The best children’s books for young activists

Annette Bay Pimentel Author Of All the Way to the Top: How One Girl's Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything
By Annette Bay Pimentel

The Books I Picked & Why

The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist

By Cynthia Levinson, Vanessa Brantley-Newton

The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist

Why this book?

In May 1963, three thousand African American children allowed themselves to be arrested in Birmingham, Alabama to protest segregation. The youngest, Audrey Faye Hendricks, was an elementary school student. This picture book biography tells the story of how she came to march with a bunch of high schoolers and about the bravery she had to summon up for her stay in jail.


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The First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial

By Susan E. Goodman, E. B. Lewis

The First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial

Why this book?

In 1847, a police officer entered an elementary school classroom in Boston and threw Sarah Roberts out. Because she was an African American student in a school filled with white students. This book tells the story of the lawsuit that bears her name, Roberts v. City of Boston, which was the opening salvo in the fight for school integration. Spoiler alert: Sarah lost her lawsuit. As the book says, “The march toward justice is a long, twisting journey. Three steps forward, one step back.” A book that reminds us that losing a battle isn’t the same as losing the war.


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If You're Going to a March

By Martha Freeman, Violet Kim

If You're Going to a March

Why this book?

A cheerful how-to book that prepares kids for what they’re likely to encounter when they participate in a public protest. The text is spare and good for reading aloud. It has very specific advice—“If you’re going to a march, you are going to want a sign. A recycled pizza box works well.” The book stays true to a kid’s point of view; when it describes the speeches that are likely to happen, it warns, “It’s possible this part will get boring.” The illustrations, which show four different families participating in a march, add another level to the narration. Kids can follow each family’s experience through close examination of the pictures.


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Equality's Call: The Story of Voting Rights in America

By Deborah Diesen, Magdalena Mora

Equality's Call: The Story of Voting Rights in America

Why this book?

The United States of America has a proud but checkered tradition of freedom. This book gives kids nuance about the past while celebrating expanding access to freedom. The text rhymes and is satisfyingly rhythmic. A refrain carries us through the sweep of history: “We heard ever louder/ Equality’s call:/ A right isn’t right/ Till it’s granted to all.” The illustrations show the slow accumulation of more and more people gaining access to civil rights, culminating in an image of people of all genders, colors, and abilities celebrating their right to vote. The trim size of this book about equal rights is, like my book, a perfect square: 4 perfectly equal sides physically reminding the reader who holds it of the theme of the book.


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Each Kindness

By Jacqueline Woodson, E. B. Lewis

Each Kindness

Why this book?

Activism can be private and personal, too. In this heart-wrenching book, a young girl narrates the story of a new kid, obviously poor, joining her class. Not much outright bullying happens, but the narrator—and all the other kids—simply ignore the new kid. Day after day. Until she moves away. But the narrator’s point of view shifts. She feels regret and wishes she could take back each unkindness. It’s a book about how a moment of failure can inspire us to change. The dreamy watercolors invite introspection. I always close the book determined to do better and be better.


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