The best books about making “good trouble”

Fern Schumer Chapman Author Of Is It Night or Day?: A Novel of Immigration and Survival, 1938-1942
By Fern Schumer Chapman

Who am I?

I am an award-winning author who has written books for all ages and genres – a Young Adult historical novel, several works of non-fiction for middle school students, two picture books for children, an adult work of non-fiction, and an adult memoir. I love a great story, and, for each book, I target the audience I believe is best suited to my narrative. Several of my books were inspired by my mother’s story of childhood immigration as she fled Nazi Germany for America and the emotional legacy of that experience.


I wrote...

Is It Night or Day?: A Novel of Immigration and Survival, 1938-1942

By Fern Schumer Chapman,

Book cover of Is It Night or Day?: A Novel of Immigration and Survival, 1938-1942

What is my book about?

Civil Rights activist John Lewis has famously said: “Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and redeem the soul of America.” What did he mean? Speak truth to power. Make a difference. Never give up. Acts large and small fall into Lewis’s philosophy of “making good trouble.” 

My mother, Edith, was an unaccompanied minor who fled Nazi Germany for America in 1938, and she falls into the category of never giving up. When she was only 12 years old, Edith traveled all by herself from her home in Germany to a place that seemed as foreign as the moon: Chicago, Illinois. My historical novel, Is It Night or Day?, a Junior Library Guild title, captures the story of the challenges many immigrants face as they make a new life in America. For my mother, simply surviving was an act of making good trouble.

The books I picked & why

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March: Book One

By John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell (illustrator)

Book cover of March: Book One

Why this book?

American icon John Lewis, one of the key figures of the Civil Rights Movement, always lived by his own words “to make good trouble.” His first-hand account, March, the cornerstone of my best books list, captures his life-long struggle in a three-part graphic novel series. Book One spans Lewis' boyhood on a farm in rural Alabama, his life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr. when he was a young man, the birth of the Nashville Student Movement, and nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins to stop segregation.

In 1958, the comic book, “Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story” inspired Lewis, and his book, March, will undoubtedly do the same for a new generation of activists. I picked this book because Lewis’ life comes to life in the graphics in these pages.


Just Mercy (Adapted for Young Adults): A True Story of the Fight for Justice

By Bryan Stevenson,

Book cover of Just Mercy (Adapted for Young Adults): A True Story of the Fight for Justice

Why this book?

A gripping collage of moving stories of the poor, the wrongly convicted, and the marginalized, and Bryan Stevenson’s efforts to fight for their freedom. In this compelling Young Adult edition, Stevenson engages readers with his riveting storytelling. The author, who won relief for dozens of condemned prisoners, makes complicated legal issues understandable for young people. I picked this book because I believe every student should read it to understand the American judicial system. Many will find Bryan Stevenson so inspiring that they want to follow in Stevenson’s footsteps.


Becoming: Adapted for Young Readers

By Michelle Obama,

Book cover of Becoming: Adapted for Young Readers

Why this book?

With authenticity and honesty, Michelle Obama uses her own life to inspire readers to challenge themselves, to be bold, and to determine who they really are and what they will become. From her modest beginnings on the south side of Chicago, to her early years of marriage, and her struggle to balance work and home, Michelle Obama details her life as the powerful First Lady of the United States, her marriage, and her role as mother. She makes “good trouble” by modeling how to lead others. By describing her process of Becoming, she challenges readers to accept themselves as they are. I picked this book for its inspiring message to commit to an evolving life dedicated to helping others.


Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice

By Phillip Hoose,

Book cover of Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice

Why this book?

Claudette Colvin best summarized making good trouble when she said, “When it comes to justice, there is no easy way to get it. You can’t sugarcoat it. You have to take a stand and say, ‘This is not right.’” In this beautiful book, Philip Hoose shines a light on the extraordinary, but little-known teenager, Claudette Colvin, who sparked the historic bus boycott, even before Rosa Parks. Through Colvin’s own words, Hoose brings to life the segregated world in Montgomery, Alabama in the 1950s. I picked this book so that readers will learn that many who change the world receive little recognition.


Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

By Irin Carmon, Shana Knizhnik,

Book cover of Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Why this book?

An inspiring and lively biography that captures the courage of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a cultural icon who made good trouble by changing gender equality laws and breaking down the patriarchy one case at a time during her long, honorable, legendary life. Through the book’s illustrated timelines, archival photos and documents, annotated dissents, and text, the reader comes to know RBG’s drive, ethics, and personal story. I picked this book because it is a wonderful introduction to legal history, gender equality, and civil rights for young people.


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