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

Who am I?

I grew up watching my older sister march through the world, pointing out to adults what was wrong with society and how they should change it. She included me in her activism sometimes, like the time she and I leafletted the neighbors, reminding them that they should vote in the next election. I want kids who aren’t lucky enough to grow up with an activist sibling to know that their voices matter. I write books about kids, like Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins, who change the world.


I wrote...

All the Way to the Top: How One Girl's Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything

By Annette Bay Pimentel, Nabi Ali (illustrator),

Book cover of All the Way to the Top: How One Girl's Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything

What is my book about?

Jennifer Keelan never thought her wheelchair needed to slow her down, but the way the world around her was built made it hard to do even simple things. Like going to school, or eating lunch in the cafeteria.

So Jennifer started speaking up about injustices she saw. She knew that everyone deserves a voice! When she was eight years old, the Americans with Disabilities Act, a law that would make public spaces much more accessible to people with disabilities, was proposed to Congress. And to make sure it passed, Jennifer went to the steps of the Capitol building in Washington DC to convince them. And, without her wheelchair, she climbed. ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP!

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is readers supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

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

By Cynthia Levinson, Vanessa Brantley-Newton (illustrator),

Book cover of 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.


The First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial

By Susan E. Goodman, E.B. Lewis (illustrator),

Book cover of 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.


If You're Going to a March

By Martha Freeman, Violet Kim (illustrator),

Book cover of 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.


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

By Deborah Diesen, Magdalena Mora (illustrator),

Book cover of 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.


Each Kindness

By Jacqueline Woodson, E.B. Lewis (illustrator),

Book cover of 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.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Boston, suffrage movements, and school?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Boston, suffrage movements, and school.

Boston Explore 97 books about Boston
Suffrage Movements Explore 21 books about suffrage movements
School Explore 157 books about school

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like If White Kids Die: Memories of a Civil Rights Movement Volunteer, We've Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children's March, and Bloody Lowndes: Civil Rights and Black Power in Alabama's Black Belt if you like this list.