Kids are natural activists. Anyone whose spent time with a 2-year-old knows that when a child wants something to change, they do everything they can to make it happen!
These books about activism and changing the world will inspire kids to raise their powerful voices to make a difference. Parents can use the books as conversation starters about how small and large actions can change the world, whether it's with one act of kindness or by leading others in a grand movement.
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The Artivist by Nikkolas Smith
Nikkolas Smith describes how he came to use his art to spread messages prompting social change. As a child he loved art, but also saw the injustice around him. When his art captured the media's attention he saw what a powerful tool it can be. I liked the way Smith's book shows children that their passions can be vehicles through which they effect change in the world and spread a message of hope and compassion. Ages 4 and up.
Something, Someday by Amanda Gorman, illustrated by Christian Robinson
National Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman's book tells children they have the power to make a difference. There may be problems in the world but you can find a friend who thinks like you and fix it together. Robinson is one of my favorite illustrators and his collages sit on a white background, putting the focus on the spare text and powerful message. Ages 4 and up.
Change Sings: A Children's Anthem by Amanda Gorman, illustrated by Loren Long
Why yes, I do have two books by Amanda Gorman on this list! And why not? Her poems are amazing and her spoken-word style poetry is a good fit for picture books. The narrator picks up her guitar, tells the reader, "Change sings," and takes them on a journey through the neighborhood. She meets with others, taking actions in the community like delivering groceries, cleaning up a playground, and showing love to friends. At the end, a parade of diverse children play their instruments. Ages 4 and up.
A Is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara
A board book that's not just for babies! With a fun sense of humor, this alphabet book introduces young kids to the idea that life may not be all about acquiring the latest Thomas Train. The rhymes and wit make this introduction to social justice a worthwhile read. The book teaches generosity, compassion, consideration for others. Use the book as a starting point for further discussions about the topics. Ages 2 and up.
I Am One: A Book of Action by Susan Verde, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
This simple but effective book teaches kids that it's easy to begin making a difference it the world. It starts with one action. One seed planted, one brick to break down a wall, one word to start a friendship. Verde reminds children that when everyone starts one action, big changes can happen. Includes an author's note which will help parents continue the conversation. Ages 3 and up.
How to Change the World in 12 Easy Steps by Peggy Porter Tierney, illustrated by Marie Letourneau
Focusing on acts of kindness and compassion, and inspired by the teachings of Eva Kor, an Auschwitz child survivor, this book will encourage children to focus their energies on making positive changes in their communities. Standing up to bullies, forgiving others, speaking kindly may seem small, but they have a ripple effects which change the entire world. Ages 4 and up.
Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson, illustrated by Frank Morrison
The strength of children from the past serve as powerful inspiration for kids to keep working towards a more just world. In 1963 the Birmingham Children’s Crusade was a protest march led by children inspired to activism after hearing a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King. The children refused to back down, maintaining their dignity in the face of hatred, fear and racism. Back matter includes historical notes, sources and artist statements. Ages 5 and up.
New in Town by Kevin Cornell
Sometimes you don't think about a book being a call to activism on the first reading. However, this clever and entertaining tale is a story of a determined change maker. The island town of Puddletrunk is in need of a bridge. Mortimer Gulch, a greedy troll continues to thwart the town's efforts for his own profit, until one day, a traveling repair man shows up. He's brought a few new ideas and is unswayed when it comes to improving the community. The illustrations are so clever and witty, kids will love to hunt out all their details. Ages 4 and up.
Be Strong by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Jen Hill
When she can't climb the rock wall in gym class, Tanisha does not feel strong. She asks others how to be strong and everyone has some advice for her. Tanisha learns from other that being strong means not giving up, standing up for herself and others, and working towards making a positive difference. For more books on finding inner strength, our list of books about fear and courage will come in handy.
Stillwater and Koo Save the World by Jon Muth
As in his other Stillwater books, Muth's Zen Buddist-inspired message is lear. Kindness will save the world. Koo wakes up one day and tells his uncle Stillwater that he wants to save the world. His wise uncle patiently explains that big change is often accomplished by starting with small tasks like raking the leaves, cleaning one's room and feeding ones's pets. Ages 3 and up.
Malala's Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai, illustrated by Kerascoët
In her inspiring, autobiographical picture book, Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Malala Yousafzai, describes how, as a child, she wished for a magic pencil, like the one on a Pakistani TV show. She dreamed of how she would use this pencil to help her community. As she grew up, she learned how to use the power of her own voice to stand up for herself and others. Ages 5 and up.
Manjhi Moves a Mountain by Nancy Churnin, illustrated by Danny Popovici
Dashrath Manjhi lives in a poor village in India, but just on the other side of the mountain is another village where crops flourish, schools educate children and hospitals heal the sick. But the road between villages is 34 miles. Manjhi wants to connect the two villages so they can prosper together. He takes up a chisel and hammer and begins to carve a path through the mountain. It takes him 22 years, but finally the road–all 360 feet of it–is finished. Based on a true story. Ages 5 and up.
All the Way to the Top by Annette Bay Pimentel, illustrated by Nabi H. Ali
In this picture book biography, 8-year-old Jennifer Keelan, born with cerebral palsy, fights to secure passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act. All her life, Keelan has persevered to join in activities, even when others told her she couldn't do it. When politicians ignore Keelan and her fellow activists, she climbs the steps of the Capitol, even though it means crawling the entire way. Although the ADA is a big step forward for inclusion for people with disabilities, the text acknowledges that more work is needed. Ages 4 and up.
The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E. B. Lewis
This is a touching book about the payoff for taking risks and making new friends. A fence, both metaphorical and physical, defines the boundary between Annie's white family and Clover's African-American one. Clover's mom has told her not to cross the fence because it is unsafe. Instead, Clover sits on the fence, watching the other girl play. Annie eventually approaches Clover and the two sides begin talking, a friendship is formed and the fence, finally crossed. The final image of a line of girls sitting on the fence points to the idea that the very act of trying something new (in this case making a new friend despite the pressures not to) can lead to profound social change. Ages 5 and up.
The Three Questions by Jon J. Muth
We've read this book out loud many times over the years. I know that as we continue to read it, we will learn to think even more deeply about the answers to the three questions (What is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do?) in terms of how they apply to our own lives, and the book is a great foundation for us to reflect on the importance of doing good deeds and paying attention to the immediate moment. Ages 5 and up.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
In this picture book autobiography, William Kamkwamba, describes how he helped bring electricity to his village in Malawi. William had to drop out of school because he had no money for the fees, but a picture of a windmill on a book lit a spark in him. He worked hard to research and build a windmill for his impoverished and drought-stricken village. A great growth mindset book, too! Ages 5 and up.