In the last month, I have written a half-dozen letters to politicians and even make a few calls. That’s more than I’ve ever done in my life politically, with the exception of that Saturday in New Hampshire when I first arrived at college. My friend, David Nacht, persuaded me to campaign for Gary Hart and I spent the day knocking on doors and talking to mostly elderly white people. I hated it. Even worse, the campaign staff
persuaded made me to write handwritten letters to everyone that I talked to. (I hate writing handwritten letters. My hand cramps and my handwriting is illegible, even for me.) I was done with politics, forever!
I’m not sure if I am a “snowflake,” but I do know this. Last night I shoveled one foot of snow around my house, and it was a tad overwhelming. In the same way, small acts can add up to a very powerful message.
For example … like you, I was shocked that Trump used his POTUS account to complain about Nordstrom’s dropping the Ivanka brand. This tells me two things:
- #GrabYourWallet boycott is really working.
- Trump cares more about his family brand that paying attention in briefings despite his botched raid in Yemen in which one Navy Seal died as well as civilians including women and children.
- Nordstroms might be the first bowling pin that takes the Trump brand down.
It was also surprising to see KellyAnne Conway pitching Ivanka brand in her official capacity as Senior Advisor to the President. While this appears to violate federal law, ethics regulations and traditional standards of conduct, it turns out that the White House is responsible for disciplinary action: imagine Trump high-fiving her.
Some followers on my social media have asked me to “leave politics to the politicians” or “can we g back to children’s books please?” That’s so interesting to me. Did you know:
Women drive 70-80% of all consumer purchasing, through a combination of their buying power and influence. Influence means that even when a woman isn’t paying for something herself, she is often the influence or veto vote behind someone else’s purchase. Forbes: Top 10 Things Everyone Should Know About Women Consumers
We, as women, mothers, caregivers, consumers, and purchasers, drive the economy. That’s pretty powerful.
It’s just crummy that we have a president in the United States that is on the wrong side of a lot of things that I believe in such as climate change. But look at how one women can make a difference:
And, today’s video (in English) from Emmanuel Macron, a leading candidate for French Presidency in May of 2017, in which he invites U.S. Climate Change scientists to come and work for the French instead.
He says, “I do know how your new president now has decided to jeopardize your budget, your initiatives, as he is extremely skeptical about climate change.”
To these scientists, he says, “Please, come to France, you are welcome. It’s your nation, we like innovation. We want innovative people. We want people working on climate change, energy, renewables, and new technologies. France is your nation.”
In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says refugees are welcome.
It may be that there are items on Trump’s agenda align with you, my readers, such as Pro-Life, private school vouchers, oil jobs, or a myriad of other issues. I’m not saying that you have to agree with me. But what will it take for our president — yes, ours — to focus on running our country instead of hocking his personal business interests? Is the bar so low, that we have to ask repeatedly for this?
What is clear to me, is that the only message that Trump is taking seriously is one that hurts his personal bottom line. So I will reach out to these stores in my area and let them know that as long as they carry Trump family merchandise, I — and my family — won’t be shopping there:
Lyft (Peter Thiel)
T.J. Maxx/Marshall’s/Home Goods
Lord & Taylor
Bed Bath & Beyond
All Trump Properties
Saks Off Fifth
Universal Studios Hollywood
We, as women, hold the cards. If we want to “leave politics to the politicians,” then are we also supposed to “leave the boardroom to the white men?” Are we supposed to accept 59 cents on average for every dollar paid to men? Is that the message that we have for our children? Our girls?
This Trump administration has galvanized the activist in me. I hope it does for you too. Even if we disagree on issues.
For those who want book lists, here are some books for young activists.
