism. “Each person is special– so UNIQUE are our minds. This world needs YOUR ideas. It takes brains of ALL kinds.” Engaging, beautiful illustrations.
What Can a Citizen Do? by Dave Eggers, illustrated by Shawn Harris
Shawn Harris’s eye-catching and gorgeous paper collage illustrations perfectly complement the simple text about the concept of global citizenship: What does it mean to be a citizen of the world? “A citizen’s not what you are — / a citizen is what you do.” The idea on each page could be a starting place for more thinking or writing. What does it mean when Eggers writes, “A citizen can right a wrong. / A citizen can turn things round.” Classroom teachers, can’t you just imagine the possibilities?
Anna Strong: A Spy During the American Revolution by Sarah Glenn Marsh, illustrated by Sarah Green
It’s wonderful to see how every person can make a difference. During the Revolutionary War, a lady named Anna Strong helped the Patriots by spying on the Loyalists and the British army. America needed her and she delivered. This is history worth knowing wrapped up in a wonderful picture book story.
A Ride to Remember: A Civil Rights Story by Sharon Langley and Amy Nathan, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
Sharon Langley narrates her childhood growing up in a community whose amusement park wouldn’t allow people of color. People, both black and white, protested at the park, even getting arrested. Their stories made the TV and papers and eventually the park’s owners agreed to let everyone of all colors into the park. And guess who was the first child of color to go? Sharon Langley! Her story shows the power of peaceful protests to make social change.
The Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom by Teresa Robeson, illustrated by Rebecca Huang
Gorgeous collage-style artwork helps the author share female scientist, Wu Chien Shiung’s, inspiring life with young readers. Chien loved learning, especially math and physics. After moving to the United States, she made significant scientific breakthroughs and fought for equal rights, becoming a renowned physicist dubbed “The Queen of Physics.” Very inspiring for young girls.
Nelson Mandela by Nadir Nelson
Growing up in the prejudicial apartheid South Africa, Nelson Mandela faced horrible racism and a long time in prison. Despite all of this, his spirit continued to be strong. He eventually realized his dream to improve the country and give equal rights to all people by becoming a strong leader and president of his country.
Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel
This is the true story of an immigrant from Ukraine with grit and perseverance. Clara worked in a shirtwaist factory and grew sick of how she and her coworkers were treated. So, she did something about it — she led a strike.
Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Yuyi Morales
Cesar was a shy boy whose family worked on farms, barely making any money. As he grew up and saw the injustice done to his family and other migrant workers, he overcame his shyness and became an outspoken leader for justice. (Also read: Dolores Huerta by Sarah Warren.)
Wangari’s Trees of Peace by Jeannette Winter
Based on the true story of Wangari Maathai, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, read this picture biography about how Wangari helped her country of Kenya whose forests were destroyed while she lived abroad. She started planting trees, starting a movement that encouraged others to plant trees as well. Also read Seeds of Change by Jen Cullerton Johnson.
The Girl Who Ran Bobbi Gibb, The First Woman to Run the Boston Marathon by Frances Poletti and Kristina Yee
In this picture book biography for kids, Bobbi is a girl who loved to run and wanted to run the Boston Marathon race. But her application for the race was denied. Guess what? She entered anyway, disguised as a boy. On accident, her long hair became uncovered and the racers and spectators cheered her on. She finished the race, paving the way for girls, and making history. Whimsical text and illustrations.
Gloria Takes a Stand: How Gloria Steinem Listened, Wrote, and Changed the World by Jessica M. Rinker, illustrated by Daria Peoples-Riley
Gloria wanted to tell women’s stories. She started a magazine called Ms. because she believed that “Girls need to know they can break the rules.“ The book explains that Gloria’s activism work started what is now known as women’s liberation movement and feminism.
Lillian’s Right To Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by Jonah Winter
Blueish-tinted illustrations capture the somber mood of Lillian’s memories in this historical nonfiction picture book. Lillian’s memories begin with her great-great-grandparents who were slaves, sold and separated from each other. As Lillian remembers all people who struggled to gain equal rights, all gone before her, she walks slowly up a steep hill to cast her vote. Gaining the right to vote was a journey, somewhat like a steep climb up a hill.
Someday is Now: Clara Luper and the 1958 Oklahoma City Sit-Ins by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich
Captivating folk-art style illustrations with an earthy color palette plus the well-written, compelling true story makes this a top pick to share with children! It’s about an amazing woman named Clara who advocated for justice and equality during a time when black people weren’t permitted the same rights as white people. As a teacher, she inspired her students to believe that change was possible.
Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai
When she was younger, Malala dreamed of the things she’d do if she had a magic pencil. She’d erase war, poverty, and hunger. Then she would draw girls and boys together as equals. Soon she writes about her beliefs. Even after bad men try to stop her, Malala writes. She uses her words as the magic to spread a message of hope. Beautifully illustrated and inspiring.
The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever by H. Joseph Hopkins, illustrated by Jill McElmurry
When Kate Olivia Sessions moved to treeless San Diego, she determined to start a movement to plant trees in the desert city — no matter how challenging.
Act by Kyla Miller
Olive is upset when she learns that a classmate can’t afford the fees for a class field trip. Her aunt suggests that Olive organize a protest. She does research at the library and ends up doing a petition and a sit-in. Unfortunately, no one else seems to care so Olive spontaneously runs for student council — which offends her friends — but she learns about other big issues students face that should be changed and works hard to make a difference. Readers will see that one girl CAN make a difference! Engaging, inspiring, and perfect for the world right now.
