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10 Books That Empower Kids to Stand Up and Speak Out

by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

It’s never too early to stand up, speak out, and create change. Malala Yousafzai began speaking out about education issues at 11, and young activists like Madison Kimrey, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, and Maya Penn are stepping up to show that there are no age limits when it comes to a passion for justice. My own daughter is similarly inspired. Like many young people, she is passionate and curious about so many of the issues that affect all of us.

Books can be great resources for change-minded kids, helping them think about why and how they can be a force for good in a complicated world and have an impact, large or small. Here are some great books for readers of all ages.

  • Preschool/Picture Books

  • A Is for Activist

    by Innosanto Nagara

    This vibrantly illustrated rhyming and rhythmic board book teaches more than just the alphabet. Opening with "A is for Activist./Advocate. Abolitionist. Ally./Actively Answering A call to Action," every letter is paired with commentary encouraging even the youngest children to think about and do something about issues facing communities today, from workers’ rights to slavery.

  • That’s Not Fair / No Es Justo! Emma Tenayuca’s Struggle for Justice

    by Carmen Tafolla and Sharyll Tenayuca, illustrated by Terry Ybáñez

    At 21, Emma Tenayuca led 12,000 Mexican-American workers facing poverty, starvation, and exploitation to take action against the injustices they suffered as workers in San Antonio pecan-shelling factories. After reading this bilingual book, check out this video to see the authors discussing their work and research for the book.

  • Drum Dream Girl

    by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael López

    This lyrical story — of musician Millo Castro Zaldarriaga’s struggle for gender equality in creative pursuits in 1930s Cuba — is told in lyrical free verse appropriate for all ages. Readers will see Zaldarriaga defy convention and become a successful and celebrated drummer.

  • Hands Around the Library

    by Karen Leggett Abouraya, illustrated by Susan Roth

    In 2011, thousands of Egypt’s students, library workers, and demonstrators surrounded the great Library of Alexandria and joined hands to form a human chain to protect the building and stand together for the power of literacy and libraries. An inspiring account of community action in recent history.

  • Middle Grade/Tween

  • Violet Mackerel’s Pocket Protest

    by Anna Branford, illustrated by Elanna Allen

    Violet finds out that tiny things can have a big impact when she and her friend try to save a favorite tree in this sixth volume of a very sweet chapter-book series.

  • The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

    by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, illustrated by Anna Hymas

    This special young readers’ edition of Kamkwamba’s true story recounts the efforts of this young Malawian inventor and engineer to first build a windmill that powered electrical appliances in his home and then construct a solar-powered water pump that brought drinking water to his community. Learn more about this remarkable young man and his work in this video or his TED talk.

  • Rad American Women A-Z

    by Kate Schatz, illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl

    Another alphabet book, this time a diverse celebration of American women who’ve been agents of change and historymakers, including Angela Davis, Carol Burnett, Dolores Huerta, Ella Baker, and more. The introduction explores the meaning of "rad" and "radical"; the afterword offers 26 suggestions for how you can be "rad" and includes additional resources and ideas for learning and reading.

  • Teen/Young Adult

  • It’s Your World: Get Informed, Get Inspired, and Get Going!

    by Chelsea Clinton

    Chelsea Clinton takes young people seriously in this action-oriented guide to issues facing all of us in today’s world. Clinton encourages young people to do something now about poverty, education, food insecurity, climate change, health care, endangered species, and more. With stories, charts, facts, and striking photography, this book encourages readers to stand up and be counted and live a community-oriented life.

  • Craftivism

    by Betsy Greer

    As Teaching Tolerance points out, art can be a powerful form of activism. “Craftivism” engages the hands and the heart, and Betsy Greer profiles artist-activists from four continents who work to create change through embroidery, knitting, ceramics, and more.

  • Be a Changemaker

    by Laurie Ann Thompson

    Thompson offers practical tips and real-life inspiration to help young activists move from dreaming to doing, right in their communities. With tips for creating business plans, working with media outlets, and avoiding common legal and financial pitfalls, Be a Changemaker puts young people on a path toward positive change.

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