Children’s Books on Activism
Use this alphabet book with a powerful message to teach young children about activism. [picture book, ages 2 and up]
Indigenous peoples around the world protect our natural resources including life-giving water. In response to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline protest by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, this picture book beckons us all to get involved to protect the Earth’s water. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Julius Lester uses his own story as a springboard to initiate an open-ended conversation about race and explore what makes each of us special. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Sarah Rising by Ty Chapman, illustrated by DeAnn Wiley
Sarah attends a protest march with her father after another black person is killed by the police. She sees a policeman swat a monarch butterfly to the ground and goes to rescue it. When she looks up, her father is gone. Other people at the rally help her find her father. It was a sad and scary day, but when she checks on her butterfly the next day, it healed, and she frees it. Black children have been activists, protesting during the dangerous times of the Civil Rights protests. This is a reminder that there is still much work to be done. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
My Mommy Marches by Samantha Hawkins, illustrated by Cory Reid
A young girl watches her mother march for causes she believes in. Sometimes her mommy is leading a parade of peaceful protesters. Other times, her mommy is alone, protesting with just her signs. Her mommy marches in every kind of weather. Inspired by her mommy, the little girl decides she wants to march for people who feel invisible and for causes such as freedom, love, and kindness. Her mommy is a role model as an activist for the next generation, just like her mother and grandmother before her. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
An activist is someone who works for change and in this case, Mabel just wants to see the thousands of stars that her grandfather viewed when he was a boy. Even from the perch of a tree, Mabel can only count a few dozen. In order to get a better view of the sky, Mabel has to convince her neighbors to join her cause. It turns out that they need to get more people involved than just the neighbors, but it’s worth the effort! [picture book, ages 4 and up]
This picture book demonstrates how kids can make a difference, as they did in the case of a hundred newly hatched sea turtles on the South Carolina coast. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
Love is Powerful by Heather Dean Brewer, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Mari and her mother make signs for a women’s march. Mari is worried that no one will see her sign but her mother assures her that her message is powerful. Indeed, at the march, people see Mari’s sign and chant it loudly. Mari’s mother was right. Love is powerful! This story is based on a real-life little girl whose message reverberated through the crowded streets. I love how this message shows how one person, even a child, can make their voice heard. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
The Pink Hat by Andrew Joyner
A pink hat has many lives including keeping a young girl warm at a march. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Based on the song by Bob Marley: Get Up, Stand Up adapted by Cedella Marley, illustrated by John Jay Cabuay
Bob Marley’s music spoke out against poverty and oppression, and here, his lyrics are retold in an anti-bullying message by his daughter who created the backstory for this picture book. It’s a reminder that being an anti-bullying ally is a powerful way to be an activist in one’s own community. [picture book, ages 3 and up]
Unstoppable by Adam Rex, illustrated by Laura Park
For those who like humor to get a point across, try this picture book about working together. It starts with one persecuted bird and ends with a congressional act to save a lakefront as a protected park for animals. Cooperation is powerful indeed! [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Sweet Justice: Georgia Gilmore and the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
Readers can connect Georgia Gilmore with Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. in their fight for Civil Rights. A hidden figure of history no more, Georgia Gilmore played a pivotal role in the success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott by organizing fundraising events through food, the Club from Nowhere. Still, Georgia was personally affected, losing her job cooking for white patrons because she testified on behalf of Martin Luther King, Jr. when he was arrested for no just cause. Police, at that time, were arresting anyone who stood on a corner waiting for a ride. Activists, like armies, march on their stomachs and Georgia’s contribution was fortifying activists for the long battle to desegregate Montgomery buses.
Pair this with Pie From Nowhere: How Georgia Gilmore Sustained the Montgomery Bus Boycott. for another great picture book biography on Georgia Gilmore. [picture book biography, ages 4 and up]
Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship & Freedom by Tim Tingle, illustrated by Jeanne Rorex Bridges
In the days before the Trail of Tears, the river Bok Chitto was a boundary, separating the Choctaws from the Mississippi plantation owners. This river was the line between slavery and freedom for their slaves. When Martha Tom, a young Choctaw crossed the river in search of blackberries, she met Little Mo, a young black slave who helps her find her way home. Their friendship continued as the years passed, Martha Tom crossing Bok Chitto on her way to church and sitting with Little Mo’s family. When Little Mo’s mother was to be sold, Little Mo had a plan. His family, with the help of the Choctaws, would cross to freedom. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Stand As Tall as the Trees: How An Amazonian Community Protected the Rain Forest by Patricia Gualinga and Laura Resau, illustrated by Vanessa Jaramillo
Patricia “Paty” Gualinga is an international Indigenous Rights defender, and also the daughter of a long line of wise Kichwa yachak or shamans living in the rain forest of Ecuador. She left her village to study and was called back to defend her rainforest when men came to drill for oil, destroying the land. She works with other Indigenous peoples as well as with lawyers and environmental groups to work to stop the destruction. In 2012, three years after Paty first began her activism, the Kichwa people won! Paty’s inspiring true story is a brave example of how activism can keep the rainforest alive. [picture book biography, ages 6 and up]