I Am Gandhi: A Graphic Biography of a Hero by Brad Meltzer illustrated by 25 Acclaimed Artists
I learned so much from this informative graphic novel about the life of Gandhi. From a childhood in India, he went to England to study law, later living in South Africa where he fought for the rights of Indians, then he returned back to India where he advocated for Indian freedom from British rule through peaceful protests.
Girl Activist: Winning Strategies from Women Who’ve Made a Difference by Louisa Kamps, Susanna Daniel & Michelle Wildgen, illustrated by Georgia Rucker
Harry Potter fans know Emma Watson as Hermione but do they know that she’s a leader for women’s rights? This book by the same publishers as the inspiring Girl CEO book, shares short biographies about women who have taken a stand for an injustice of some kind; injustices like the conditions of migrant farmworkers (Dolores Huerta) or forced marriages of young girls (Sonita Alizadeh) or polluted, toxic tap water (LeeAnne Walters). These 40 inspirational women demonstrate how one individual can change things for the better because they care.
Making a Difference: Using Your Talents and Passions to Change the World (American Girl) by Melissa Seymour, illustrated by Stevie Lewis
Beautiful, diverse illustrations in eye-catching page designs make the information in this book appealing to read. Information (What is Activism?), quizzes (How to Help?), biographies (Game-Changing Girls), Fill-in-the-Blank Writing Prompts, Advice (One Action at a Time), this book has everything to help young women become difference makers. Highly recommended.
Noise Makers: 25 Women Who Raised Their Voices & Changed the World by Kazoo Magazine
Graphic novel fans will love this accessible, interesting biographical collection that celebrates females who’ve made a difference in the world. There’s so much to love besides that the biographies are written in comics…Before each biography is a main idea page (time period and what they’re famous for) as well as a page asking you to look at the list of descriptive phrases and see what YOU have in common with the woman. For Fossil Hunter, Mary Annino (1799 – 1847) see what you have in common with her: “I like to hike, I’m patient, I like to draw pictures,…” Reading these will not only inform you but also inspire you as you discover more about Bessie Coleman, Julia Child, Hedy Lamarr, Mary Shelley, Josephine Baker, and others.
Little Dreamers Visionary Women Around the World by Vashti Harrison
Harrison’s artwork is stunning. This book features the biographies of 35 women; women like Ada Lovelace, Marie Curie, and Grace Hopper. Each biography is one page paired with an illustration. The information shares more about the woman’s contributions to the world like the physicist who experimented with subatomic particle decay.
Peace and Me Inspired by the lives of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates by Ali Winter, illustrated by Mickael El Fathi
Children might not have heard of many of the people in this picture book with short, digestible biographies. Each feature describes the person’s major contributions to the world — like Fridtjof Nansen who helped refugees find homes after World War I or Rigoberta Menchu Tum who was a Guatemalan activist for indigenous people. Gorgeous, textured illustrations! This book belongs in classrooms and libraries.
Kid Activists by Robin Stevenson, illustrated by Allison Steinfeld
Activists in this book started out in childhood, believing that they needed to act in order for things to change even at a young age. Written for ages 9 – 12, read the childhood stories with cartoon illustrations about people like Martin Luther King, Jr., Dolores Huerta, Harvey Milk, and Ruby Bridges.
I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World by Malala Yousafzai and Patricia McCormick
Malala shares in detail how the Taliban shot her in the face when she tried to go to school, just because she was female. She explains how this changed her life. She shares her determination to continue to advocate for her rights and the rights of girls and boys all over the world.
Becoming RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Journey to Justice by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Whitney Gardner
Introduce young readers to the fascinating life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg with this clearly-written graphic novel that shows about her life from childhood to adulthood including her family life. Based on her experiences and quest for fairness, Ginsburg became passionate about civil liberties, specifically gender discrimination. Not only was she a lawyer and judge but she also became a Supreme Court Justice. Readers will see how Ginsburg was true to her self and her goals and persisted despite difficulties and used her career to fight for equal rights. Well-crafted and highly recommended.
Go With the Flow by Karen Schneemann, illustrated by Lily Williams
This graphic novel about periods, women’s rights, friendship, and activism is SO good! Sasha is a new high school girl who is helped by other girls when she gets her first period— and they all become friends. But one of the friends is outraged that the bathrooms aren’t stocked with female supplies, let alone, they don’t have any free female supplies. She and the friends take action–writing a blog, creating art, and even “vandalizing” the school to make a statement. All the while, we see the ups and downs of high school life, made easier by a supportive group of girlfriends.
X: A Novel by Ilyassah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon
Teen readers will find this a powerful fictionalized account of Malcolm X’s childhood which included a murdered father and a time prison, and then see how he overcame his struggles to become an influential civil rights leader.
Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Pénélope Bagieu (ages 13+)
There have been a plethora of children’s biography books about inspirational women in the last few years. But what makes Brazen stand out among the crowd is that it’s written in comic stories rather than the expected one-page of expository text plus one illustration. Kids love stories. Kids love graphic novels. Put those together and you’ve got one must-read book! Oh, and I’m fascinated by the colors used to illustrate these comics — they’re unusual and very visually appealing.