10 Books that Inspire Kids to Take Action and Change Their World by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

I’m a librarian in a Primary Years Programme (IB) elementary school that is also a Title 1 school. All students participate in our PYP programme and one of the big take-aways for kids is how to take action. Once you see an issue or a problem in your world, how do you make a difference? I think this idea resonates with many young children who are often great idealists.


I’ve been on a quest to find picture books that show people taking action. I’ve chosen to stay away from big-named leaders. Don’t get me wrong, those big-named leaders did important things, that’s why we remember them. But I want kids to see that little things can also make a big difference.


You don’t have to teach in a PYP school for these picture books to inspire kids. I think teachers and librarians everywhere want to have books available to show kids that their actions do make a difference in their world.


the boy who harnessed the wind

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

By William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon

When a young boy in Malawi realizes his village is starving, he takes action, teaching himself to make a wind turbine out of trash. That wind turbine powers electricity for his home, and later inspires a turbine strong enough to pump water and bring needed water to the fields.


boxes for katje

Boxes for Katje

By Candace Fleming, illustrated by Stacey Dressen-McQueen

A family in America sends hard-to-find items to a family in Holland. When two young girls write letters across the ocean, the American girl realizes how much children in Holland are in need. She organizes people in her community to send needed items in care packages.


emmanuels dream

Emmanuel’s Dream

By Laurie Ann Thompson and Sean Qualls

Emmanuel has a disability and isn’t able to have the same opportunities as other children in Ghana, but his spirit is fierce. After his mother dies, he is determined to bring awareness to other children with disabilities in his country. He takes action by riding his bike almost four hundred miles. His determination made others realize that people with disabilities can do great things.


grandpa's corner store

Grandpa’s Corner Store

By DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan

Lucy’s Grandpa’s store might not make it when the big grocery store comes to town. But Lucy organizes her neighbors and helps to spruce up Grandpa’s store. Her action helps him stay in business and raises awareness in the community.


invisible boy

The Invisible Boy

By Trudy Ludwig, illustrated by Patrice Barton

Sometimes it’s a small action—a kind word or encouragement—that can make a big difference. Brian is so quiet that he is almost invisible to everyone else. But when other students make fun of a child’s lunch, Brian steps in with a kind word in a note, and in turn, makes a new friend.


mama's nightingale

Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation

By Edwidge Danticat, illustrated by Leslie Staub

A mother is in jail because she doesn’t have the proper immigration papers, so she is separated from her family. The child writes the story of her family down, and her father sends it off to the local paper. Her touching story reaches the public and the story causes a judge to take action and allow the family to be reunited.


marvelous cornelius

Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans

By Phil Bildner, illustrated by John Parra

Marvelous Cornelius has always picked up trash in the city of New Orleans with joy, but after Hurricane Katrina destroys the city, he realizes he cannot save the city on his own. It takes the actions of the community and thousands of others to bring the city back again.


one plastic bag

One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia

This is a book I recommend to teachers over and over again. Our school also has an environmental focus, so it ties environmental responsibility with international mindedness and action. In this book, Isatou Cessay takes action in her small village in the Gambia by taking plastic bags that have littered her villages and weaves them into purses.  She and a few other women change the landscape in their village and make a difference.


stick and stone

Stick and Stone

By Beth Ferry, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

This book may have few words, but as a fifth grader told me, “It’s deep.” This not only shows two friends having fun, it also has a friend sticking up for another—one small action that cements their friendship and changes a bully’s ways.


tia isa

Tia Isa Wants a Car

By Meg Medina, illustrated by Claudio Muñoz

When Tia Isa wants to buy a car to go to the beach, a young girl does jobs for people in her community to earn money. This book can also help you piggyback on economics concepts likes needs, wants, and savings. There are tons of ways to tie this book into the curriculum, but at its heart, it’s a book about a family in America caring for their family in another country, homesickness, and getting a taste of home in your new country.




Do you have a favorite book that would inspire young readers to take action? Please leave a comment so I can add some more books to our collection.


Marcie Flinchum Atkins has been an elementary educator for 19 years. She is currently a PYP/IB librarian in Falls Church, Virginia by day and writes books for children in the wee hours of the morning. She has a M.A. and M.F.A. in Children’s Literature from Hollins University. She blogs about mentor texts at: www.marcieatkins.com. You can follow her on Twitter @MarcieFAtkins.