40 Picture Books for Young Activists

In Books by Carter Higgins29 Comments

Share this Post

Originally published in January of 2017, this list has been updated to include inspiring works of the past year.

Earlier this week, we remembered the work of two men from Atlanta. One who has passed, and one who still leads the fight.

John Lewis’s March trilogy soared to the top of bestselling lists everywhere, and the third volume received the National Book Award in 2016. With great reason: Lewis is an icon for our age. Unafraid of baseless criticism. A leader, a hopeful warrior, tireless in his efforts to bring equality to our country’s imbalance. He is a hero.

“There comes a time when you have to say something, when you have to make a little noise, when you have to move your feet,” Lewis said on the House Floor in June of 2016. “And this is the time. Now is the time to get in the way. The time to act is now. We will be silent no more.”

At All the Wonders, we believe that activism can begin at any age. In honor of Mr. Lewis and his charge to make a little noise and move your feet, here is a collection of books for young activists. It is time to pursue social justice, readers! May you use these #booksforbetter.

A is for Activist
by Innosanto Nagara

A call to action in the form of a rhyming board book. Bold and bright and beckoning.

As Good as Anybody
by Richard Michelson, pictures by Raul Colón

The story of Selma told through the strikingly similar stories of Martin Luther King, Jr. and German rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.

A Sweet Smell of Roses
by Angela Johnson, pictures by Eric Velazquez

What a march for justice looks like through a child’s lens.

A Time to Act
by Shana Corey and R. Gregory Christie

A deeper look at the civil rights activism of our 35th president, 

Be the Change: A Grandfather Gandhi Story
by Arun Gandhi & Bethany Hegedus, pictures by Evan Turk

Arun—both the author and Gandhi’s grandson–shares the true childhood story of how he wrestled with the idea that wasteful acts affect others.

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909
by Michelle Markel, pictures by Melissa Sweet

The biography of a young Ukrainian immigrant who bravely fought for the rights of all women laborers.

The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage
by Selina Alko, pictures by Sean Qualls

The true story of an interracial marriage that was illegal. Their name: Loving.

Come With Me
by Holly McGhee, pictures by Pascal Lemaaitre

When a young girl asks how she can help a hurting world, her parents take her hand and show her how showing up and offering kindness can make a difference.

Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship & Freedom
by Tim Tingle, pictures by Jeanne Rorex Bridges

This deep friendship between a Choctaw girl and a slave boy reminds us of our shared humanity, rights to freedom, and duties to one another.

Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music
by Margarita Engle, pictures by Rafael Lopez

The story of a dream, the bravery in achieving it, and the young Latina girl who had the guts to make music.

Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah
by Laurie Ann Thompson, pictures by Sean Qualls

The true story of how Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah of Ghana raised awareness for equal rights regardless of disability.

Free as a Bird
by Lina Maslo

The inspiring and true story of Malala Yousafzai, who defied expectations to attend school and speak out in favor of education for all girls.

Harlem’s Little Blackbird
by Renee Watson, pictures by Christian Robinson

A look at how Florence Mills amplified marginalized voices during the Harlem Renaissance, showing the world how to both sing and listen.

Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez
by Kathleen Krull, pictures by Yuyi Morales

A picture book biography of the man who fought for equality and sparked change in the treatment of migrant farmworkers.

Her Right Foot
by Dave Eggers, pictures by Shawn Harris

Why is her right foot raised? Because she’s welcoming people home.

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark
by Debbie Levy, pictures by Elizabeth Baddeley

The first picture book biography of Ruth Bader Ginsburg reminds readers that disagreeing with injustice is brave, necessary, and empowering.

I Have the Right to Be a Child
by Alain Serres, pictures by Aurelia Fronty, translated by Helen Mixter

An illustrated summary of the rights outlined by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which were adopted by the UN General Assembly 1989. The United States has not ratified this list, but this is a great book to spark discussion about respect and hope.

It Takes a Village
by Hillary Rodham Clinton, pictures by Marla Frazee

This is a hopeful message of the foundation for a better world—the building blocks of each of us.

Malala, a Brave Girl from Pakistan/Iqbal, a Brave Boy from Pakistan
Two Stories of Bravery

by Jeanette Winter

Two young heroes from Pakistan who did not live at the same time, but fiercely fought for the rights of children in their country.

Malala’s Magic Pencil
by Malala Yousafzai, pictures by Kerascoet

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala’s Yousafzai’s debut picture book about her own childhood wish for a magic pencil, and her realization that we have to work hard to make our wishes come true.

Martin & Mahalia: His Words, Her Song
by Andrea Davis Pinkney, pictures by Brian Pinkney

The beautiful and intertwined lives of Martin Luther King, Jr. and singer Mahalia Jackson, who both lifted their voices for peace.

My Heart Will Not Sit Down
by Mara Rockliff, pictures by Ann Tanksley

When Kedi, a young girl in Cameroon, learns of the desperation of Great Depression, she rallies her community to serve Americans across the globe.

