You don’t have to wait to be a grown-up to make a stand–and make a difference. Reading about other children and young adults who “speak truth to power” shows children they are part of a larger community and that their words and actions matter. We’ve listed some of our favorite books for kids that include the courageous acts of people their own age. (They’re a great supplement to our book flight on People Who Made a Difference. )
Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney
Fifty years ago, four young black men decided to take a stand against the injustice of integration and began a sit-down strike at Woolworth’s luncheon counter, where “Whites Only” was the rule. It’s not easy to tell their story simply, but the Pinkney’s write poetically, clearly, and with energetic pictures to show how these young people peacefully protested and changed communities in the South forever. “Their order was simple. A doughnut and coffee with cream on the side.” At the end of the book, there’s a very informative Civil Right Timeline that shows how these four friends’ bravery was the beginning of a groundswell of support, friends coming together, to change the world.
Kids on Strike by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
Before the child labor laws, young children in the United States worked long hours, often in terrible environments alongside their older working companions. And they were at their side as well during the labor strikes. Children as young as 11-year-old Harriet Hanson took steps to change workers’ situations, joining in strikes, leading rent protests, walking hours in long marches. Written as narratives, the stories are very accessible and filled with rich historical details. A wonderful resource as well as inspiring historical information.
Ryan and Jimmy and the Well in Africa that Brought Them Together by Herb Shoveller
Six-year-old Ryan Hreljac was amazed to learn about the needs–and costs–for wells in Africa. He was determined to help fund one, and began by doing chores around the house. What began as one child’s dream to bring drinking water to one village became an international network. When Ryan’s well was built in Agweo, Uganda, he was able to meet and become fast friends with Akwana Jimmy. The story of their enduring friendship is an incredible story of survival, compassion, and activism.
Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathia by Claire Nivola
Wangari Maathai grew up loving nature, tending trees, and appreciating the hills of her native Kenya. Over the years, more and more land was cleared, and with the trees gone, the land–and people–suffered. This gorgeous picture-book biography tells the story of how one young woman sparked a movement that restored the gardens and people of Kenya. Maathai became the first woman from Africa to win the Nobel Peace prize for her work as founder of the Green Belt Movement. Besides the wonderful environmental message, the book is an inspiring story of activism and the power we all have to change the world!
This book takes its title from a boy who was not allowed to sign a petition against the spread of nuclear weapons. “It’s our world, too!” he countered. His is but one of 14 well-written, fascinating, true stories of children working for the needy, the environment, world peace, and human rights. The second half of the book is a handbook for young activists (and older ones, too!) with wonderful practical suggestions for organizing for social justice. Very empowering!