Activism can mean going to marches holding signs, or it can simply be a child standing up and telling their friend what they just said is unkind. Like everything in education, we early childhood educators must take big ideas, huge goals, future skills and break them down into small easy to accept lessons. These books are all tools that can help us to encourage and demonstrate the value in doing something about situations when they aren’t right. This book list about activism and standing up for others brings together fiction and non-fiction picture books with implicit and explicit lessons. Scroll through the reviews and see if one or more of these books would make great additions to your class or home library.
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Click, Clack, Moo, Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin is a hilarious look at working conditions on a farm and cows going on strike. I think this is a great example of activism for young children and this veteran author does it beautifully with humor in a way that all children can understand what a strike is. I fell in love with this book in 2003 when my students were witnesses to a transit strike that affected many of their daily lives, reading this book certainly helped me explain to them what was going on.
Enough! 20 protestors who changed America by Emily Easton is a wonderful compilation influential Americans who made a difference to many by standing up and protesting. The text is very simple, and I urge teachers who want to use this book to make sure they know the stories of each of the Americans in this book to pad the book with your own comments to put it all into perspective for your child or students. It is easy to do that because there is a guide at the back. What I love about this book is that it includes recent influential protestors like Colin Kaepernick, Jazz Jennings, and The students of Parkland. The illustrations by Ziyue Chen make this simple book incredibly powerful.
What Can A Citizen Do? by Dave Eggers, this book grabbed my attention because I love the author’s adult fiction books. This text in this book is so simple, but when combined with the illustrations they are incredible because it shows all the different ways that people can participate as a citizen. The book advocates for active citizenship through civic involvement at a level that children can understand and have the efficacy to accomplish. The book uses the idea of a group of all kinds of kids creating an epic treehouse together, how they solve problems and work as a team to accomplish a shared goal. Great book!
Rosa by Nikki Giovanni is not so much a biography, but it is most definitely a historical account of one woman who changed a nation. We all know the story of Rosa Parks but no matter how well you know the facts, reading a children’s book about it makes me cry. The author has done a fantastic job setting the stage, explaining how Rosa Parks was not your typical heroine, she was just a seamstress, just like everyone else. This is imperative to the message that a single person can stand up for what is right and make big changes. I also appreciated that the author included so much about the Black women who spearheaded the bus boycott. I am in my 40s, and I feel inspired reading this as a woman, to think of the power it can have over the younger generation excites me. This would be a wonderful introduction to learning about the civil rights movement for kids 5-10.
Brontorina by James Howe is one of my most favorite books about standing up for others because it’s in a setting so many readers can relate to. Sure our kids aren’t dinosaurs, but some feel that different from their friends for all sorts of reasons. They stand out and don’t want to, they just want to be a part of the group, or in this case ballet class. The story is about a dinosaur who wants to be a ballerina and while a studio initially allows her to dance it’s clear that she is just too big. The story doesn’t end there. With some help from friends who stand up for her, they find a way to include everyone.
I Walk With Vanessa by Kerascoët is a perfect example of how pictures can tell powerful stories. This story is about a bystander who sees the new girl in school get bullied, and decides to do something about it. What I love about reading this book with preschoolers is that it sparks thoughtful discussions. “What do you think is happening?” “Why is Vanessa sad?” “What would you do about it? Every classroom needs this book.
Librarian on the Roof! by M.G. King made me cry. The true story is about a librarian who did what she needed to do to raise enough money to make a functional children’s section in the oldest library in Texas. What she did was stay on the roof of that library for a week, and it worked. I loved the message that libraries are vital, that books open doors, and that providing access to information to those who can’t afford to get it on their own is a worthwhile cause. This book made me want to cheer, it had me spouting off lessons left and right to my kids, and it absolutely captivated all three of us. The biggest lesson of all is that inclusion means fair access and sometimes being the person who is going to include others means being the person who is going to stand up or climb on a roof for what is right.
Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev deserves a post all of its own; it’s that good and that important. This book is about a little boy and his elephant who are banned from the local pet club because well, elephants are not allowed. They don’t share a reason why elephants are not allowed, just that they aren’t. This lets parents and teachers reiterate the fact that sometimes people are excluded for no reason. It’s not about them. It’s about the people excluding them. In the book, after being banned, they find others who have been made to feel unwelcome, different, and lesser and start their own pet club. This is one way to act when you are excluded; it’s a perfect example of activism at a child’s level.
Come With Me by Holly M. McGhee is a look at how inclusion can work as an active force against hate and fear. The kindness that is a part of inclusion and the inclusion that is part of kindness is what this book focuses on. How little gestures and acts of kindness can create a shared sense of well being and community. This book would be a great addition to a lesson about random acts of kindness or about standing up for others to make a stronger community.
My First Book Of Feminism (for boys) by Julie Merberg is a more traditional look of what we think of activism. From simple acts like respecting your mom, and that it is ok to cry to actually participating in a protest for human rights, and standing up for girls and women, this little board book packs a punch! I love that the main message is for boys to be themselves and hate that in some ways that could be construed as activism.
( please note this book was sent to me by the publisher – no request or payment for review of inclusion on this list was made)
Peaceful Fights For Equal Rights by Rob Sanders
Here is what I wrote on the review I left on Amazon:
I love this book because it beautifully outlines all the ways that people can peacefully protest in the United States. To raise children that are actively engaged in their communities close to home and further afield is vital and this book is an age-appropriate way of explaining protest and civic engagement.
And now let me add that this book is fun, but it’s also an alphabet book of sorts! Every page focuses on the next letter in the alphabet for a way that children and all citizens can join the fight for equal rights. I am in love with the illustrations by Jared Andrew Schorr; I especially love the construction worker with a baby in a carrier, the powerful recreation of the lunch counter photographs, and the football player taking a knee. It’s a powerful and positive book that really has some way for everyone to get involved in standing up for others.