Teaching your kids to stand up for themselves is important, and it's just as crucial that they learn how to use their voices to stand up for others. When kids become "upstanders" they can be a force for good, whether it's standing up to bullies or speaking up in support of justice.
It can be hard for children to speak up, especially if they haven't had good role models. Throughout history, terrible events have taken place because people stayed quiet. Use these children's books about standing up for others to start a conversation about what it means to speak up and support others.
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We support local book stores and libraries. The good news, is that if you choose to purchase books online, you can still support local, independent booksellers through Bookshop. I've curated this book list with my others lists of picture books about meaningful values at Bookshop here.
I WALK WITH VANESSA by Kerascoët
This lovely title is a wordless book about the power of kindness and its role in creating friendships. New girl, Vanessa, is being bullied by a schoolmate. Another girl sees this happen and after some thought decides to walk with Vanessa to school. Soon they are joined by others and the bully retreats. I love how this simple book can start an important conversation about how being the first person to do the right thing can help others to find the courage to follow. Ages 4 and up.
SPARKLE BOY by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Maria Mola
Casey loves all things that sparkle. Yes, he loves to play with trucks and blocks, but when he sees sparkly skirts and jewelry he wants those too. The grownups are all accepting and let Casey be himself, but his sister Jesse is skeptical and insists that sparkly stuff is not for boys. However, one day at the library when another child teases him, Jesse stands up for her brother. Sometimes it takes a while for a child to find their voice, but this book shows that it's never too late. Ages 4 and up.
SOMETHING GOOD by Marcy Campbell, illustrated by Corinna Luyken
When "something bad" is written on the school's bathroom walls, the teacher gathers the students together to try and discover who wrote it. No one confesses and some of the girls sneak into the bathroom to see what was written. Seeing the words makes them feel worse. (Readers do not find out what was written.) The uncertainty of not knowing who wrote them and if there will be consequences creates some stress on the students but slowly they come together to create art and poems to cover the "something bad" with "something good." The story addresses complex issues and emotions and is an essential book for starting conversations. Ages 5 and up.
RED AND GREEN, BLUE AND WHITE by Lee Wind, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
This picture book is based on a 1993 incident in Billings, Montana. In a neighborhood adorned with red and green lights, one house stands out with its blue and white lights. Isaac's family celebrates Hanukkah and his friend, Teresa, who lives across the street celebrates Christmas. After Isaac's house is targeted in an anti-semitic attack, Isaac's family continues to light the menorah rather than hide. In solidarity, Teresa draws a menorah and places it in her window. The paper menorah becomes a catalyst for community solidarity. Includes author's note about the real life events. Ages 5 and up.
SUPER MANNY STANDS UP by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin
Manny puts on a different cape every day after school and his imagination takes him to places where he plays the superhero, saving the world from cloud monsters and alien robots. However, one day at school a classmate starts to bully others. Manny realizes he always wears an invisible cape that gives him the courage to stand up to real life bullies, too. Ages 3 and up.
EACH KINDNESS by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E. B. Lewis
Woodson's poignant book asks reads to consider the impact of what happens when you don't stand up for others.
New girl, Maya, finds herself alone at school. Her obvious poverty sets her apart and the other children reject her overtures of friendship, giving into their own biases. Chloe narrates the action and the way the other children reject Maya, including her own admission, “She’s not my friend.” One day, their teacher drops a stone into a bowl of water to demonstrate how powerful the ripples from a single act of kindness can be. “Even small things count,” she says. Chloe decides that the next day she will be kind to Maya, but Maya never returns to school and Chloe regrets that she never grabbed her chance to do the right thing, an important lesson. Ages 5 and up.
SAY SOMETHING by Peter H. Reynolds
Reynolds' book aims to teach children to realize that their voice can change the world. Each illustration inspires kids to "say something," in a different way. They can say something to stand up to bullies, say something when they see an injustice, say something with art or with community action. The text is simple but effective and will start a conversation with children about all the different ways they can stand up for themselves and for others. Ages 4 and up.
MY NAME IS BILAL by Asma Mobin-Uddin, illustrated by Barbara Kiwak
The current political climate demonstrates that children who are different from the mainstream have every reason to worry about being bullied. We must teach our kids that it is not okay to single out a specific ethnic or religious minority for ridicule and that they have the strength to bravely stand up to prejudice! After someone pulls off his sister's headscarf, Bilal worries that maybe he should hide the fact that he his Muslim from his classmates. His compassionate teacher gives him a book about a brave Muslim named Bilal and Bilal decides to stand up for his sister, earning the respect of his peers. Ages 6 and up.
SPEAK UP by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Ebony Glenn
Like Reynolds' book, Say Something, Miranda Paul addresses all the ways kids can speak up, not just for others, but for themselves and for what's right. I like how the rhyming text relays very specific examples of how to be an upstander. Kids are encouraged to "speak up" to stop hurtful rumors, to help someone feel less lonely, to tell an adult when they hear a "scary secret," and to join forces with others to work as a group to demand justice for others. After reading this book, kids will want to discuss ways they've learned how to "speak up," too. Ages 4 and up.
STRICTLY NO ELEPHANTS by Lisa Mantchevby, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo
In this popular picture book about the rewards of standing up for one's friends, a boy brings his elephant to a Pet Club. When he arrives, he finds out that his pet friend is not welcome. However, he refuses to go along with the exclusionary group and remains loyal to his pet. Instead forms an alternative club with other children whose unusual pet friends have been similarly rejected. Ages 3 and up.