The best children’s books about real-life children who overcame hardships and made a difference in the world

Anne Broyles Author Of Priscilla and the Hollyhocks
By Anne Broyles

Who am I?

Ever since I read Island of the Blue Dolphins in 5th grade I’ve loved historical fiction. I am inspired by amazing humans who lived across centuries and around the globe and left their mark on the world. My 2023 book I’m Gonna Paint: Ralph Fasanella, Artist of the People is about a social activist artist. Future published books include middle grade novels on the 1838 Trail of Tears, a day on Ellis Island in 1907, and a 1935 book about Eleanor Roosevelt and the planned community of Arthurdale, WV. Like I said, I love exploring history! I read in many genres, but still enjoy learning about history through fiction.

I wrote...

Priscilla and the Hollyhocks

By Anne Broyles, Anna Alter (illustrator),

Book cover of Priscilla and the Hollyhocks

What is my book about?

Based on a true story, Priscilla and the Hollyhocks follows a young enslaved girl from her early years on a Southern plantation to her forced march along the Trail of Tears to the chance encounter that leads to her freedom. On her journey from slave to free woman, Priscilla carries something precious with her: hollyhocks seeds… and hope. Nikki Giovanni said, “Priscilla and the Hollyhocks tells a story too often ignored or overlooked—a story of how the West was not won but captured. Reading about Priscilla’s remarkable life makes all our hearts a bit warmer of filling our hearts with a much-needed piece of American history.”

The books I picked & why

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Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah

By Laurie Ann Thompson, Sean Qualls (illustrator),

Book cover of Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah

Why this book?

I’ve had an easy life in so many ways, so I appreciate learning from people whose childhood adversities shaped them to make positive changes in the world. When Emmanuel was born in Ghana with a deformed leg, his future looked bleak. Some considered him “cursed.” His mother encouraged him to dream big and become independent. He refused to be defined by his disability and ended up showing “that being disabled does not mean being unable.” To bring attention to the difficulties disabled people face Emmanuel organized and completed a 400-mile bike ride across Ghana. 

I love this book because Emmanuel’s mother believed he was more than his disability, and the way Emmanuel proved this to be true prompted the Ghanaian Parliament to pass the Persons with Disability Act. 

Malala: Activist for Girls' Education

By Raphaële Frier, Aurélia Fronty (illustrator),

Book cover of Malala: Activist for Girls' Education

Why this book?

Malala Yousafzai inspires me because she never lost sight of the importance of education and continues to work for justice in the world. Malala was a young student in Pakistan when the Taliban took over her nation and prohibited girls from going to school. Malala spoke out against Taliban actions, advocating for universal education. That was enough to make the Taliban afraid of her. They tried to kill her; she almost died in the attempted assassination. That would have caused many people to retreat in fear, but not Malala. Once she recovered, she became an even more outspoken activist for female education and won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize. 

Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille

By Jen Bryant, Boris Kulikov (illustrator),

Book cover of Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille

Why this book?

I enjoy stories of people whose imaginations lead them to invent something important for humankind. Louis Braille, for instance, who became blind in a childhood accident. When he attended the Royal Institute for Blind Youth, no books existed for him to read. Building on the work of earlier educators, by the time he was fifteen years old Braille created a raised dot system by which visually impaired people could read books.

I love this book because Braille used the adversity of his blindness to make a difference for generations of visually impaired persons who have been able to enjoy reading books by Braille.

The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin

By Julia Finley Mosca, Daniel Rieley (illustrator),

Book cover of The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin

Why this book?

As an animal lover and vegan, I am impressed with all Temple Grandin has done to help humans understand how the minds of animals work. When Grandin was a child, no one knew what to make of her. Diagnosed autistic, she looked at the world differently than many people. She grew up to be a renowned scientist and animal behaviorist who changed lives. Grandin’s unique way of seeing caused her to physically put herself at the eye level of cows being pushed into slaughterhouses. She helped redesign a more humane, less stressful loading process. Her book, How Animals Make Us Human gave me new insights as I wrote my own book, which explores how eating no or less meat would help combat climate change.

The Story of Helen Keller: A Biography Book for New Readers

By Christine Platt,

Book cover of The Story of Helen Keller: A Biography Book for New Readers

Why this book?

When I was a child The Miracle Worker (the film based on Helen Keller’s life) had a profound influence on me. I couldn’t imagine being a deaf and blind child in the 1880s when there were not many resources for deaf-blind people. How would it feel to be unable to communicate with other people? I cheered for Helen’s teacher and friend, Annie Sullivan, who helped Helen unlock a new way of communicating. Keller’s world opened up and she was able to share her remarkable intellect and unusual experience with generations of readers. Keller was the first deaf-blind college graduate and ended up becoming a famous author, teacher, and humanitarian. 

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Ghana, France, and activists?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Ghana, France, and activists.

Ghana Explore 14 books about Ghana
France Explore 587 books about France
Activists Explore 18 books about activists

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You, I Talk Like a River, and All the Way to the Top if you like this list.