What does activism look like to a preschooler — or a fifth grader? How do we teach them what it means to stand up for our rights, for social justice, for greater equality and protections? How do we articulate the values and ideas we believe are worth fighting for — especially in ways that a kid can truly hear?
Well, through books and stories, for one. Here are some titles to jumpstart the conversation of what it means to show up, speak out, resist, and persist on behalf of our own beliefs — and for those who may not have a voice. For the 10 and under crowd.
While A is for Activist uses alliteration and rhyming to get its message across, this isn’t your typical ABC book. Instead of apples, dogs, and frogs, you have “activists,” “little d democracy,” and “feminists.”
F is for Feminist.
For Fairness in our pay.
For Freedom to Flourish
and choose our own way.
Oakland-based author Innosanto Nagara, who was born and raised in Indonesia, originally wrote the book to help capture and convey progressive values to his own son. Now, this bestselling board book is helping to frame up young activism for the preschool set.
If you like A is for Activist, check out Nagara’s follow-up counting book, Counting on Community.
(Ages 3 - 7)
What does it mean to march? This beautifully illustrated, award-winning board book brings us back to the 1963 March on Washington, when a quarter million people gathered in the nation’s capital and when Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. The simple, spare text — just 57 words, total — belies the powerful message behind the fight for civil rights.
(Ages 4 - 8)
Inspired by the 2017 Women’s March, author Andrew Joyner put together this tale of one iconic pink hat, the only pop of color in this black and white illustrated book. The hat itself travels from one feminist into the hands of another feminist, a generation or two removed. The origin of the pink hats is not discussed, and the tone and style are a positive take on girl power, and the women’s movement it rolls up into.
(Ages 4 - 8)
Last year, Chelsea Clinton curated a list of 13 American women who spoke up and spoke out, even when it wasn’t easy, and put them together in one bestselling children’s book, She Persisted. Turns out, they weren’t alone. In this follow-up volume, Clinton brings in 13 more women from across the globe, from Marie Curie to Yuan Yuan Tan, to broaden our understanding of the fight for equality and women’s rights.
(Ages 4 - 8)
This is the story of Malala, told by the Nobel Peace Prize winner herself, but with whimsical drawings and in a fairy tale style — except, here, there is no Prince Charming, just a girl wielding her own power, and pen, to change the world.
(Ages 5 - 8)
Children’s books like Pride help us remember that the history of LGBTQ rights, gay pride, and the rainbow flag is relatively recent, and to hold up the bravery and leadership of people like Harvey Milk whose activism paved the way for greater equality.
(Ages 5 - 8)
This intro to activism is book-ended by veterans of two iconic marches — a co-chair of the 2017 Women’s March on one end and an activist/author from the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March on the other. In between are inspiring photos of and quotes from kid activists doing their thing. Writes School Library Journal, “An inspiring reminder that people of any age can play a role in the quest for social justice.”
(Ages 5 - 9)
Did you ever notice that the Statue of Liberty’s right foot is raised? Me neither. And neither did noted author Dave Eggers, until one day when he was on the ferry with his family. The idea that Lady Liberty isn’t a static symbol from the bygone days of our nation, but one that is perpetually in action, captured his imagination — and led to this children’s book, Her Right Foot.
Eggers writes: “She is on the move!” And why is this? “Liberty and freedom from oppression are not things you get or grant by standing around.”
This isn’t a guide to activism, per se, but a reminder that our sense of social justice and equality has deep, deep roots.
(Ages 6 - 9)
For the slightly older child, this is the true story of Fred Korematsu, a young Japanese American who resists Japanese-American internment during World War II and whose subsequent court case goes all the way to the Supreme Court — where he prevails. Written in free verse, and layered with historical context, this biography is just the first in the series, which is slated to include other California social justice icons, like Harvey Milk.
“Give kids credit,” author Stan Yogi told NPR. “They have an innate sense of what’s right and what’s wrong. Being able to draw on that innate sense of justice through relatable stories is so important.”
(Ages 8 - 12)
What other books would you add to this list? Share with us in the comments below.