Luz Sees the Light and Luz Makes a Splash by Claudia Dávila
Both of these graphic novels have an environmental message with Latino characters in an urban setting. [graphic novel, ages 6 and up]
Stella Diaz Never Gives Up by Angela Dominguez
When Stella visits the ocean for the first time in Mexico, she learns about the sea creatures are in danger due to pollution. Saving the ocean is daunting, but Stella never gives up. She calls upon her friends, new and old, to help. [chapter book, ages 6 and up]
A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée
Starting middle school is hard enough, and Shayla finds herself questioning where she belongs. When a not guilty verdict for a police officer who shot an African American man rocks her community, she joins the #BlackLivesMatter movement by wearing a black armband. This gesture of solidarity is now a line in the sand. Is it worth it to challenge her school’s administration by continuing to earn it? But how can she not now that her eyes are open to structural racism? [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
Ghost Boys by Jewel Parker Rhodes
This timely book shows the perspective of twelve-year-old Jerome, now a ghost. His murder by police, the result of a toy being mistaken for a weapon, shows how this tragedy affects Jerome, his family, and also the police officer and his family. Jewel Parker Rhodes also weaves in Emmitt Tills’ story. Use this book to understand the genesis of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. [middle grade, ages 9 and up]
Strange Birds: A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers by Celia C. Pérez
Four girls bond over a shared goal to get rid of outdated traditions by their local scout organization. In starting their own group, they find justice, independence, and, most of all, friendship. [middle grade, ages 9 and up]
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
I am just now starting One Crazy Summer and it looks like a fantastic read. But don’t take my word for it, it won a Newbery Honor Award, National Book Award Finalist, and on and on and on. Set in Oakland, California, three sisters visit their mother who has abandoned them, and hang out at a center run by the Black Panther Party. Though this book ties into the Civil Rights Movement, it’s an outstanding chapter book that is a literary achievement! [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
Dress Coded by Carrie Firestone
From Nerdy Book Club:
“I wrote DRESS CODED to shed light on the pervasive problem of unfair and unequally enforced dress coding policies that disproportionately target students who identify as girls. While the novel centers around eighth-grader Molly Frost’s efforts to address her middle school’s unjust dress code, I intended the book to be a blueprint for student activism.” [middle grade, ages 10 and up]
Her advice to nurturing activists at home:
For adults, it is important to strike a balance between getting too involved or taking over the project and not providing enough guidance to help facilitate a successful outcome.
- Listen. Really listen to how the teens talk about the issue. Ask them to share what they know and what they would like to know. See where the patterns are. For example, if they are talking about racism, what are they focused on? Is it how racism plays out in the hallways at school? Is it how it’s addressed in the curriculum? Is it how Black students are disciplined by staff? These patterns will ultimately determine where they choose to target their work.
- Help them find their people. Suggest they put out a call for “their people.” This could be an “is anyone else upset about climate change?” post on social media, or a “join us Monday for our first social justice club meeting” poster at school, or a “wear orange for gun control” day at the library. “Their people” could be one or two passionate classmates or a hundred young people from the community. Let them know there is power in numbers, but even two people working together can be a significant force for change.
- Create a vision. We often spend a great deal of time looking at a problem without allowing ourselves to truly visualize what our desired outcome will look like. Encourage the fledgling group to choose one piece of the issue they care about and make a vision board or a list of specific action items they would like to see happen around their issue. Help them decide on one specific action item to start. If they are working on climate change, suggest they focus on a local solution to one of the causes of climate change, such as idling vehicles, or food waste, or energy inefficiency in town-owned buildings. If they are working on systemic sexism, have them lobby district officials to revise or rewrite their school dress code (like the characters in DRESS CODED). If they are working on LGBTQIA awareness, maybe they can organize a Pride awareness event or campaign in their community.
- Research. People often embark on a project without taking the time to do their homework. Strongly suggest that young people research their topic, including the history, legislative action (local, state, and national), recent initiatives, and organizations working on the issue. It helps to see if there’s already a local organization on the ground that they can partner with or assist so they don’t reinvent the wheel. And when they take action, it’s essential that they know what they preach.
- Use their gifts. Help each member of the group identify how they can use their skills and talents to contribute to the project. Break up tasks and delegate to the organizer, the good-with-phones person, the web designer, the graphic designer, the public speaker, the social media influencer, the statistics compiler, etc.
- Suggest the traditional route (to start). If they are trying to change a policy at school or in the community, suggest they outline their request at a school board or town council meeting, then follow up with a letter-writing campaign. They can also lobby their state legislators, draft petitions, create dynamic educational videos and social media posts, and ask people to patronize businesses that support their cause.
