The modern world can be a scary place. With the rise of the far right, the problem of climate change, and rising costs leading to ever-increasing levels of poverty, there are a huge number of social problems — sometimes, it seems, too many to tackle. The complexity and difficulty of these times can be particularly scary to younger people, as they realise that the world they will grow up in is very different to the one they were promised.
With these issues constantly in the news and the zeitgeist, it’s not surprising that so many young people are interested in activism. Some might already be involved in making change in their local communities, while others might be interested in taking part in activism but not sure how to start. Luckily, there are plenty of books, both fiction and non-fiction, about young activists that can give younger readers across age groups ideas about how to get involved in activism, or help them understand why some people decide to stand up for what is right, even in the face of strong opposition.
From activism-themed board books to in-depth stories about children fighting against social ills, there are many brilliant books about young activists to inspire future campaigners. Here are some of the best choices for child readers who want to learn more about activism.
For Very Young Activists
Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi, illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky
This board book is full of beautiful illustrations that your baby will love to look at, and the text helps teach the youngest readers — and their parents or guardians — about antiracist activism. Written by veteran antiracist activist Ibram X. Kendi, Antiracist Baby contains nine simply-presented steps to respond to racism in the world.
Sofia Valdez, Future Prez by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
Part of The Questioneers series, a set of STEM books aimed at young children, Sofia Valdez, Future Prez follows the story of young Sofia, whose Abuelo is injured at a local landfill. Sofia starts campaigning to turn the local trash pile into a park that the whole community can enjoy, and when a local clerk tells her that she won’t succeed because she’s a kid, Sofia is determined to prove them wrong.
Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea by Meena Harris, illustrated by Ana Ramírez González
Written about the author’s aunt, Vice President Kamala Harris, and mother, lawyer Maya Harris, this fun and upbeat picture book tells the true story of two sisters who took on their first activist project at a very young age. Kamala and Maya decide to turn their apartment’s courtyard into a playground for local children, and persevere even when things get tough.
A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara
Both written and illustrated by Innosanto Nagara, A is for Activist is a board book covering a wide range of activist-related topics: LGBTQ+ rights, civil rights, environmental justice, and much more. With a simple but motivating message, and a cute little cat to spot on every page, this book is bound to appeal to toddler-age readers and their families.
For Middle-Grade Activists
Fight Back by A. M. Dassu
Aaliyah is a bookworm, K-pop fan, and a Muslim. After a terrorist attack in her local area, Aaliyah decides to start wearing hijab in response to growing Islamophobic sentiment in her community; but when her school bans hijab and she starts getting bullied, Aaliyah discovers that there are other young people in her area who feel excluded. Together, Aaliyah and her friends decide to protest against bigotry and fight back.
A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée
Twelve-year-old Shayla prefers to keep her head down and follow the rules, unlike her older sister Hana, who is involved in their local Black Lives Matter group. However, after Shayla attends a protest, she begins her own journey as a young activist, and starts realising that some rules need to be challenged.
Jamie by L. D. Lapinski
Jamie is a young non-binary kid who discovers that when they and their two friends go to secondary school next year, they will be split up into two different schools — one for boys, and one for girls. As Jamie doesn’t fit into either category, they don’t know where they’ll go. Challenging the binary school system, Jamie stages a rooftop protest in an attempt to determine their future and stay with both of their best friends.
The Secret Sunshine Project by Benjamin Dean, illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat
In this beautifully-illustrated middle-grade book, Bea, a young girl whose father has recently died, decides to try to cheer up her older sister Riley by bringing Pride to their new home in the countryside. However, unlike in their old home of London, there is some resistance to having a Pride event, particularly from the village mayor. Bea decides to stand up to bigotry and make her new Pride event the best it can possibly be.
Nonfiction for Young Activists
Girl Warriors: How 25 young activists are saving the Earth by Rachel Sarah
Climate change is one of the biggest concerns of our time, especially for the younger generations who, it seems, will be the ones to witness the worst of it. There are many women and girls who are standing up and acting for environmental change. This book about 25 young climate change activists will be both reassuring and inspiring to young readers who want to make their own stand for the environment.
Greta’s Story by Valentina Camerini, illustrated by Veronica Carratello
One of the world’s most famous young activists, Greta Thunberg started her strike to raise awareness of climate change in 2018. Since then, her campaign has gone global, and she has inspired many other activists. Greta’s Story tells the tale of how Thunberg began her campaign, and how she has kept it going in the face of stark opposition.
Marley Dias Gets it Done by Marley Dias
Marley Dias is the activist who created the #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign, an initiative to collect 1000 books with Black female protagonists to donate to schools. Dias began her activism when, aged 11, she realised that all her mandatory reads at school were either about white boys, or animal protagonists. Dias decided to collect and donate books that centred Black girls, and her book details how she came up with her initiative and how she kept it going in the years since her time at elementary school.
Teen activists can deepen their knowledge of social movements with our rundown of YA Nonfiction Books for the Budding Social Activist. Adult readers who want to brush up on their social justice knowledge can learn from Beyond the Basics: Books for a Political Education and Liberation.