More and more children are getting involved in protests and activism. Help them understand their voice matters with this inspiring collection of social justice picture books, many of which will inspire the younger generations.
Social justice education can help shape the future of our society. Help your students become engaged citizens who care about their community and the world with social justice picture books
Social justice should be present in all our lives by striving to create a culture of inclusivity and acceptance that shows respect for everyone. This can be done through open communication, discussion of different points of view, and working to create a more just society.
One way to do this is through reading social justice picture books.
Why Read Social Justice Picture Books?
Teaching children about social justice can help create a more equitable society as your students learn how to be fair and kind to everyone.
Reading books about activism and social justice helps your students develop open-mindedness and empathy for others and understand the importance of respecting different cultures and beliefs.
These books help to teach young children about important issues like racism, sexism, and homophobia and that everyone is equal, regardless of skin colour or religion. From immigration to climate change, these stories will open young minds to the many issues facing our world today.
Many people think of activism as something that only adults can do. Children can be activists, and there are many ways to get involved. They can participate in marches and rallies, advocate for social justice by writing letters to elected officials and help others become aware of important social justice issues.
No matter how they choose to get involved, young children need to know they can make a difference in the world.
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Social Justice Picture Books
Change Sings: A Children's Anthem by Amanda Gorman
A young girl bands together with a group of children to influence change in their community. They realise they have the power to change the world for the better, big and small, with their words and actions and inspire others to do the same.
Click, Clack, Moo Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin
Farmer Brown’s cows type him a letter demanding electric blankets. They go on strike when he refuses their demands. Duck takes an ultimatum from Farmer Brown to the cows, and they agree to exchange the typewriter for the blankets. But, the next day, Farmer Brown gets a note from the ducks demanding a diving board for their pond!
Dreams for Our Daughters by Ruth Doyle
Empower girls to stand up for themselves and have their voices heard. Girls can be whatever they want in a world full of possibilities.
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has spent her life standing against injustice, inequality and unfair treatment. This biography promotes standing up for what is right, women’s rights, and equality.
Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle
Cuba’s traditions don't allow female drummers. A young girl tries to keep her passion a secret. But when others hear her music, they dance and sing to her rhythm. This passion changes tradition, and anyone who dreams of playing the drums, no matter their gender, can.
Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson
People dismissed Emmanuel because of his deformed leg, but his mother’s belief gave him the courage and determination to be himself. As he got older, he became a cyclist, eventually cycling 400 miles across Ghana to promote the message that disability is not inability.
Emmeline Pankhurst by Lisbeth Kaiser
As a political activist, Emmeline Pankhurst dedicated her life to the fight for women’s equality. She organised the suffragette movement in the UK and was instrumental in women gaining the right to vote. The book includes a profile of Mrs. Pankhurst’s life, historical photos, and a timeline.
Freedom, We Sing by Amyra León
Amnesty International endorse this book about freedom. The poetic text tells the reader about the freedom to live without violence, be who we are, not experience fear and be protected and safe.
Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America by Carole Boston Weatherford
Gordon Parks, born in 1912, lived in a time of limited prospects for a poor African American. He bought a camera for $7.50 and taught himself to take photos. He saw people being treated differently because of their race and used his camera to take a stand against racism. Gordon followed his dream despite the prejudice he faced and brought awareness to others who faced intolerance.
This biography highlights civil rights, artists, black history and social justice.
Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson
Narrated by a child who joined the 1963 civil rights march in Birmingham, Alabama. Through their words, we see the harsh consequences for children protesting after hearing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak. Children were jailed and treated with disdain by many adults. Regardless, they took a stand and used their voice to change the world.
Lillian's Right to Vote by Jonah Winter
Lillian, a one-hundred-year-old African American woman, is determined to walk up the steep hill to her polling station to make her voice heard. During her journey, she remembers the difficult voting history of her family. After the passing of the Fifteenth Amendment, her great-grandfather voted for the first time, she witnessed her parents registering to vote, and she marched from Selma to Montgomery.
Magic Trash: A Story of Tyree Guyton and His Art by J. H. Shapiro
Tyree Guyton created art from trash in his poor Detroit neighbourhood. The city destroyed his creations, but this didn’t stop him from working to improve the neighbourhood and make it safer.
Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X by Ilyasah Shabazz
Ilyasah Shabazz writes about the childhood of her grandfather, Malcolm Little, later known as Malcolm X. We learn about his natural leadership, curiosity, and nurturing family. His optimism is tested when he experiences intolerance and tragedies, including the death of his father by the Ku Klux Klan.
Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Doreen Rappaport
A biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. uses quotes from his important speeches to tell his life story. The book includes a timeline and further resources to learn about this influential man.
My Night in the Planetarium by Innosanto Nagara
The author's father was a famous Indonesian political playwright in the 70s. He wrote about the corrupt and cruel rule of General Suharto. After one performance at the Jakarta Planetarium, the police came to arrest the playwright. Innosanto and his mother spend a night of wonder under the stars in the Planetarium while hiding from the police.
No Voice Too Small by Lindsay H. Metcalf
Fourteen poems honour the actions of fourteen young Americans making a difference in their communities and worldwide. These activists include Viridiana Sanchez Santos, who used her quinceañera to demonstrate against the anti-immigration policy in Texas, Mari Copeny, who protested against the contaminated water in Flint and Marley Dias, who collected books with characters who looked like her as part of her #1000BlackGirlBooks initiative. You will recognise many poets, including Lesléa Newman, Traci Sorell, Nikki Grimes and Joseph Bruchac.
Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free: The True Story of the Grandmother of Juneteenth by Alice Faye Duncan
Opal Lee, the grandmother of Juneteenth, was born in Texas in 1926. She grew up celebrating Juneteenth but found many Americans had never heard of it. Opal led a movement to bring national recognition of Juneteenth. It became a federal holiday in 2021.
Our House is on Fire: Greta Thunberg's Call to Save the Planet by Jeanette Winter
Jeanette Winter uses this quote from Greta Thunberg as inspiration for this book. “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic…I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.” Greta’s Skolstrejk för klimatet in Sweden started a global moving, proving that “You are never too small to make a difference.”
This biography promotes discussions of activism, climate change, politics and the importance of taking action, no matter your age.
The Pink Hat by Andrew Joyner
An activist picture book that promotes social awareness, tolerance, perspectives and open-mindedness. People use a pink hat until it ends on a young girl's head. She wears the hat as she joins a vast crowd of marchers, all wearing pink hats. She holds her sign aloft, reading ‘Girl Power’.
Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders
Harvey Milk wanted to create a symbol of hope and pride for the LGBTQ community. In collaboration with designer Gilbert Baker, they created the first rainbow flag. With the rainbow flag held high, the gay community marched for equality through the streets of San Francisco.
Razia's Ray of Hope: One Girl's Dream of an Education by Elizabeth Suneby
A young girl and her fox friend have to leave their home. They travel through powerful storms, rough seas and hazardous mountains. Their long journey ends in a new land where darkness turns to light, and they meet new friends.
Rocket Says Clean Up! by Nathan Bryon
Rocket visits her grandparents in Jamaica. While beachcombing, Rocket passes piles of rubbish and finds a baby turtle tangled in a net. She decides something must be done. She brings the community together to clean up the beach and teach them about plastic pollution.
Sarah Rising by Ty Chapman
Sarah Rising is inspired by the protests during the Minneapolis Uprising after the police killing of George Floyd. Sarah tells the reader about attending a demonstration with her father and what it is like to protest racial injustice.
Say Something by Peter H. Reynolds
Discover how your voice matters. There are situations every day when our words and actions have power. It is important to speak up when we see injustice to help those around us understand and react with empathy and compassion.
She Heard the Birds: The Story of Florence Merriam Bailey by Andrea D'Aquino
The natural world, particularly birds, inspired Florence Bailey as a child. She became a pioneer in treating birds humanely. She campaigned against using feathers in fashion and wrote the first field guide to American birds.
Sofia Valdez, Future Prez by Andrea Beaty
After Sofia’s Abuelo hurts his ankle at the Mount Trashmore, she brainstorms ways to make it safe. She develops a plan to turn it into a park, but when City Hall turns the idea down, she gets the community involved to make her dream come true.
The Teachers March! by Sandra Neil Wallace
Reverend F. D. Reese was a teacher, principal and leader of the Voting Rights Movement in Selma, Alabama. He recognised the respect felt towards educators and organised a teacher-only march for voting rights. In 1965, black teachers left their classrooms to march to the courthouse to register to vote.
The book includes an interview with Reverend F.D. Reese and other teachers, photographs and a timeline.
Three Lines in a Circle: The Exciting Life of the Peace Symbol by Michael G. Long
A history of how the peace symbol became a powerful icon. Designed over 60 years ago in London by activist Gerald Holtom to protest against nuclear weapons. The book follows as people used the symbol in marches and peaceful protests worldwide, including the end of apartheid, the falling of the Berlin Wall and Black Lives Matter.
Read Three Lines in a Circle to discuss activism, symbolism, social justice, and peace.
Usha and the Stolen Sun by Bree Galbraith
Usha lives in a town where the sun doesn’t shine. Her grandfather tells her stories about when people built a wall to keep the sun to themselves. She thinks of a unique way to make sure her voice is heard. Instead of showing anger, she shares her grandfather’s stories with the people on the other side of the wall, who start to remove bricks and ultimately bring down the entire wall.
Viva's Voice by Raquel Donoso
Viva loves going to work with her Papi, a bus driver. He takes Viva to the picket line when his union goes on strike. Papi is nervous about giving his speech, so Viva uses her voice to help her father find his.
Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Weatherford Carole Boston
Fannie Lou Hamer was a champion of equal voting rights, but she had to overcome prejudice, verbal abuse and a beating which nearly killed her. In 1964 she gave a televised speech that prompted people to support the Freedom Democrats.
Told in verse, the book shares Fannie Lou Hamer’s life from her tough childhood, showing determination, courage, hope, and standing up for social rights.
We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom
An Indigenous girl tells the reader about her village's attempts to protect the water. One day a black serpent (oil pipes) will come to poison the water, and her community's responsibility is to safeguard the water from harm and corruption.
When the Storks Came Home by Isabella Tree
Beanie is fascinated with storks and learns her village was once famous for nesting stocks. She learns they have disappeared from Britain and takes action to help them return. Along with her community, Beanie does everything she can to bring wild storks back to nest on the house in the village.
The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthia Levinson
Audrey lived in Alabama during the Civil Rights movement. She saw first-hand the mistreatment and discrimination of people because of their skin colour. Despite knowing the dangers, she marched to end segregation after hearing Dr. Martin Luther King talk. Audrey Faye Hendrick was the youngest child arrested and placed in jail at nine.
This powerful book about a young girl taking a stand will help children realize they, too, have a voice, no matter their age.
How do you feel about reading picture books about activism to students?
With so many strong opinions, we may hesitate before wading in. We can help students understand what activism is about, why people want to make their voices heard and the rich history of inspiring groups and individuals whose footsteps they are walking in.
Let me know in the comments what you think.