Fundraising for organizations already doing the work can effectively call attention to a cause. If they are focused on immigrant rights, consider starting with a fundraiser for a legal aid organization in your community. If they are working on hunger, suggest raising money and awareness for a weekend backpack program at a respected local food bank.
If none of that moves the needle, they might want to move on to acts of civil disobedience like sit-ins, walkouts, or strikes to call attention to their cause.
- Let them make mistakes. You may find your children/teens are so enthusiastic about their cause, they’re not ready to take direction from an adult. That’s okay! They may want to skip all the “boring stuff,” and organize a protest, spend a lot of time on signs, stand on the corner, and then realize a couple of weeks later that their efforts didn’t bring the change they had desired. Instead of saying “I told you so,” applaud their hard work and remind them that all movements face hurdles and roadblocks.
- Celebrate wins. If your young people are fighting to bring an anti-racism curriculum to your district and they succeed in getting their school officials to read STAMPED as a faculty summer read, cheer for that success. Let them know they may not have changed the entire curriculum YET, but they DID get a win! Do the same if they teach their community that food waste contributes to climate change and convince the town dump to open a compost center, or if they succeed in helping a gun control organization get a ghost gun bill passed at the state legislature. Remind them that every win is a step closer to their ultimate goal. Find a special way to celebrate each victory, and suggest rest and regroup before they begin their next project.
- Keep it age-appropriate. Most importantly, communicate with the other adults in their lives and make sure their work isn’t negatively impacting their mental or physical health. Sometimes the most age-appropriate and therapeutic way to address big issues IS to focus on the posters! Creating art—murals, songs, plays, dance routines, photo exhibits, or stories—is one of the most powerful forms of social activism for people of all ages.
Working for change can be an exhilarating and uplifting way for young people to bring passion, purpose, and human connection into their lives while making the world a better place. Project by project, tectonic plate by tectonic plate, our children are ready to effect systemic change. It is up to the helpers to help them. [nonfiction, ages 10 and up]
Yes No Maybe So by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Sayeed
Jamie Goldberg, who is Jewish, and Maya Rehman, who is Muslim, are an unlikely political activist pairing. Jamie prefers to stay behind the scenes after an unfortunate interview incident involving vomiting. Maya has no interest in political canvassing, especially with a boy she hardly remembers from preschool. But, as they work together, going door to door to win support for their progressive candidate, they find that there is a lot more at stake than they realize. [young adult, ages 14 and up]
Watch Us Rise by Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan
When Chelsea and Jasmine start a Women’s Rights Club at their New York City school, they don’t expect their poetry and essays on microaggressions to go viral. When the principal shuts down their club, they must fight for their voices to be heard. [young adult, ages 14 and up]
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kelly
One of the biggest white privileges is the stereotype that comes to mind when you describe a person as “All-American”. Most will picture a white person with blond hair and blue eyes. In ALL AMERICAN BOYS, authors Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely’s story of stereotyping and racial profiling that is one to be read, and read again. From White Fragility Books for Kids. [young adult, ages 14 and up]
Art in Action: Make a Statement, Change Your World by Matthew “Levee” Chavez
Art and creativity have the power to change the world. This book is a primer on how to begin either individually or collectively as a community. Art — whether in the form of words, drawings, photos, or more — is a powerful tool! [nonfiction art book, for ages 8 and up]
Rise Up! The Art of Protest by Jo Rippon
Need inspiration to create a poster or sign for a protest? This book showcases the art of protest by way of posters from the last one hundred years across a broad range of topics including gender equality, civil rights, LGBTQ rights, refugee and immigrant rights, peace, and the environment. [nonfiction art book, ages 8 and up]
We Are The Change: Words of Inspiration from Civil Rights Leaders by Harry Belafonte
“… not all of us are comfortable being outspoken in political action.” Dan Santat
With words of inspiration by civil rights leaders and art from children’s book illustrators, this book was inspired by the work of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) which guards the rights of all Americans under the law. Illustrators give their personal thoughts on a quote of an activist that they illustrate. This is a beautiful picture book to get the conversation started about what it means to be the change that we seek. [picture book, ages 8 and up]
We Are All Greta: Be Inspired to Save the World by Valentina Giannella, illustrated by Manuela Marazzi
Centered around climate change, this book provides valuable information about the impacts on our environment and how to work together for change. It’s part science, part biography, and 100% inspirational! Use this book as a handbook for young people interested in activism. It will inspire them to start their own successful movement, just like Greta Thunberg. [nonfiction middle grade, ages 11 and up]
We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson
Fifty diverse children’s authors and illustrators contribute a message to children about how to navigate a world fraught with divisiveness, bias, and racism. Their words inspire a new generation to create a better world. [anthology, ages 8 and up]
