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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.