Use these children’s books about activism to teach your children and students about activists who sparked change in their communities and the world.
You’ll read biographies and stories about changemakers 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.
Be the Change! Books to Inspire Activist Kids
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.
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!
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…
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.