Every night as I reflect on the wondrous developments my son has achieved in a single day—first steps, new words, sleeping through the night (ha! mostly)—I’m in awe of the limitless potential brewing in his sensitive mind. But then I hit the usual roadblocks forming in this current political climate, which leave me a wreck of anxiety. Will he be safe in school? Will he have access to healthcare? Will we be in internment camps? Extreme you might say, but can you really blame me?
I would like my child to be intellectually and emotionally prepared to confront obstacles that we face now or that lie ahead, so I’m looking at the books we read together to help make him an activist. Reading is a political act. Any form of seeking knowledge is a punch against the dominant forces that would rather we be silent, submissive, uninformed. If I want to instill a thirst for justice in my son—so he can grow up with an allegiance to hope, knowledge, and truth common in current youth activists—I’m going to use literature. The following books are now part of my child’s reading material, books that answer the call to activism.
Children’s Books About Activism
A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara
Bold, vibrant colors reflect the equally bold messages that comprise this board book. It is a baby’s comprehensive introduction to the call for justice and action, locally and internationally. Beware, it also teaches the basics of resistance, so don’t be surprised if your activist baby starts marching the house with fist raised high, chanting “No!”
Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Sean Qualls
This book tells of the true story of how Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah of Ghana raised awareness for equal rights regardless of disability. Born with a deformed leg, he maintained a strict determination to reach for his dreams. Hopping to school, learning soccer, and finally became a cyclist. His astonishing travel across Ghana to raise awareness about the strength of those with disabilities. The poetic prose and enthralling artwork recreate a powerful story to inspire children to believe in their best selves.
Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai, illustrated by Kerascoet
As a Pakistani American, I want my son to be as world-minded as possible, and aware of his cultural roots. That includes having adept knowledge and pride in Pakistani people who are positively impacting their countries and the world. Progressive politician Imran Khan just had huge victories in elections in Pakistan, and Malala Yousafzai continues to advocate for children’s education. This debut picture book by the youth activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner describes her childhood wish for a magic pencil, and the truth that wishes are fulfilled through hard work and determination.
Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson
In this picture book biography of Nelson Mandela, Kadir Nelson takes us through his life from childhood to presidency. It is a life filled with determination, activism, and love, envisioning equality for all and the formidable change required. These are lessons all children should carry with them, to empower them to fight for their dreams and to help them recognize that justice benefits us all.
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley
I want my child to know that there does exist justice within the Supreme Court justices, no matter what direction the Court takes following the resignation of Justice Kennedy. This picture book highlights one of the fiercest and most resilient judges, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In this biography, readers encounter the bravery required to face off against injustice, and the power gained as a result.
Baby’s First Words by Stella Blackstone and Sunny Scribens, illustrated by Christiane Engel
When I first read through the pages of this playful board book, highlighting different parts of a baby’s day with relevant vocabulary, I didn’t immediately notice the family. I did notice how much my son loved flipping through this book though. So, I started pointing out all the elements, including father and.…father. The family—white father, black father, and adopted daughter—covers so many bases, but never puts a spotlight on them. This book is an exquisite way to introduce children to alternative family structures, and help them become familiar and comfortable with them.
Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin
What better way to expose your child to the concepts of collective bargaining, unions, and teamwork, than with farm animals? This book does such an excellent job of drawing readers into the plight of the freezing cows and the simple but effective ways they affect systemic change with only a typewriter. Children learn the importance of believing in their voice and making it heard. This is the way to leave their mark on the world as young activists.
Salaam Alaikum: A Message of Peace by Harris J, illustrated by Ward Jenkins
Colorful, uplifting artwork complements the lyrics that comprise the text of this book by recording artist Harris J. The book achieves two main goals. It expresses the community-driven ideals that Muslims live by. It also reminds children that “paying it forward” reaps the most rewards for everyone. The diversity represented through the illustrations is especially relatable, making clear that the themes of love and community are universal ones. These are the ideals that we need to elevate above others in order to render a more peaceful future.
Love by Matt de la Peña, illustrations by Loren Long
Love is an essential theme in my child’s bookshelf, and I want him to understand that love means many things and can manifest in many ways. No matter the form it takes, we should try to ensure that those around us have some comfort of love. This book is both rapturous and ruminative; it creates a tether for us to navigate all arenas of life to see how love takes shape. With that comfort embedded in their mind, children may feel more dedicated to embark on a meaningful course of activism, supported by their loved ones.