No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History edited by Lindsay H. Metcalf, Keila V. Dawson, and Jeanette Bradley, illustrated by Jeanette Bradley
These young activists decided that they could not for someone else to change the world. They took on issues like racism, pollution, climate change, LGBTQIA rights, clean water, and more. Fourteen poems penned by children’s book luminaries are paired with each activist’s story. [nonfiction picture book anthology, ages 5 and up]
Imagine a Garden: Stories of Courage Changing the World by Rina Singh, illustrated by Hoda Hadadi
Free verse poems tell the stories of seven ordinary people exhibiting extraordinary courage to make their community a better place. Delicate cut paper art illustrations by Hoda Hadidi beautifully capture their achievements. [picture book, ages 6 and up]
Rise Up and Sing!: Power, Protest, and Activism in Music by Andrea Warner, illustrated by Louise Reimer
Dozens of musicians who use their music to advocate are featured in this anthology. [young adult nonfiction, ages 12 and up]
Together We Can: 40 Inspirational Stories About What Humans Can Achieve When We Work as A Team by Ned Hartley, illustrated by the team at Muti
The achievements are not limited to activism in this anthology though many movements are detailed and their success is the result of working together. From sports to STEM to politics and activism, these inspirational stories remind us of the power of teamwork. [middle grade nonfiction, ages 9 and up]
Children’s Biography Books on Activists
One Real American: The Life of Ely S. Parker, Seneca Sachem, and Civil War General by Joseph Bruchac
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“Ely Parker was born in 1928, a time when many Tonawanda Senecas in New York state were adopting many European conventions, in dress, homes, and sometimes even religion, in the way they lived. Unfortunately, they also had to deal with whites wanting to take their land. Having learned Latin, Greek, and other topics taught during this time period, Parker had few academic problems when he attended the Cayuga Academy, although his classmates were often abusive. His education helped him assist a delegation of Tonawanda chiefs on a trip to Washington, D.C. to discuss government settlements that they wished to refuse. He impressed the president and other officials and even met with John Ross, the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. He had been considering a career in law, but a friend convinced him that going into engineering would be a better path, and Parker eventually became the resident engineer for New York State Canals. He was also chosen as the “grand sachem” of the Iroquois Confederacy in 1851. While his education and insistence on fashionable frock coats gained him a lot of ground with the white government officials, his knowledge of and respect for his Native culture helped him in the ranks of the Six Nations. When the Civil War started, he tried to enlist but was turned away. In 1863, John E. Smith asked that Parker be appointed to his staff, and this military service culminated in Parker being the highest-ranking Native American in the Union Army and the man who wrote out the official copy of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. After the war, Parker married Minnie Orton Sackett, a white woman, and struggled to find jobs. He remained active in Native affairs, and passed away in 1895.” [middle grade biography, ages 12 and up]
Sylvia Mendez’s family took on segregation in 1945 … seven years before the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education but their story is largely unknown. Their fight is still relevant today, seventy years later when segregation is unofficial but still prevalent. [nonfiction picture book, ages 6 and up]
Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans by Phil Bildner, illustrated by John Parra
An activist need not be political. An activist can also bring about social change as in the case of Marvelous Cornelius who, as a sanitation worker, kept the streets of New Orleans clean. When Hurricane Katrina wrought destruction on the city, Cornelius used his showtime skills to inspire others around the world to pitch in. [picture book biography, ages 5 and up]
Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 by Michele Markel, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
This is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history. [picture book, ages 6 and up]
Thanks to Frances Perkins: Fighter to Workers’ Rights by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Kristy Caldwell
From KidLitFrenzy: “After Frances Perkins witnessed the Triangle Waist Factory fire in 1911, she was forever changed. While some activists pressed factory owners for change, Frances decided to work to bring about new laws that would force employers to treat people better and make workplaces safer. When she became Secretary of Labor in Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration–the first woman cabinet member–Frances had the opportunity to make real her bold vision of a country where no one was left out. As a result of the Social Security program that she created, we have built a society where we help one another.” [picture book biography, ages 6 and up]
Fannie Never Flinched: One Woman’s Courage in the Struggle for American Labor Union Rights by Mary Cronk Farrell
In 1897, Fannie toiled in a garment shop and dreamed of organizing a union for seamstresses like the ones started in Chicago and New York. In 1902, she helped start Ladies’ Local 67 of the United Garment Workers of America. Her work expanded beyond the garment workers to the coal mines of West Virginia where a feudal system was in place, condemning those who worked in the mines to poverty and dangerous work conditions. There was one millionaire mine owner who was worse than the rest, Lewis Hicks. And it was these miners that Fannie helped to organize.
