Best Children's Books About Activism

33 Inspiring Books About Those Whose Efforts Have Shaped History and Protected the Rights of Others

Updated Jan. 22, 2019

These children's books can help you teach your young reader about the impact individuals can have on the world around them. These books capture powerful examples of individuals who brought about change and present their stories in a memorable way and in an understandable manner.

Let the Children March book
#1
Let the Children March
Written by Monica Clark-Robinson and illustrated by Frank Morrison
picture book
Recommend Ages: 6-9
Thoughts from B is for Bookworm

This book is so inspirational. I love that it talks about the children who march for their rights! This book is so important, as it really brought this historical event to life, especially through the different perspective of children. This is an amazing story of love, perseverance, determination, courage, bravery, and activism. Even when the children faced danger, they knew that they were helping bring about a change and that together, they could help change the world. Also, I thought the illustrations were wonderful.

Under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, children and teenagers march against segregation in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963.

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls book
#2
Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls
Written by Elena Favilli and illustrated by Francesca Cavallo
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 5-10

A children's book that reinvents fairy tales, inspiring girls with the stories of 100 great women from Elizabeth I to Serena Williams.

Martin's Big Words book
#3
Martin's Big Words
Written by Doreen Rappaport and illustrated by Bryan Collier
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-8
Thoughts from Mom of Boys

Martin's Big Words is a great book that explains some of the big points he makes during his years of helping to end segregation. "He said, together, when others said, separate." I especially like how this book teaches such a positive way to solve problems. He focuses on love and persistence and when changes seem out of reach.

This picture-book biography is an excellent and accessible introduction for young readers to learn about one of the world’s most influential leaders, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Doreen Rappaport weaves the immortal words of Dr. King into a captivating narrative to tell the story of his life. With stunning art by acclaimed illustrator Bryan Collier, Martin’s Big Words is an unforgettable portrait of a man whose dream changed America—and the world—forever.

A Sweet Smell of Roses book
#4
A Sweet Smell of Roses
Written by Angela Johnson and illustrated by Eric Velasquez
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-8
Thoughts from The Fun Uncle

I love the way Angela Johnson presents such an emotional and important piece of history in a way that conveys the importance of what was happening, while keeping it child appropriate. It's thought provoking and is sure to help our little ones be curious about the civil rights movement, leading to great opportunities of acceptance and friendship to all. The illustrations by Eric Velazquez are so life-like and well done.

Minnie and her sister hear about a freedom march and leave their home to go to their city's downtown area where they listen to Dr. Martin Luther King and join the march, all the while smelling roses.

Dough Knights and Dragons book
#5
Dough Knights and Dragons
Written by Dee Leone and illustrated by George Ermos
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-8

In a mythical kingdom, a knight and a dragon cook up a delicious plan to save their friendship! In Dough Knights and Dragons, a curious knight and an amiable dragon meet serendipitously, and instantly bond over their shared love of baking. But the friends are filled with sadness when, according to the law, the two must duel one another. Can the unlikely pair find a way to evade the law, save their friendship, and spread good throughout the land? Kids will devour this scrumptiously clever tale!

Malala's Magic Pencil book
#6
Malala's Magic Pencil
Written by Malala Yousafzai and illustrated by Kerascoet
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

Malala's first picture book will inspire young readers everywhere to find the magic all around them. As a child in Pakistan, Malala made a wish for a magic pencil. She would use it to make everyone happy, to erase the smell of garbage from her city, to sleep an extra hour in the morning. But as she grew older, Malala saw that there were more important things to wish for. She saw a world that needed fixing. And even if she never found a magic pencil, Malala realized that she could still work hard every day to make her wishes come true. This beautifully illustrated volume tells Malala's story for a younger audience and shows them the worldview that allowed Malala to hold on to hope even in the most difficult of times.

I Am Helen Keller book
#7
I Am Helen Keller
Written by Brad Meltzer and illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos, Brad Meltzer
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-8

"The story of Helen Keller, who learned to read and write despite being deaf and blind, and became an activist who fought for the rights of disabled people"

Amazing Grace book
#8
Amazing Grace
Written by Mary Hoffman and illustrated by Caroline Binch
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

Although a classmate says that she cannot play Peter Pan in the school play because she is black, Grace discovers that she can do anything she sets her mind to do.

