Books About Youth Activism for Children Aged 0 to 18
In order for children to begin investing their humanity to make the world a better place, they must be exposed to real injustices and a variety of lived experiences. We believe that books can be the perfect tool for starting discussions and learning about the world we live in.
In celebration of the work and life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we created a collection of books about non-violent youth activism to inspire children aged 0 to 18. The collection includes books about a variety of topics, including racial and environmental justice, voting rights and political activism, immigration, educational equity and self-love. A number of them give real world examples of inspiring young people who do not let their age stop them from trying to make a difference. We hope that these books encourage young people to step into their power.
You can shop for all these books on our Bookshop page.
Board Book Recommendations
Change Starts with Us | Author/Illustrator: Sophie Beer | Publisher: Dial Books
Sophie Beer is one of our favorite board book creators. Her books are full of engaging and familiar imagery and showcase an inclusive cast of characters. Change Starts with Us is her latest release that gives even our littlest readers concrete ways they can make a difference.
Anti-Racist Baby | Author: Ibram X. Kendi | Illustrator: Ashley Lukashevsky | Publisher: Kokila
Anti-Racist Baby is an engaging story for young readers, and a wonderful tool for parents who want to discuss anti-racism with children and need help in knowing how to start. The book includes nine simple and key steps children and families can take on their journey to help create a more equitable world.
Feminist Baby! He’s a Feminist, too! | Author/Illustrator: Loryn Brantz | Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Activism for babies also means reading books that disrupt the status quo about traditional gender constructs. In this silly yet important book, children, and especially those identifying as male, are given messages about how it’s okay to cry, to wear a tutu or whatever else they may like, and help be part of a better world by speaking up and being an ally.
We also recommend these board books to inspire baby activists:
Woke Baby | Author: Mahogany L. Browne | Illustrator: Theodore Taylor III | Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
A is for Activist | Author/Illustrator: Innosanto Nagara | Publisher: Triangle Square
Baby, Young, Gifted and Black | Author: Jamia Wilson | Illustrator: Andrea Pippins | Publisher: Wide Eyed Editions
Picture Book Recommendations
Follow the Moon Home: A Tale of One Idea, Twenty Kids and a Hundred Sea Turtles | Authors: Phillipe Coursteau and Deborah Hopkinson | Illustrator: Meilo So | Publisher: Chronicle Books
This book is the perfect jumping off point for educators and caregivers who want children to create a community action project. In the book, a group of students are tasked with identifying a problem and creating a project to address that problem. They need to create a plan and take action. One child discovers that it's almost turtle nesting season in their community, and all the bright outdoor lights from nearby houses are confusing them and causing them to go the wrong direction, away from the moon and the water. This book details one group of children’s extraordinary plan to help tiny sea turtles make it to the ocean safely, and also showcases the transferable steps children can take and apply to their own passion project.
We suggest pairing this read with the book, Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea, to further encourage and inspire children towards community action. Several of our other favorites include, Click, Clack, Moo, Cows That Type, Dr. Coo and the Pigeon Protest, and Noodlephant.
When We Say Black Lives Matter | Author/Illustrator: Maxine Beneba Clarke | Publisher: Candlewick
This is a joyous explanation and celebration of the Black Lives Matter movement for young readers. When We Say Black Lives Matter is written in poetic form to a young Black child who learns the powerful meaning behind these three words. This important picture book does not shy away from hard truths, yet still uplifts and affirms Black children and reminds us all what this movement is fighting for.
Discussing racial injustice and activism with children can and should start early. The books, Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights, Resist! Peaceful Acts that Changed Our World, If You’re Going to a March, Sometimes People March, and Let the Children March, can be used to discuss peaceful protests and marches. For caregivers of white children, we also suggest the book, Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness.
We are Water Protectors | Author: Carole Lindstrom | Illustrator: Michaela Goade | Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
This beautiful and important story honors the countless Indigeneous-led movements across North America that aim to protect and safeguard the Earth from harmful human activities. We are Water Protectors teaches children about how a pipeline threatens to destroy our water, and how the Indigenous people stand up and defend this precious resource before disaster strikes. It also includes a pledge that children can take to become a water protector and safeguard this most important resource.
The books, 111 Trees: How One Village Celebrates the Birth of Every Girl, Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees, Lobstah Gahden and Old Enough to Save the Planet, are also wonderful books to discuss environmental sustainability, justice and stewardship.