In 1919, police officers in Natrona, Pennsylvania opened fire on Fannie Sellins, just as she was herding a group of children to safety during a riot. Autopsies showed that she died of a crushed skull with three gunshots in her head and back. None of these officers were found guilty.
Pair this book with Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909. [advanced biography picture book with chapters, ages 9 and up]
Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington by Jabari Asim, illustrated by Byran Collier
Young Booker T. Washington lived during the transition from slavery to emancipation and was given the opportunity for education while working in a coal mine. He journeyed over 500 miles by foot to attend Hampton Institute, a boarding school for African-Americans. Eventually, Booker T. Washington founds the Tuskegee Institute, becoming one of the most famous and respected black men in America. [advanced picture book, ages 6 and up]
Biddy Mason Speaks Up by Arisa White and Laura Atkins, illustrated by Laura Freeman
Bridget “Biddy” Mason was born enslaved in 1818 in Hancock, Georgia. Freedom for Biddy and her family would come about when the slave-owning family migrated west to California where slavery was illegal. She learned about healing plants from Granny Ellen, an elder who is also enslaved by the same family as Biddy. Her skills as a midwife and healer would eventually make her one of the most successful people in Los Angeles. This is an important book to understand U.S. history and its roots in protecting slavery. It is only with this knowledge that we can understand the racism that exists today. [nonfiction, ages 10 and up]
This series celebrates real-life heroes and heroines of social progress. This is Fred’s story of standing up for justice by refusing to go to Japanese Internment camps for simply being of Japanese descent. He went to jail for resisting and his courage made the United States a fairer place for all Americans. [ages 10 and up]
Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes
Fannie Lou Hamer was a key figure in the Civil Rights Movement, inspiring people with her speeches and powerful singing voice. Like other Civil Rights icons, Fannie endured police brutality on the front lines of the fight for justice. She played a pivotal role in the Freedom Summer of 1964 as “the country’s number one freedom-fighting woman.” [picture book, ages 6 and up]
Is nine years old too young to make a difference? This is the true story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, the youngest person to be arrested for a civil rights protest. She marched in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges
At just six years old, Ruby Bridges became the first African American student to desegregate an elementary school in the South. Despite the hate she faced, Ruby Bridges held fast, returning to school day after day until the school reluctantly integrated. This is her story, in her own words, of that year. She includes a historical backdrop of the events surrounding it that gives context to her own experience. [picture book, ages 8 and up]
As Fast as Words Could Fly by Pamela M. Tuck, illustrated by Eric Velasquez
14-year-old Mason Steele used his typing skills both as a writer and a speed typist to prove that he had the right to attend a previously all-white school. His important Civil Rights story showed that kids could make a difference as well as the personal battles they fought every day at school. [picture book biography, ages 6 and up]
Pies from Nowhere: How Georgia Gilmore Sustained the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Dee Romito, illustrated by Laura Freeman
Georgia Gilmore is a hidden figure in the Civil Rights Movement who helped to financially back the Civil Rights Movement in Montgomery by raising money by selling pies. She secretly organized bake sales that paid for cars and gas to transport those boycotting the bus system. [picture book biography, ages 6prison and up]
March trilogy by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport
Hate Can Not Drive Out Hate. Only Love Can Do That.
A beautifully illustrated picture book does justice to Dr. King’s biography, showing us the influences in his life as a young boy that shaped him into the great man he became. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever by H. Joseph Hopkins, illustrated by Jill McElmurry
In the 1860s, girls were discouraged from studying science, but Kate Sessions was not. She liked studying trees and pursued a degree in science from the University of California, the first woman to do so. When she moved to San Diego for her first job, it was a desert town with no trees. She became a tree hunter to find trees for that climate. She grew elms, oaks, eucalyptuses, and palm trees, and soon these trees were to be found everywhere in San Diego. She transformed City Park, now called Balboa Park, into an oasis of trees for the Panama-California Exposition. She’s now known as the Mother of Balboa Park. [picture book biography, ages 4 and up]
Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya by Donna Jo Napoli
Wangari Muta Maathai changed Kenya tree by tree, becoming the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy, and peace.
