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Timely Books About Young People Making an Impact

Ann-Marie Cahill

Contributor

Ann-Marie Cahill will read anything and everything. From novels to trading cards to the inside of CD covers (they’re still a thing, right?). A good day is when her kids bring notes home from school. A bad day is when she has to pry a book from her kids’ hands. And then realizes where they get it from. The only thing Ann-Marie loves more than reading is travelling. She has expensive hobbies.

HarperCollins Children's Books

Grieving the death of her mother and an outcast at school, thirteen-year-old Mei finds solace in cooking and computer games. When her friend’s grandmother falls ill, Mei seeks out her father, a doctor, for help, and discovers the hospital is overcrowded. As the virus spreads, Mei finds herself alone in a locked-down city trying to find a way to help.

Weaving in the tastes and sounds of the historic city, Wuhan’s comforting and distinctive cuisine comes to life as the reader follows 13-year-old Mei who, through her love for cooking, makes a difference in her community.

My 9 year old daughter had to do a school presentation on Young People Making an Impact. To be honest, the subject matter terrified her. “How can young people make an impact on anything? We’re just kids!” And I get that. I am pretty sure I felt the same way when I was that age. It is so frustrating as a kid, to watch the adults make all the decisions and not feel like you have a say in anything. Sure, sometimes that’s a good thing: no, children should NOT be eating chocolate for every meal every day. But there are many more occasions when I, the adult, am totally ashamed at how absolutely horrible adults can be at things that directly affect future generations. It’s pretty hard to help a 9 year old with a school presentation when you’re wallowing in the pessimism right there with them.

But I was wrong. We were both wrong. There are many wonderful and amazing young people making an impact. Some of them are all over the international news, such as Malala Yousafzai and Greta Thunberg. Some of them are making an impact in their hometowns and villages, like William Kamkwamba. More often than not, the young people making a difference are doing it at home and at their school: helping out with the family, sharing food and recipes with neighbours, inspiring through school presentations. Young people can do all of this and more. They just need a reminder that there is something they can do. That they can make an impact. 

For inspiration, share these books with the young people in your life. (Yes, you can read them too — in fact, we encourage it!)

Real Stories of Young People Making an Impact

cover of Malala’s Magic Pencil

Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai, illustrated by Kerascoët

Malala’s story of strength and determination has become famous around the world, sparking a collection of books by both her and other writers. Malala’s Magic Pencil is her first picture book sharing her childhood dream of a magic pencil that could make life better for everyone. Malala’s dream is beautifully portrayed with Kerascoët’s brilliant watercolours. It’s a simply lovely book, especially for sensitive artistic souls who often feel vulnerable in the world.

the cover of Greta Thunberg (Little People, Big Dreams)

Greta Thunberg (Little People, Big Dreams) by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara, illustrated by Anke Weckmann

The Little People, Big Dreams series has fast become a favourite series in our family. Greta Thunberg was the first book in our collection, with many of them being reread on a weekly basis. My 9 year old daughter especially loves this one because she “likes how it shows Greta is an ordinary kid who made an impact. It feels more real like I can do it too.” It’s straightforward, it’s succinct, and it never treats young readers like they are too young to understand. If you want a book that connects with young people making an impact, this is how you do it.

Cover of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba, Bryan Mealer, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon

William grew up with his family on a farm in Wimbe, Malawi. In 2001, a severe famine hit Malawi, and William’s family was unable to pay the school fees for William to attend secondary school. Even without school, William was still determined to learn. This is his story about community libraries, learning new ideas, bringing electricity to his community, and helping it grow again. William’s story was made into a movie in 2019 directed by Chiwetel Ejiofor and based on this book. But we all know the book is better.