She Persisted book
#9
She Persisted
Written by Chelsea Clinton and illustrated by Alexandra Bolger
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

Chelsea Clinton introduces tiny feminists, mini activists and little kids who are ready to take on the world to thirteen inspirational women who never took no for an answer, and who always, inevitably and without fail, persisted. Throughout American history, there have always been women who have spoken out for what’s right, even when they have to fight to be heard. In early 2017, Senator Elizabeth Warren’s refusal to be silenced in the Senate inspired a spontaneous celebration of women who persevered in the face of adversity. In this book, Chelsea Clinton celebrates thirteen American women who helped shape our country through their tenacity, sometimes through speaking out, sometimes by staying seated, sometimes by captivating an audience. They all certainly persisted. She Persisted is for everyone who has ever wanted to speak up but has been told to quiet down, for everyone who has ever tried to reach for the stars but was told to sit down, and for everyone who has ever been made to feel unworthy or unimportant or small. With vivid, compelling art by Alexandra Boiger, this book shows readers that no matter what obstacles may be in their paths, they shouldn’t give up on their dreams. Persistence is power. This book features: Harriet Tubman, Helen Keller, Clara Lemlich, Nellie Bly, Virginia Apgar, Maria Tallchief, Claudette Colvin, Ruby Bridges, Margaret Chase Smith, Sally Ride, Florence Griffith Joyner, Oprah Winfrey, Sonia Sotomayor—and one special cameo.

The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade book
#10
The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade
Written by Justin Roberts and illustrated by Christian Robinson
picture book
Recommend Ages: 3-5

Sally McCabe is a very little girl, and nobody notices her, although she notices everything that goes on around her--but when she speaks out about the unkindness she sees, people start to pay attention.

The Cart That Carried Martin book
#11
The Cart That Carried Martin
Written by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Don Tate
picture book
Recommend Ages: 6-9

A unique retelling of Martin Luther King Jr.s funeral, focusing on the cart used to transport his coffin through the streets of Atlanta, Georgia, from Ebenezer Baptist Church to Morehouse College. The text also features the large number of people who walked the funeral route and were buoyed by MLKs positive influence, as well as Ada and Belle, the mules that pulled the cart.

Emmeline Pankhurst book
#12
Emmeline Pankhurst
Written by Lisbeth Kaiser and illustrated by Ana Sanfelippo
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

In this international bestseller from the critically acclaimed Little People, BIG DREAMS series, meet Emmeline Pankhurst, an inspiring women's rights activist who changed the world for future generations of women. As a child, Emmeline Pankhurst was inspired by books about heroes who fought for others. She dedicated her life to fighting for women's voting rights and, with hard work and great bravery, led a remarkable movement that changed the world. This moving book features stylish and quirky illustrations and extra facts at the back, including a biographical timeline with historical photos and a detailed profile of the activist's life. Little People, BIG DREAMS is a best-selling series of books and educational games that explore the lives of outstanding people, from designers and artists to scientists and activists. All of them achieved incredible things, yet each began life as a child with a dream.

Martin and Anne book
#13
Martin and Anne
Written by Nancy Churnin and illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg
picture book
Recommend Ages: 8-11

Anne Frank and Martin Luther King Jr. were born the same year a world apart. Both faced ugly prejudices and violence, which both answered with words of love and faith in humanity. This is the story of their parallel journeys to find hope in darkness and to follow their dreams.