This gorgeously illustrated picture book tells the inspirational story of Wangari Maathai and how she founded the Green Belt Movement; an African grassroots organization that empowers people to mobilize and combat deforestation, soil erosion, and environmental degradation. Today more than 30 million trees have been planted throughout Mama Miti’s native Kenya. [picture book biography, ages 4 and up]
Rachel Carson rose from poverty to become a biologist, writer, and key figure in the environmental movement. Her book, Silent Spring, brought the spotlight to the impact that humans have on our planet and inspired a new generation to become environmental activists. [picture book biography, ages 4 and up]
Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Yuyi Morales
Cesar Chavez, along with Dolores Huerta, co-founded the National Farm Workers Association to improve the lives of thousands of migrant farmworkers. He organized a 340-mile march for safer working conditions and to increase pay to a living wage. [picture book, ages 8 and up]
Dolores Huerta: A Hero to Migrant Workers by Sarah Warren
Dolores Huerta co-founded the National Farm Workers Association along with Cesar Chavez. As a school teacher, she saw firsthand the poverty and food insecurity suffered by her migrant farmworker students. She left teaching to work on behalf of migrant farmworkers and social justice, using stories as a method of persuasion. [picture book, ages 7 and up]
The Voice that Won the Vote: How One Woman’s Words Made History by Elisa Boxer, illustrated by Vivien Mildenberger
There were many women (and men) who fought for women’s right to vote but it would take a single vote in the Tennessee legislature to make this law in the United States. It would come down to a single congressman and a single woman. They happen to be mother and son. A timeline of the women’s suffrage moment is detailed in the endnote. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
No Steps Behind: Beate Sirota Gordon’s Battle for Women’s Rights in Japan by Jeff Gottesfeld, illustrated by Shiella Witanto
Beate Sirota came to live in Japan as a young girl due to her father’s job as a concert pianist and teacher. Her knowledge of Japanese culture and fluency in Japanese would help Japan rebuild its country after the destruction caused by World War II. At just twenty-two years old, Beate was assigned the job to helping write Japan’s new Constitution and she was determined to correct the inequality that she witnessed growing up in Japan. Her contribution to Japan’s new laws gave Japanese women equal rights including the right to vote. [picture book, ages 8 and up]
One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
By cutting the bags into strips, Isatou and her friends cut the bags into strips and roll them into spools of plastic thread. They teach themselves to crochet them into bags. Some people in the village laugh at them; others call them “dirty” but the women prevail. They bring them to market and manage to sell them. With this money, Isatou can replace her grandmother’s goat. But even more than that, Isatou has created a cottage industry for women that, by upcycling plastic bags, also helps make her people healthier, wealthier, and more self-reliant. [picture book, ages 6 and up]
Lillian’s Right To Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Shane W. Evans
At one hundred years old, Lillian makes her way to her polling place and recalls her family’s personal history of fighting for the right right to vote. It’s a reminder not to take the ability to vote lightly. [picture book, ages 6 and up]
Even a child can send a powerful message. Malala Yousafzai spoke out for every child’s right to education. Targeted by the Taliban, Malala was shot by a gunman. Her life-threatening injury did not silence her. She received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, the youngest at age 17 to earn this honor. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Twenty-Two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank by Paula Yoo, illustrated by Jamel Akib
Muhammad founded Grameen Bank where people could borrow small amounts of money to start a job, and then pay back the bank without exorbitant interest charges. These micro-loans changed the lives of millions of impoverished people by loaning the equivalent of more than ten billion US dollars. [picture book, ages 6 and up]
Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders, illustrated by Steven Salerno
Harvey Milk and Gilbert Baker created the rainbow flag as a symbol of equality and inclusion. It’s a symbol of pride for LGBTQ+ people to love themselves as they are. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Jamey Christoph
A self-taught photographer, Gordon Parks vowed to bare racism with his lens. His most enduring subject is Ella Watson, a cleaning lady in the building where Parks works facing racism himself, Gordon Parks is an inspiration of how one man and a camera can take a powerful stand against racism with an unflinching eye, and the will to overcome obstacles. [picture book biography, ages 4 and up]
Dorothea Lange: The Photographer Who Found the Faces of the Depression by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Sarah Green