My Two Blankets
by Irena Kobold, pictures by Freya Blackwood

Children understand how simple gestures reveal so much about our shared humanity. The gentlest way to reach out to a refugee far from home? A blanket.

Nelson Mandela
by Kadir Nelson

This picture book biography of Nelson Mandela will empower its readers with the triumph of love over injustice.

One Family
by George Shannon, pictures by Blanca Gomez

Because not all families look the same.

One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia
by Miranda Paul, pictures by Elizabeth Zunon

This true tale of resourceful women reminds us that the act of recycling is both a protection of our planet and a chance to create something beautiful and new.

The Peace Book
by Todd Parr

Kids view the world in such honest, authentic ways, and these definitions of peace will connect with young minds.

Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis
by Jabari Asim, pictures by E. B. Lewis

The dreams and spirit of civil rights legend John Lewis are illuminated in this depiction of his earliest public speaking engagement: wrangling his family’s flock of chickens.

Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag
by Rob Sanders, pictures by Steven Salerno

In this inspiring story of hope and pride, young readers learn the history of the iconic rainbow flag alongside the life of Harvey Milk.

Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries Who Shaped Our History . . . and Our Future!
by Kate Schatz, pictures by Miriam Klein Stahl

An anthology of women whose persistence and brilliance and grit paved the way for American dreams. Their stories will inspire dreams for the future.

Same, Same But Different
by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw

When we see and understand what other children’s lives look like, we build empathy in our own.

Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation
by Duncan Tonatiuh

One family’s battle to end the unfair segregation of students based on skin color, years before Brown vs. the Board of Education.

Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey
by Margriet Ruurs, pictures by Nizar Ali Badr, translated by Falah Raheem

A tender look at the harshness of displacement, told in pictures made of stones.

The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist
by Cynthia Levinson, pictures by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Audrey Faye Hendricks was nine years old when she was arrested for believing that she mattered. An inspiration to aspiring young activists.

Two White Rabbits
by Jairo Buitrago, pictures by Rafael Yockteng, translated by Elisa Amado

This is the story of a migrant family, journeying in the heat and the dust, loving and living and hoping.

Voice of Freedom
Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

by Carole Boston Weatherford, pictures by Ekua Holmes

A singer, a hero, and an activist for the ages, Fannie Lou Hamer’s story—told in poems—should spark courage and resolve in all young activists.

Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees
by Franck Prevot, pictures by Aurelia Fronty

Her Nobel Peace Prize winning work was planting trees and protecting the rights of women in Kenya.

We Are All Born Free: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Pictures
by Amnesty International

A visual representation of the rights that belong to each and every person on this planet.

We March
by Shane W. Evans

Evans’ spare text and bright, forward-moving illustrations depict one family’s experience on the day Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his renowned “I Have a Dream” speech.

When You Look Out the Window
by Gayle E. Pitman, pictures by Christopher Lyles

Through a gorgeous tour out of the windows of San Fransisco, young readers are introduced to Phyllis Martin and Del Lyon, two of the most well-known lesbian activists in the city’s history.

About the Author

Carter Higgins


Carter Higgins is the author of Bikes for Sale (with Zachariah Ohora), Everything You Need For a Treehouse (with Emily Hughes), and This is Not a Valentine (with Lucy Ruth Cummins). She is an Emmy-winning visual effects artist and spent a decade as an elementary school librarian. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @carterhiggins.


  1. As a primary teacher I love this list and cannot wait to add some of the titles that I do not yet have to my classsroom library. However I am hoping that I can make a request. A theme that seems to be missing is same gendered families. I know there are sme titles out there and I so wish that a few could be added to this list.

  2. Pingback: Top Picks Thursday! For Readers & Writers 01-26-2017 | The Author Chronicles

  3. Pingback: January 29, 2017 – HMS Library

  4. Pingback: OTR Links 01/30/2017 | doug --- off the record

  5. Pingback: Talking politics | Did you ever stop to think and forget to start again?

  6. Pingback: Books for Young Activists: Never too Early | cyclingrandma

  7. Pingback: Links I’m Looking at this week | 4th Grade Reads

  8. Pingback: Children's Books on Immigration, Refugees, and Resistance - Mombian

  9. Pingback: KidLit Resource List – Books for trying times - Anne LippinAnne Lippin

  10. Pingback: Vanessa Brantley Newton – Picturebooking, Episode 73 | All The Wonders

  11. Pingback: Marching Forward Together | Women's March

  12. Pingback: New Books and Accolades - The Booking Biz

  13. Pingback: Two Friends: A Picture Book of Tea, Truth, and Equal Rights | All The Wonders

  14. Pingback: Books About Social Justice and Recent U.S. Events | TESOL Blog

  15. Pingback: Books About Social Justice and Recent U.S. Events | Joel Jackson

  16. Pingback: Poetry Friday: Interview with Laura Shovan – Check It Out

  17. Pingback: KiDOinfo: parents and kids, providence and beyond

  18. Pingback: URL

  19. Pingback: Updates - Alison Goldberg

  20. Pingback: Give the Gift of Resistance: Catch all resources to help you find diverse books | Rad Books for Rad Kids

Leave a Comment