As we approach MLK Day, we’re thinking it’s the perfect time to get our kids learning about activism and about how one man, through his peaceful and steadfast fight for equal rights for all, made lasting changes and a huge impact on generations.
Inspired by his words — “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” — and motivated by his actions, we’ve put together a list of 10 children’s books about activism that we think will inspire our kids, in turn.
From stories our littlest readers will enjoy to non-fiction books that motivate our older kids to take action about those things they believe in, we hope these children’s books about activism will get all of our families thinking a little more about how to make our world a better place.
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When my first daughter was born, I’ll never forget the words of advice her pediatrician offered me: Start the way you mean to finish. It’s something I’ve tried to do every day since becoming a parent.
That’s why this board book about activism for toddlers (also shown at very top) is a perfect tool to help create a home environment that nurtures our belief in taking action right from the start.
A is for Activist uses the alphabet to introduce children to concepts like democracy, human rights, protests, and cooperatives. The illustrations, also by Indonesian-American author and activist Innosanto Nagara, are fantastically eye-catching and bring the powerful messages to life. I say this one is E for Empowering!
Mahatma Gandhi was a big inspiration to so many of us, including to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., himself. This book, written by Gandhi’s grandson, Arun, with author Bethany Hegedus and illustrator Evan Turk, tells the story of how his grandfather taught how anger can be channeled for good.
I love how the book shares the idea with children that emotions — even negative ones, and maybe especially negative ones — are normal and okay. But, when we apply our anger, hurt and resentment in a positive way, we can accomplish so much.
Not only a great children’s book about activism, but a lovely lesson on how to be the good in the world.
Of course we had to include a book about MLK himself in this round up, and while there are so many excellent choices, this one is my favorite.
This book takes young readers through Dr. King’s powerful speech and includes beautiful and compelling illustrations by Kadir Nelson to really bring the words to life. I love that this book comes with a companion CD so your kids can hear Dr. King’s powerful voice saying those powerful words.
To me, the message in Dr. King’s I Have a Dream speech, is, by far, the most inspirational message on social justice and activism that we can share with our children. As a family, we watch video of this famous speech made on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 every year to commemorate MLK Day. And every year we find something new, and often relevant to discuss about our world today.
This is a wonderful children’s book about activism for older elementary school students that tells the story of the life and legacy of gay rights hero Harvey Milk – especially for those not yet ready to sit through the highly lauded, Oscar-winning 2008 biopic, Milk.
From Harvey Milk’s childhood to his fight for civil rights to his tragic assassination, the author does an excellent job teaching children about social justice and equality for the LGBT community, all with beautiful illustrations from David Gardner.
The book also offers the lovely message that when you are proud of who you are, you have the ability to inspire others to feel the same about themselves.
A few years back, my family visited the National Museum of American History in D.C., and the one exhibit that my girls still talk about is the original lunch counter from the Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Learning about Jim Crow laws and the inequalities black people faced in the south was particularly difficult for my own biracial children, but learning about the brave activists who protested by joining the “sit-ins” made them proud.
Freedom on the Menu handles this topic plainly and factually but delicately, making it an excellent children’s book about activism, and a smart way to help explain the the Civil Rights Movement to younger children who can’t yet grasp the complexities.
Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement
by Carole Boston Weatherford
Another favorite by the same author of Freedom on the Menu, I definitely would call Voice of Freedom one of my top picks to help tweens and teens learn about the Civil Rights Movement. In fact, we included the title in our roundup of our Editors’ Best Children’s Books of 2016.
This powerful book for older kids emphasizes the perseverance and courage that unites nearly all activists, including Fannie Lou Hamer. She was a champion of equal voting rights during the 1960s, and despite hardships, struggles and abuse (including being beaten nearly to death), Hamer would not stop fighting for what was right.
I want my daughters to know all of our country’s heroes who have fought for equality and civil rights. And that includes lesser-known activists, like Fannie, who left behind a legacy of hope and strength that will hopefully empower my girls to learn how they can get involved in causes they believe in, too.
Nearly 10 years before Brown vs. Board of Education ruled that separate public schools for black and white students was unconstitutional, Sylvia Mendez and her parents helped end school segregation in California, paving the way for school equality for all.
This award-winning book for elementary school children tells the very real story of how the Mendez family took action by organizing the Hispanic community and filing a lawsuit in federal district court. Their win allowed Sylvia to attend the school of her choice.
It’s a fantastic if little-known story about how strength and perseverance can make a lasting change. Also, don’t miss this one for the gorgeous Mexican folk-art style illustrations.
I love so many things about this true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in our country’s history. In fact, it covers many topics that happen to be relevant today: immigration, fair labor laws, women’s rights, and more.
This inspirational picture book is an excellent way for children as young as Kindergarten to learn about social justice. And to paraphrase Hamilton (because, there is always a good excuse to do so), “Immigrants, they get the job done!”
As the mom of two girls, I especially love this nonfiction book that details the origins of Title IX, which is so much more than just a law to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program.
Title IX opened up scholarship opportunities to young women, allowing them to earn higher education degrees. And it happened because of the activism of many women — and men — who fought for equal opportunities for all.
The book really breaks down gender stereotypes in a plain, compelling way, and I think it’s a great gift for middle- schoolers (boys and girls!) who may be active in their school’s extracurricular athletic program for the very first time.
It’s Your World: Get Empowered, Get Inspired, and Get Going! by Chelsea Clinton
This book truly helped my family turn our deep disappointment from this year’s election results into real empowerment — and turned out to be one of the most popular picks in the Empowering Gifts for Girls category of our 2016 Holiday Gift Guide, so I think it’s helping a lot of other families too.
Chelsea Clinton’s book inspires kids to learn more about the world around them and to stay informed, to figure out which issues mean the most to them, and to take action to “be the change you wish to see in the world” as we’ve heard so many times before.
Since November, the book has motivated my girls and me to set out to do something good every day — whether it’s signing a petition, calling our representatives, writing a letter, or volunteering at a local organization we support — and we’re feeling more and more empowered and engaged with each passing day.
Staying engaged, which is really the underlying message every one of these children’s books about activism, is truly the key to making the world a better place for all.