Dorothea Lange had childhood polio which left her with a limp, but also with a sense of empathy that shaped her view from behind the camera. Her famous photo of a migrant mother and her kids has a backstory: the family was stranded and starving after rains had destroyed the pea crop. Dorothea’s powerful image was published in the newspaper, and then the government rushed ten tons of food to the camp. Lange captured powerful images of The Great Depression and Japanese Americans in internment camps. This picture book biography shows the power of photography in the fight for social justice. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
Magic Trash: A Story of Tyree Guyton and His Art by J.H Shapiro and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Tyree Guyton transformed his Detroit street–Heidelberg Street–by leading an art initiative known as the Heidelberg Project. He transformed his decaying, crime-ridden neighborhood into an interactive sculpture park by upcycling materials and turning them into found art. The result is a testament to the power of how a community can harness environmentalism, social justice, and art to create positive change. [picture book, age 5 and up]
Loving vs. Virginia: A Documentary of the Landmark Civil Rights Case by Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by Shadra Strickland
In lyrical, spare free verse, this chapter book tells the story of two teenagers who fell in love, got married, broke the law, and changed the law. Their landmark case made mixed-race marriage legal. 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the landmark case Loving vs. Virginia, which fought against discrimination, racism, and segregation, and WON! [free verse chapter book, ages 14 and up]
Sylvia & Aki by Winifred Conkling
When Aki Munemitsu and her family are forced into a prison camp in Arizona for being of Japanese descent, their banker helps them rent their asparagus farm to the Mendez family who has a daughter, Sylvia, around the same age as Aki. The Westminster School District doesn’t let Sylvia into the all-white schools though her lighter-skinned cousins are allowed to enroll. The family sued. Mendez vs. Westminster School District is the landmark desegregation case before Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education. [chapter book, ages 9 and up]
When A Ghost Talks Listen by Tim Tingle
It might not be widely known that the Choctaw were allies of the U.S. Government and that Choctaw Chief Pushmataha was also a U.S. Army General and close friend of Andrew Jackson. In this second book of the series, the reader learns that when Chief Pushmataha advocates on behalf of his people at the request of President Andrew Jackson to come to Washington D.C., his wartime ally is actually setting him for murder in order to remove the Chocktaw from their lands. [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes by Juan Felipe Herrera, paintings by Raúl Colón
In the land of immigrants, it is an irony that Latino lives have been largely ignored. Although there have been incredible contributions by Hispanic Americans since the beginnings of this nation, their pioneering roles often have been overshadowed and their identities besmirched by the terms such as “alien” and “illegal.” forward by Juan Felipe Herrera
This book belongs in every library because it’s true that Hispanic American heroes don’t get the attention that they deserve. Juan Felipe Herrera carefully curates 21 heroes with an emphasis on those who focused on helping others. Activists Adelina Otero-Warren, Dennis Chavez, Helen Rodríguez Trías, Ignacio Lozano, Dolores Huerta, Jaime Escalante, Joan Baez, Judy Baca, Julia de Burgos, Sonia Sotomayor, Tomas Rivera, and Cesar Chavez are included. [biography chapter book, ages 8 and up]
Rise Up: Ordinary Kids with Extraordinary Stories by Amanda Li, illustrated by Amy Blackwell
Twenty-nine kids who have overcome incredible challenges are featured in this anthology that includes related activities. Young activists featured include Greta Thunberg, William Kamkwamba, Boyan Slat, Yeonmi Park, Abraham Keita, Malala Yousafzai, Lizzie Velásquez, Mohamad Al Jounde, Kevin Breel, and Pierre Demalvilain. [biography with activities anthology, ages 8 and up]
Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries who Shaped Our History . . . and Our Future! by
Rad American Women A-Z showcases women who broke boundaries in the fight for equality and social justice. 26 diverse individuals are matched to a letter of the alphabet, and each is an agent of change in her own way. [nonfiction short biography book, ages 8 and up]
More Great Books on Activists and Activism
The Bobbin Girl by Emily Arnold McCully
A fictionalized story about a bobbin girl and the difficult choices she has to make. She needs to work to support her struggling family, but the conditions are poor. Does she dare join in the protest? [picture book, ages 6 and up]
Using a comic book format, this book tells the story of Fred Korematsu, a mild-mannered ordinary welder working in a shipyard who fights for justice during WWII. [graphic novel, ages 8 and up]
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p.s. Related posts:
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- Junior Library Guild Gold selection
- Selected as one of 100 Outstanding Picture Books of 2023 by dPICTUS and featured at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair
- Starred review from School Library Journal
BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.