Harlem Grown: How One Big Idea Transformed a Neighborhood | Author: Tony Hillery | Illustrator: Jessie Hartland | Publisher: Simon and Schuster
This is the story about Tony Hillery and PS 175 in Harlem, a public elementary school in a neighborhood with no access to fresh fruit and vegetables. Tony saw a vacant lot across from the school and had a big idea: to turn it into a community garden where people could plant, harvest and enjoy their own fruits and vegetables. He leveraged the children in the community to make his dream a reality, and now, he, the kids and staff, grow thousands of pounds of fruits and vegetables each year that are given to the community for free. This inspiring book includes steps and tips for children who want to start their own garden. We also love the book, Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table.
Malala’s Magic Pencil | Author: Malala Yousafzai | Illustrator: Kerascoet | Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Malala’s Magic Pencil details the real life experiences of a young Pakistani girl who wanted equal access to an education. The book starts out explaining how Malala always dreamed of having a magic pencil that would grant all her greatest wishes (just like on her favorite television program), but when she gets older and her problems intensify, she realizes that a regular pencil can inspire just about anything. She uses her voice and the written word to speak out about what she believes in - girls having the right to an education. Her bravery and strength of conviction continue to inspire a generation of young girls who know the transformative power of access to a quality education.
The books, The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read, Grandmother School, and One Girl, are several of our other favorites for discussing education access with children.
My Voice is a Trumpet | Author: Jimmie Allen | Illustrator: Cathy Ann Johnson | Publisher: Flamingo Books
My Voice is a Trumpet is a beautiful new release that reminds children that all voices have the power to make change - loud ones, quiet ones, ones that communicate with hands or written words. It is particularly powerful for all kids to know that you do not have to change anything about who you are to feel and act like a changemaker. The illustrations in this story are also authentic and inclusive of all types of people. This encouraging book is a must have for home and school libraries.
Bright Star | Author/Illustrator: Yuyi Morales | Publisher: Neal Porter Books
This story follows a whitetail fawn and her mother searching for food and water at the borderlands. They discover a cold and foreign wall separating the United States and Mexico that keeps them and other native animals from the land that’s a part of them and their way of life. The wall disrupts Indigenous ways of life for both animals and people and calls on us all to consider another way - a path forward where every living thing is cherished, cared for and deeply loved. Morales shares her inspiration and hope for this book across the last several pages, where caregivers and educators can discuss immigration, family separation, and environmental justice and stewardship.
More Picture Books Recommendations:
Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem | Author: Amanda Gorman | Illustrator: Loren Long | Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
We Move Together | Authors: Kelly Fritsch and Anne McGuire | Illustrator: Eduardo Trejos | Publisher: AK Press
Saturday at the Food Pantry | Author: Diane O’Neill | Illustrator: Brizida Magro | Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History | Editors: Lindsay H. Metcalfe, Keila V. Dawson | Illustrator: Jeanette Bradley | Publisher: Charlesbridge
Rise Up and Write It | Author: Nandini Ahuja | Illustrator: Anoosha Syed | Publisher: HarperFestival
Superheroes are Everywhere | Author: Kamala Harris | Illustrator: Mechel Renee Roe | Publisher: Philomel Books
Sofia Valdez, Future Prez | Author: Andrea Beaty | Illustrator: David Roberts | Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
Mary Wears What She Wants | Author/Illustrator: Keith Negley | Illustrator: David Roberts | Publisher: Blazer + Bray
Middle Grade Book Recommendations
Something to Say | Author: Lisa Moore Ramée | Publisher: Balzer + Bray
For 11-year-old Jenae, school is a place to keep her head down and stay invisible - and she is great at it. But this plan is uprooted when new student, Aubrey, shows up and is determined to become her friend no matter how many times she tries to push him away. When the two must work together on a class debate about the proposed name change for school, Aubrey sees it as the perfect way to earn a spot on the school’s debate team while nothing sounds worse to Jenae. Will Jenae learn to use her voice or will the first real friendship she’s ever had fall silent?
The Campaign | Author: Leila Sales | Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
What do you do when you learn that the front-runner for mayor in your city is planning to cut public school funding for the arts, your favorite class and best part of your day? When 12-year-old Maddie learns this, she knows she has to do something about it. Convincing her babysitter to run for mayor, Maddie becomes a campaign manager and is quickly forced to learn about politics and fighting for what you want. This humor filled middle grade novel teaches about activism and being an involved citizen.
