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. 

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of We Are Water Protectors

Laura Shovan Why did I love 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.”

By Carole Lindstrom, Michaela Goade (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked We Are Water Protectors as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 3, 4, 5, and 6.

What is this book about?

Winner of the 2021 Caldecott Medal
#1 New York Times Bestseller

Inspired by the many Indigenous-led movements across North America, We Are Water Protectors issues an urgent rallying cry to safeguard the Earth’s water from harm and corruption―a bold and lyrical picture book written by Carole Lindstrom and vibrantly illustrated by Michaela Goade.

Water is the first medicine.
It affects and connects us all . . .

When a black snake threatens to destroy the Earth
And poison her people’s water, one young water protector
Takes a stand to defend Earth’s most sacred resource.

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

Laura Shovan Why did I love 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.

By Rob Sanders, Steven Salerno (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Pride as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

★ An Amazon Best Children's Book of the Year selection

Celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Rainbow Pride Flag with the very first picture book to tell its remarkable and inspiring history!
In this deeply moving and empowering true story, young readers will trace the life of the Gay Pride Flag, from its beginnings in 1978 with social activist Harvey Milk and designer Gilbert Baker to its spanning of the globe and its role in today's world. Award-winning author Rob Sanders's stirring text, and acclaimed illustrator Steven Salerno's evocative images, combine to tell this remarkable - and undertold - story.…

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

Laura Shovan Why did I love 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.

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

Why should I read it?

1 author picked We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Fifty of the foremost diverse children's authors and illustrators--including Jason Reynolds, Jacqueline Woodson, and Kwame Alexander--share answers to the question, "In this divisive world, what shall we tell our children?" in this beautiful, full-color keepsake collection, published in partnership with Just Us Books.

What do we tell our children when the world seems bleak, and prejudice and racism run rampant? With 96 lavishly designed pages of original art and prose, fifty diverse creators lend voice to young activists.

Featuring poems, letters, personal essays, art, and other works from such industry leaders as Jacqueline Woodson (Brown Girl Dreaming), Jason Reynolds (All…

Book cover of One Small Hop

Laura Shovan Why did I love 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.

By Madelyn Rosenberg,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked One Small Hop as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

Perfect for fans of Carl Hiaasen's classic Hoot, this humorous adventure story set in a not-so-distant future celebrates the important differences we can make with small, brave acts.

When Ahab and his friends find a bullfrog in their town -- a real, live bullfrog, possibly the last bullfrog in North America -- they have several options:A. Report it to the Environmental Police Force. Too bad everyone knows the agency is a joke.B. Leave it be. They're just a bunch of kids -- what if they hurt it by moving it?C. Find another real, live bullfrog on the black market. Convince…

Book cover of Dress Coded

Laura Shovan Why did I love 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.

By Carrie Firestone,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Dress Coded as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, 12, and 13.

What is this book about?

Because Olivia was yelled at for wearing a tank top.

Because Liza got dress coded and Molly didn't, even though they were wearing the exact same outfit.

Because when Jessica was pulled over by the principal and missed a math quiz, her teacher gave her an F.

Because it's impossible to find shorts that are longer than her fingertips.

Because girls' bodies are not a distraction.

Because school is hard enough.

And so Molly starts a podcast where girls can tell their stories, and before long, her small rebellion swells into a revolution. Because now the girls are standing up…

You might also like...

Brother. Do. You. Love. Me.

By Manni Coe, Reuben Coe (illustrator),

Book cover of Brother. Do. You. Love. Me.

Manni Coe Author Of Brother. Do. You. Love. Me.

New book alert!

Who am I?

As a gay man born into an evangelical Christian family, my coming out story was wrought with pain, trauma, and separation from family and loved ones. In the same year I lost my best friend in an accident. My world tumbled and I had to crawl back to a place of reckoning. Walking became my path to healing. So when my brother Reuben, who has Down's syndrome sent me a message from the isolation of a care home in the pandemic, I knew he was in trouble. Those five words - ´brother. do. you. love. me.´changed our lives. I thought I might know a way to save him.

Manni's book list on memoirs that capture the struggle of everyday life

What is my book about?

Brother. Do. You. Love. Me. is a true story of brotherly love overcoming all. Reuben, who has Down's syndrome, was trapped in a care home during the pandemic, spiralling deeper into a non-verbal depression. From isolation and in desperation, he sent his older brother Manni a text, "brother. do. you. love. me."

This cry for help, this SOS in the sand unleashed a brotherly love that had Manni travelling back to the UK mid-pandemic to rescue his brother from the care home, and together they sheltered from the world in a cottage in deepest, darkest Dorset. There began a journey of recovery and rediscovery. Little by little, the brothers had to piece back together Reuben's world, help him to find his voice and find ways for him to trust the world again. This is a book about care, about Down's syndrome, about love. It is a story of resilience and patience in a world that Reuben thought had abandoned him.

Brother. Do. You. Love. Me.

By Manni Coe, Reuben Coe (illustrator),

What is this book about?

The story of two brothers, one with Down syndrome, and their extraordinary journey of resilience and repair.

"Profoundly moving and hugely uplifting."—Mark Haddon, author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Reuben, aged 38, was living in a home for adults with learning disabilities. He hadn’t established an independent life in the care system and was still struggling to accept that he had Down syndrome. Depressed and in a fog of antidepressants, he hadn’t spoken for over a year. The only way he expressed himself was by writing poems or drawing felt-tip scenes from his favorite musicals…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Earth Day, climate change, and climate fiction?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Earth Day, climate change, and climate fiction.

Earth Day Explore 13 books about Earth Day
Climate Change Explore 180 books about climate change
Climate Fiction Explore 45 books about climate fiction