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History book
#14
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History
Written by Vashti Harrison
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 8-11

A NEW YORK TIMES INSTANT BESTSELLER!A USA TODAY BESTSELLER! This beautifully illustrated book introduces readers of all ages to 40 women who changed the world. Featuring forty trailblazing black women in American history, Little Leaders educates and inspires as it relates true stories of breaking boundaries and achieving beyond expectations. Illuminating text paired with irresistible illustrations bring to life both iconic and lesser-known female figures of Black history such as abolitionist Sojourner Truth, pilot Bessie Coleman, chemist Alice Ball, politician Shirley Chisholm, mathematician Katherine Johnson, poet Maya Angelou, and filmmaker Julie Dash. Among these biographies, readers will find heroes, role models, and everyday women who did extraordinary things - bold women whose actions and beliefs contributed to making the world better for generations of girls and women to come. Whether they were putting pen to paper, soaring through the air or speaking up for the rights of others, the women profiled in these pages were all taking a stand against a world that didn't always accept them. The leaders in this book may be little, but they all did something big and amazing, inspiring generations to come.

Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights book
#15
Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights
Written by Rob Sanders and illustrated by Jared Andrew Schorr
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

A primer for peaceful protest, resistance, and activism from the author of Rodzilla and Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag. Protesting. Standing up for what’s right. Uniting around the common good—kids have questions about all of these things they see and hear about each day. Through sparse and lyrical writing, Rob Sanders introduces abstract concepts like “fighting for what you believe in” and turns them into something actionable. Jared Schorr’s bold, bright illustrations brings the resistance to life making it clear that one person can make a difference. And together, we can accomplish anything.

Me . . . Jane book
#16
Me . . . Jane
Written and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-7

In his characteristic heartwarming style, Patrick McDonnell tells the story of the young Jane Goodall and her special childhood toy chimpanzee named Jubilee. As the young Jane observes the natural world around her with wonder, she dreams of "a life living with and helping all animals," until one day she finds that her dream has come true. One of the world's most inspiring women, Dr. Jane Goodall is a renowned humanitarian, conservationist, animal activist, environmentalist, and United Nations Messenger of Peace. In 1977 she founded the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI), a global nonprofit organization that empowers people to make a difference for all living things. With anecdotes taken directly from Jane Goodall's autobiography, McDonnell makes this very true story accessible for the very young--and young at heart.

Herstory book
#17
Herstory
Written by Katherine Halligan and illustrated by Sarah Walsh
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 8-12

Move aside history—it’s time for herstory. Celebrate fifty inspiring and powerful women who changed the world and left their mark in this lavishly illustrated biography compilation that’s perfect for fans of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls and She Persisted. Throughout history, girls have often been discussed in terms of what they couldn’t or shouldn’t do. Not anymore. It’s time for herstory—a celebration of not only what girls can do, but the remarkable things women have already accomplished, even when others tried to stop them. In this uplifting and inspiring book, follow the stories of fifty powerhouse women from around the world and across time who each managed to change the world as they knew it forever. Telling the stories of their childhood, the challenges they faced, and the impact of their achievements, each lavishly illustrated spread is a celebration of girl power in its many forms. From astronauts to activists, musicians to mathematicians, these women are sure to motivate young readers of all backgrounds to focus not on the can’ts and shouldn’ts, but on what they can do: anything!

The Youngest Marcher book
#18
The Youngest Marcher
Written by Cynthia Levinson and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-10
Thoughts from Mr. Stacatto

I loved learning about segregation from the perspective of Audrey Faye Hendricks. What a brave young girl. I found the author's note at the end of the book enjoyable as well and getting to know a little bit more about the protest and Audrey.

Meet the youngest known child to be arrested for a civil rights protest in Birmingham, Alabama, 1963, in this moving picture book that proves you’re never too little to make a difference. Nine-year-old Audrey Faye Hendricks intended to go places and do things like anybody else. So when she heard grown-ups talk about wiping out Birmingham’s segregation laws, she spoke up. As she listened to the preacher’s words, smooth as glass, she sat up tall. And when she heard the plan—picket those white stores! March to protest those unfair laws! Fill the jails!—she stepped right up and said, I’ll do it! She was going to j-a-a-il! Audrey Faye Hendricks was confident and bold and brave as can be, and hers is the remarkable and inspiring story of one child’s role in the Civil Rights Movement.