Revenge of the Red Club | Author: Kim Harrington | Publisher: Aladdin
Red Club is a group of supportive and period-positive girls, there for each other during the ups and downs that come with that, and something that member Riley Dunne loves. When the administration shuts down Red Club, Riley and the other girls must turn their shock and anger into action. While dealing with the ups and downs of middle school, friendships, and an absurd new dress code, Riley must learn to use her skills from being her school newspaper investigative reporter to fight for the truth and her beloved club.
Operation Redwood | Author: S. Terrell French | Publisher: Amulet Paperbacks
When Julian sees an email meant for his power-hungry uncle, he realizes that his company is planning to cut down some of the oldest remaining California redwood trees. Julian realizes that he and his friends must find a way to stop them. This book shows the importance of fighting for what you believe in, no matter how big the issue.
More MG Recommendations:
We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices | Editors: Wade Hudson & Cherly Willis Hudson | Publisher: Yearling
A Good Kind of Trouble | Author: Lisa Moore Ramée | Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Front Desk | Author: Kelly Yang | Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Young Adult Book Recommendations
Take The Mic | Authors: Jason Reynolds, Samira Ahmed, et al | Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
An anthology of fictional stories of resistance in everyday life. Written by many writers through poems, prose, and art, these stories tell tales of activism of all types and magnitudes. Take the Mic tackles issues such as racism, ableism, and transphobia and shows that resistance can be shown in many different ways.
Love is a Revolution | Author: Renée Watson | Publisher: Bloomsbury YA
Love is a Revolution tells the story of Nala Robertson and the lies she weaves in order to get closer to her new crush, Tye Brown, the community activist. As they spend more time together, and Tye starts to show Nala the power of activism as well as more of himself, she finds it harder and harder to hide who she really is.
Rolling Warrior | Authors: Judith Heumann with Kristen Joiner | Publisher: Beacon Press
Paralyzed from polio and raised by Halocaust-surviver parents, Judy Heumann learned early on that the world isn’t always fair. From being 5 years old and being told she wouldn’t be able to attend school because of her wheelchair to being denied teachers licence in the New York City school system because of her disability, Judy learned that she would need to fight for herself and others like her. Going on to lead the longest sit-in protest in US history, and becoming one of the most influential disability rights activists in the country, Judy’s persistence and bravery are clear. In this young readers edition, Judy tells her journey for equality.
This Book is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do The Work | Author: Tiffany Jewell | Publisher: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Through a combination of stories, history, and lessons, this book is an important read for people of all ages and experiences. This Book is Anti-Racist strives to give young people the knowledge, language, and confidence to talk about racism and to fight against it.
Queer, There and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changes the World | Author: Sarah Prager | Publisher: HarperCollins
Sarah Prager, queer author and activist, brings us this compilation of stories about 23 LGBTQ+ individuals who changed the world. From the most well-known names to the ones who are often left out of history, Queer, There and Everywhere dives into the lives that these individuals and shows the diversity of a rich queer culture and history.
More YA Recommendations:
Poisoned Water | Authors: Candy J. Cooper with Marc Aronson | Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Light It Up | Author: Kekla Magoon | Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
The Hate U Give | Author: Angie Thomas | Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Amal Unbound | Author: Aisha Saeed | Publisher: Puffin Books
All American Boys | Author: Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely | Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
This is My America | Author: Kim Johnson | Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Glimmer of Hope | Authors: The Founders of March for Our Lives | Publisher: Razorbill
Just Mercy (YA Adaptation) | Author: Bryan Stevenson | Publisher: Delacorte Press
When They Call You a Terrorist: Young Adult | Authors: Patrisse Cullors and Asha Bandele | Adapter: Benee Knauer | Publisher: Wednesday Books
Internment | Author: Samira Ahmed | Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens | Author: Marieke Nijkamp | Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Girls Resist!: A Guide to Activism, Leadership, and Starting a Revolution | Author: KaeLyn Rich | Illustrator: Giulia Sagramola | Publisher: Quirk Books
One Person, No Vote (YA Edition): How Not All Voters Are Treated Equally | Authors: Carol Anderson, Tonya Bolden | Publisher: Bloomsbury YA