The best books to inspire kid activists

Who am I?

When I was a kid, I often felt powerless. I felt like adults made the decisions and children were often told to be “seen and not heard.” Then, when I was in high school, I went to a United Nations-sponsored summer camp where I met teens from around the world. My friends were refugees who had escaped from wars. They came from cities like Belfast, where they lived under the threat of political violence. Their experiences were so different from my own that their stories made a lasting impression on me. Ever since, I have loved reading and writing stories–real and fictional–about kids who are working to repair our world.

I wrote...

The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary

By Laura Shovan,

Book cover of The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary

What is my book about?

This big-hearted verse novel is a time capsule of one class’s poems during a transformative school year. Emerson Elementary is scheduled to close in June. Two yellow bulldozers crouch outside, ready to eat the building in one greedy gulp. But look out! Inspired by their teacher, the eighteen fifth graders of Ms. Hill’s class are ready to speak up, take action, and work together to save their beloved school. The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary is an award-winning story about finding your voice and making sure others hear it. 

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).

We Are Water Protectors

By Carole Lindstrom, Michaela Goade (illustrator),

Book cover of We Are Water Protectors

Why this book?

This poetic, richly illustrated picture book was inspired by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and all Indigenous Nations’ fight for the land and water. I love the way that author Carole Lindstrom and illustrator Michaela Goade portray the young water protector in this story—as a girl who is fiercely determined to rally her people together, standing up for the importance of clean water. As the author’s note says, “This is not just a Native American issue; this is a humanitarian issue.” When the main character says, “Take courage!” I hope all readers feel inspired to become “stewards of the Earth.”

Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag

By Rob Sanders, Steven Salerno (illustrator),

Book cover of Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag

Why this book?

“You have to give them hope. Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow,” is how this wonderful picture book opens. Like We Are Water Protectors, Pride shows how one person’s voice has the power to create positive change. I was familiar with the rainbow flag as a symbol of LGBTQIA+ rights, but Sanders’ biography of lawmaker and activist Harvey Milk filled in important historical details for me. This book gave me context for understanding how the flag represents the joy, hope—and sometimes the risk—of advocating for equal rights.

We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices

By Wade Hudson (editor), Cheryl Willis Hudson (editor),

Book cover of We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices

Why this book?

Editors Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson call their book of essays, poems, mini-memoirs, and art from fifty children’s book creators a treasury. It is a treasure, offering support, understanding, and encouragement to young readers. As Sharon G. Flake writes in her piece “When I Think of You”: “Every generation faces a series of storms that seem insurmountable,” but “hard times do not always harden people. Often, they reveal what we’re made of—who we are inside.” Those children who are scared when they observe community divisiveness or experience discrimination will feel embraced and inspired by the warm, motivating words and pictures in We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices. I wish my children were still young enough to gather around and read this inviting, honest book as a family.

One Small Hop

By Madelyn Rosenberg,

Book cover of One Small Hop

Why this book?

This middle-grade satire was one of my favorite reads of 2021! In the not-too-distant future, seventh-grader Ahab and his friends discover what just might be the last living bullfrog in the United States. Hoping to save the species, they decide not to give Alph the frog to authorities. Instead, the crew takes off on a not-quite legal bike trip to find a mate for Alph. In the process, author Madelyn Rosenberg shows us the world as it might be, if we don’t make an effort to save the climate. A bumbling environmental police force and indoor theme park/recreation center had me giggling, even as I got the message of this brilliant climate fiction novel.

Dress Coded

By Carrie Firestone,

Book cover of Dress Coded

Why this book?

Tired of girls at Fisher Middle School being singled out for dress code violations, Molly Frost starts a podcast called Dress Coded. I connected with Molly’s engaging, frustrated voice from page one. She acknowledges that, while she wants to advocate for change at her school, she doesn’t know how to go about it. Molly’s on-air interviews with classmates and former victims of dress code harassment paint a realistic picture: the students of Fisher Middle School feel disempowered. Slowly, the kids realize that they are a valuable part of their school community and find a way to make their voices heard. Dress Coded is a must-read for young feminists of any gender.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Earth Day, middle school, and global warming?

5,309 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Earth Day, middle school, and global warming.

Earth Day Explore 5 books about Earth Day
Middle School Explore 11 books about middle school
Global Warming Explore 53 books about global warming

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, The Ecological Rift: Capitalism's War on the Earth, and Climate: A New Story if you like this list.