Cover of A Kids Book About Leadership

A Kids Book About Leadership by Orion Jean

Here’s an example of how true leadership knows no age limits. Orion Jean is a 10 year old from Texas, and Time Magazine’s 2021 Kid of the Year. Orion is the founder of Race to Kindness, a series of events to promote kindness to others. One of his greatest strengths is his ability to explain the importance of kindness as a simple and succinct truth. It comes through so clearly in this book, with youthful inspiration and guidance to encourage others. This is definitely one to inspire more young people to take action.

the cover of A Young Innovator’s Guide to STEM

A Young Innovator’s Guide to STEM: 5 Steps to Problem Solving for Students, Educators, and Parents by Gitanjali Rao

There is a lot of pressure on young people to be involved in STEM, but not many of them understand how they, as young people, can make an impact. Even some of our greatest adults struggle to keep up with the latest developments, and the last thing we want to do is hinder the innovation of future generations. Gitanjali talks directly about the support provided by her parents to nurture her innovation. This is the kind of book that we can read together and find new ways to support all ages in forging their path into the future.

the cover of Imaginary Borders (Pocket Change Collective)

Imaginary Borders (Pocket Change Collective) by Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky

The Pocket Change Collective is a new series of novella-size essays from young people making an impact. The topics are timely, and the messages are clear, but I’d be lying if I didn’t confess how much I love the covers! This one was the first to catch my attention, with a personal moving essay by Xiuhtezcatl highlighting how he uses his art and activism together. He strives to show climate change is a human issue that can’t be ignored and does not stop at the border. All of the books are designed to fit in your pocket and read anywhere. There are currently 10 books in the collection from a great range of creators, including Gaby Melian, Hannah Testa, and Alok Vaid-Menon.

Fictional Stories to Show How to Make a Difference

the cover of Crocodile Rescue!

Crocodile Rescue! (Wild Survival #1) by Melissa Cristina Márquez, illustrated by Devin Elle Kurtz

You may know Melissa from National Geographic’s Shark Week specials. She is much more than a shark specialist; Melissa is a motivator for all young biologists, especially within the Latine community. The first book in the Wild Survival series introduces Adriana, a 12 year old who travels the world with her brother Feye and their parents. The family also creates the nature show Wild Survival!, showcasing animal rescues and conservation. It’s a highly entertaining fiction story filled with scientific information on plants and animal species native to Cuba. It’s easy to be caught up in Melissa’s enthusiasm shining within the story.

the cover of Woke: A Young Poet’s Call to Justice

Woke: A Young Poet’s Call to Justice by Mahogany L. Browne with Elizabeth Acevedo and Olivia Gatwood, illustrated by Theodore Taylor III, foreword by Jason Reynolds

Poetry really jumped to the foreground when youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman made an impact with her work “The Hill We Climb” at U.S. President Joe Biden’s inauguration. It showed young people everywhere they, too, could make an impact with their words, with their passion. With poetry. Woke is a beautiful collection of poetry and illustrations to inspire young people to create their own impact. Touching on a range of contemporary topics, the poetry is sure to inspire both children and adults. Most importantly, it gives ideas to young people without telling them how to do it.

Cover of Dear Justyce

Dear Justyce by Nic Stone

Dear Justyce is set in the same world as Stone’s earlier work, Dear Martin. However, I wouldn’t consider it a sequel. Justyce, who’s featured in both books, is a side character; the main character in this book is Quan, an incarcerated teen writing letters to their friend. This book delivers a strong message about privilege and systemic racism. Quan is arrested and charged with shooting and killing a police officer. As he awaits trial, Quan reflects on his story and not just the decisions he made, but how he made those decisions. This is the story of a child who was never told the options available or even how to ask if there are options. It really hit home for my teenage sons, to understand their own place of privilege in the world. It shows how even supporting characters can make a huge impact. If you like this book, check out the books within books with our Dear Justyce reading list here.

Cover of Holding On

Holding On by Sophia N. Lee, illustrated by Isabel Roxas

If you loved Pixar’s Coco, this book will hit you in the feels. The star of the show is Lola, always singing and filling her home with music. It’s all she ever wanted, and everything that she loves to share with her granddaughter. As the years pass, Lola begins to lose the music. As she slips into silence, it is her granddaughter who is there to hold Lola and piece her life back together with song. Singing and music have a spectacular connection with our memories, aiding in the management of illnesses such as Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia. This book is a lovely homage to the special bond between children and the elderly, showing the special gift of young people making an impact, even if it is for one special person in your life.


Rest assured: young people want to make a difference. They may not always know exactly how to do it. Books are a reassuring way to give them ideas and allow them to find their own path. If you are looking for more books to share with them, here are 25 of the Best Comics About Social Justice for Every Reader.