Love Will See You Through book
#19
Love Will See You Through
Written by Angela Farris Watkins and illustrated by Sally Wern Comport
picture book
Recommend Ages: 6-11

The niece of Martin Luther King, Jr. reveals six timeless and universal principles that encompass the civil rights leader’s greatest legacy: Love will see you through. Growing up as the niece of Martin Luther King Jr., Angela Farris Watkins witnessed firsthand the principles and values that “Uncle M.L.” practiced and lived by throughout his fight for equality. Drawing from experiences and episodes both personal and well-known, Dr. Watkins artfully details the guiding beliefs of one of the greatest men in history. Including “have courage” and “love your enemies,” these six hallmarks of virtue and nonviolence reinforce the truth that “the universe honors love” and will inspire readers of all ages.

Voice of Freedom book
#20
Voice of Freedom
Written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Ekua Holmes
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-7

A collage-illustrated collection of poems and spirituals inspired by the life and work of civil rights advocate Fannie Lou Hamer.

Martin & Mahalia: His Words, Her Song book
#21
Martin & Mahalia: His Words, Her Song
Written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney
picture book
Recommend Ages: 8-12

They were each born with the gift of gospel. Martin's voice kept people in their seats, but also sent their praises soaring. Mahalia's voice was brass-and-butter - strong and smooth at the same time. With Martin's sermons and Mahalia's songs, folks were free to shout, to sing their joy. On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and his strong voice and powerful message were joined and lifted in song by world-renowned gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. It was a moment that changed the course of history and is imprinted in minds forever. Told through Andrea Davis Pinkney's poetic prose and Brian Pinkney's evocative illustration, the stories of these two powerful voices and lives are told side-by-side -- as they would one day walk -- following the journey from their youth to a culmination at this historical event when they united as one and inspiring kids to find their own voices and speak up for what is right.

I Dissent book
#22
I Dissent
Written by Debbie Levy and illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

Get to know celebrated Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg—in the first picture book about her life—as she proves that disagreeing does not make you disagreeable! Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has spent a lifetime disagreeing: disagreeing with inequality, arguing against unfair treatment, and standing up for what’s right for people everywhere. This biographical picture book about the Notorious RBG, tells the justice’s story through the lens of her many famous dissents, or disagreements.

Lillian's Right to Vote book
#23
Lillian's Right to Vote
Written by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Shane W. Evans
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-9

A 50th anniversary tribute to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 finds an elderly woman reflecting on her family's history, from the passage of the 15th Amendment through her participation in the protest march from Selma to Montgomery.

Martin Rising book
#24
Martin Rising
Written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 9-12

In a rich embroidery of visions, musical cadence, and deep emotion, Andrea and Brian Pinkney convey the final months of Martin Luther King's life -- and of his assassination -- through metaphor, spirituality, and multi-layers of meaning. Andrea's stunning poetic requiem, illustrated with Brian's lyrical and colorful artwork -- brings a fresh perspective to Martin Luther King, the Gandhi-like, peace-loving activist whose dream of equality -- and whose courage to make it happen -- changed the course of American history. And even in his death, he continues to transform and inspire all of us who share his dream. Wonderful classroom plays of Martin Rising can be performed by using the "Now Is the Time" history, and the 1968 timeline at the back of the book as narration -- and adding selected poems to tell the story!

When Martin Luther King Jr. Wore Roller Skates book
#25
When Martin Luther King Jr. Wore Roller Skates
Written by Mark Weakland and illustrated by Patrick Ballesteros
picture book
Recommend Ages: 6-12
Thoughts from Lemony Snickers

This is a wonderful book for teaching children about Martin Luther King Jr. I think this book brings Dr. King's story to a personal level in a unique way that is more relatable for children. The illustrations are fun and modern, but the words on each page are packed with facts and history. This book is a great find for introducing kids to as important a changemaker as Dr. King.

Martin Luther King Jr. led the American Civil Rights Movement. But do you know what he was like as a child? From roller skating to playing football and basketbal, Martin was a fun-loving child. This playful story of his childhood will help young readers connect with a historic figure and will inspire them to want to achieve greatness.

Have a suggestion for a book to add to this list? Send an email to [email protected] with your book and list suggestion.