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10 Inspiring Stories of Young Rebels

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Carolina Ciucci


Carolina Ciucci is a teacher, writer and reviewer based in the south of Argentina. She hoards books like they’re going out of style. In case of emergency, you can summon her by talking about Ireland, fictional witches, and the Brontë family. Twitter: @carolinabeci

Peachtree Publishing Company Inc.

From Bethan Woollvin, creator of the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book Little Red, comes another bold and spunky feminist tale. A mysterious creature is terrorizing a Viking village! Three little girls know just what the trouble is, but the silly chieftain won't listen to them. Can this gumptious trio work together to raise their voices and prove who knows best, after all? With strikingly bold and vibrant graphic illustrations, this romping, stomping story with gripping tension and lots of silly mischief and mayhem is perfect for reading aloud.

For far too long, “rebel” was considered an inherently negative descriptor. Parents, educators, and society at large attempted to control and corral children who talked back, who refused to unquestioningly follow the rules, and who spoke up when something didn’t sit well with them. The thing is: we ended up, however unwittingly, teaching kids to be quiet, to smother their own needs and thoughts, and to avoid making waves — even in the face of blatant injustice. But here’s the deal: very few positive changes were ever brought about by mindless compliance. It’s rebellion that has almost always ignited what the late John Lewis called “good trouble:” rebellion very much with a cause.

If we want to raise confident, proactive, compassionate kids, we must instill the idea that asking questions is a good thing, that standing up for what they believe in is a noble quality, and that there is pride in refusing to stay silent when something is unfair or wrong. If you’re uncertain where to begin, well, why don’t you try some of these wonderful books? The ten stories in this list, be they picture books, early chapter books, or middle grade novels, are sure to light a fire in the young reader in your life.

Picture Books

Cover of We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom and Michaela Goode

We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom and Michaela Goade

A young Ojibwe girl believes that her people’s foretelling of a black snake that will poison their water has already come true: the snake is an oil pipeline. A true rebel, she rallies her people to stand up against the pipeline and protect their water supply.

Cover of Listen by Shannon Stocker and Devon Holzwarth

Listen: How Evelyn Glennie, a Deaf Girl, Changed Percussion by Shannon Stocker and Devon Holzwarth

Rebels aren’t always defiant. Sometimes, the most accomplished way of rebelling is to keep at what you’re doing regardless of what anyone says. This is what Evelyn Glennie, an award-winning percussionist, did: when she began to go deaf at the age of eight, she was told not to pursue music anymore. But Evelyn, aided by a teacher who believed in her, persevered.

Cover of Because Claudette by Tracey Baptiste and Tonya Engel

Because Claudette by Tracey Baptiste and Tonya Engel

Claudette Colvin, a woman whose importance in the civil rights movement cannot be overstated, began her activism at only fifteen years old: her refusal to give up her seat to a white woman in a segregated bus kicked off the Montgomery bus boycott.

Cover of If You're a Kid Like Gavin by Gavin Grimm, Kyle Lukoff, and J Yang

If You’re a Kid Like Gavin by Gavin Grimm, Kyle Lukoff, and J. Yang

When Gavin, a young trans boy, was denied use of the boys’ bathroom at his school, he refused to accept this injustice. Taking his case all the way to the Supreme Court, Gavin proved that the school had violated his constitutional rights. This book asks of you: what choices are you going to make today?

Chapter Books

Cover of Meet Yasmin by Saadia Faruqi and Hatem Aly

Meet Yasmin! (Yasmin series #1-4) by Saadia Faruqi and Hatem Aly

Yasmin, a second-grade described as a “creative thinker and curious explorer,” has all the necessary qualities to set her rebellions in motion.

Cover of Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Esperanza’s life changes drastically when her father, a wealthy Mexican landowner, is murdered. Now without a home, Esperanza and her mother Ramona travel to the USA, where Ramona finds work in a farm camp. When she falls ill, it’s up to Esperanza to rebel against their circumstances — and the people trying to keep her down.

Cover of When My Name Was Keoko by Linda Sue Park

When my Name Was Keoko by Linda Sue Park

Set in 1940s Korea, siblings Sun-hee and Tae-Yul must change their name in accordance with the new Japanese laws. When Tae-Yul enlists to fight with the Imperial Japanese Army in an attempt to protect her uncle, the siblings’ already dangerous life takes on a new level of peril.

Cover of Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Mia Tang’s immigrant parents hide other immigrants in the hotel where they work. If their boss, Mr. Yao, finds out, they’re all doomed. Can Mia save them, all the while following her dreams of being a writer?

Cover Image of Something to Say by Lisa Moore Ramée

Something to Say by Lisa Moore Ramée

Sometimes, you have to rebel against yourself. This is the case for Jenae, who doesn’t like any kind of attention, so she doesn’t have any friends. When Audrey, the new boy at school, wants to befriend her, Jenae is at a loss.

When they’re paired together for a class debate that Audrey wants to win, Jenae finds herself wondering what’s more important: her refusal to speak up in public, or her friendship with Audrey?

Cover of A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat

A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat

Set in a Thai-inspired fantasy world, this take on Les Miserables tells the story of Pong and Nok. Pong, who was born in prison, escapes one day — only to find out that the city isn’t the magical haven he expected.

Nok, the prison warden’s daughter, is determined to find him and restore her family’s good name. As the chase unfolds, Pong and Nok will realize that the city of Chattana has more secrets than they ever imagined.

If you’re looking for more children’s books, how about going through the best of the year? Or what about passing on an old favorite to the young reader in your life?