Best Kids Books About Activism

30 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.

Martin's Big Words book
#2
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.

Me . . . Jane book
#3
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.

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.

I Dissent book
#5
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.

Dough Knights and Dragons book
#6
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!

She Persisted book
#7
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.

I Am Helen Keller book
#8
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"

Malala's Magic Pencil book
#9
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.

Amazing Grace book
#10
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.

The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade book
#11
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 Water Princess book
#12
The Water Princess
Written by Georgie Badiel, Susan Verde and illustrated by Peter H Reynolds
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-8

Based on supermodel Georgie Badiel’s childhood, a young girl dreams of bringing clean drinking water to her African village With its wide sky and warm earth, Princess Gie Gie’s kingdom is a beautiful land. But clean drinking water is scarce in her small African village. And try as she might, Gie Gie cannot bring the water closer; she cannot make it run clearer. Every morning, she rises before the sun to make the long journey to the well. Instead of a crown, she wears a heavy pot on her head to collect the water. After the voyage home, after boiling the water to drink and clean with, Gie Gie thinks of the trip that tomorrow will bring. And she dreams. She dreams of a day when her village will have cool, crystal-clear water of its own. Inspired by the childhood of African–born model Georgie Badiel, acclaimed author Susan Verde and award-winning author/illustrator Peter H. Reynolds have come together to tell this moving story. As a child in Burkina Faso, Georgie and the other girls in her village had to walk for miles each day to collect water. This vibrant, engaging picture book sheds light on this struggle that continues all over the world today, instilling hope for a future when all children will have access to clean drinking water.

Keith Haring: The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing book
#13
Keith Haring: The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing
Written by Kay Haring and illustrated by Robert Neubecker
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-8

Iconic pop artist Keith Haring comes to life for young readers in this picture book biography lovingly written by his sister This one-of-a-kind book explores the life and art of Keith Haring from his childhood through his meteoric rise to fame. It sheds light on this important artist’s great humanity, his concern for children, and his disregard for the establishment art world. Reproductions of Keith's signature artwork appear in scenes boldly rendered by Robert Neubecker. This is a story to inspire, and a book for Keith Haring fans of all ages to treasure.

Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights book
#14
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.

Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education book
#15
Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education
Written by Raphaele Frier and illustrated by Aurelia Fronty
picture book
Recommend Ages: 6-9

Malala Yousafzai stood up to the Taliban and fought for the right for all girls to receive an education. When she was just fifteen-years old, the Taliban attempted to kill Malala, but even this did not stop her activism. At age eighteen Malala became the youngest person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work to ensure the education of all children around the world. Malala’s courage and conviction will inspire young readers in this beautifully illustrated biography.

The Youngest Marcher book
#16
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
#17
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
#18
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
#19
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.

Lillian's Right to Vote book
#20
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.

When Martin Luther King Jr. Wore Roller Skates book
#21
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.

Ballots for Belva book
#22
Ballots for Belva
Written by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and illustrated by Courtney A. Martin
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-7

A timely true tale for the 2008 presidential election In 1884, when men were the only people allowed to vote in national elections, Belva Lockwood took a bold but legal step: She ran for president! Women did not have the same rights as men, but Belva went on undeterred—and she got votes! Her run for office was based on experience and merit: Unlike many women of the time, she went to college, then to law school, and even argued cases before the Supreme Court. Though her campaign was difficult, Belva never wavered in her commitment to equality, earning the respect of many fellow citizens. A little-known but richly deserving American historical figure, Belva is an inspiration for modern-day readers. Despite all the changes in society since Belva’s time, there is still a lot to fight for, and Belva shows the way. The book also includes a glossary and a timeline of women’s suffrage events. F&P level: Q

Elizabeth Leads the Way book
#23
Elizabeth Leads the Way
Written by Tanya Lee Stone and illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon
picture book
Recommend Ages: 6-10

Elizabeth Cady Stanton stood up and fought for what she believed in. From an early age, she knew that women were not given rights equal to men. But rather than accept her lesser status, Elizabeth went to college and later gathered other like-minded women to challenge the right to vote.Here is the inspiring story of an extraordinary woman who changed America forever because she wouldn't take "no" for an answer. Elizabeth Leads the Way is a 2009 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? book
#24
What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?
Written by Chris Barton and illustrated by Ekua Holmes
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

“When Barbara Jordan talked, we listened.” —Former President of the United States, Bill Clinton Congresswoman Barbara Jordan had a big, bold, confident voice—and she knew how to use it! Learn all about her amazing career in this illuminating and inspiring picture book biography of the lawyer, educator, politician, and civil rights leader. Even as a child growing up in the Fifth Ward of Houston, Texas, Barbara Jordan stood out for her big, bold, booming, crisp, clear, confident voice. It was a voice that made people sit up, stand up, and take notice. So what do you do with a voice like that? Barbara took her voice to places few African American women had been in the 1960s: first law school, then the Texas state senate, then up to the United States congress. Throughout her career, she persevered through adversity to give voice to the voiceless and to fight for civil rights, equality, and justice. New York Times bestselling author Chris Barton and Caldecott Honoree Ekua Holmes deliver a remarkable picture book biography about a woman whose struggles and mission continue to inspire today.

If You're Going to a March book
#25
If You're Going to a March
Written by Martha Freeman and illustrated by Violet Kim
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-10

"If you're going to a march, you're going to want a sign"--and this cheerful, introductory handbook. Inspired by author Martha Freeman's own experiences, it addresses many of the questions kids might have: What should I wear? How will I get there? Where can I go to the bathroom? Is it okay to dance? (It is!). All the while the text focuses on our Constitutional right as Americans to assemble . . . whatever our political point of view.

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