10 Picture Books to Introduce Young Readers to Activism by Keila V. Dawson
Unless you live under a rock, it’s hard not to notice that activism is on the rise. And kids have likely witnessed marches and or demonstrations on TV or in their own neighborhoods. Some may have even participated in protests. So, how do we engage young readers in the topic? At what age do we introduce activism? And why should we? Picture books are a perfect choice because they are written for the youngest audience and are meant to be read to children. So, an adult is always there to engage, observe, and interact with a child. And illustrations do a lot of the storytelling. Books that use poetry and verse help kids make connections to abstract concepts from literary techniques like imagery, figurative language such as metaphors, and the use of sound devices like onomatopoeia that make language active and engaging. The rhythms, cadences, and pauses of poetry and verse can speed up or slow down to drive a point, create a focus, and or evoke a feeling. Some books about activism on this list are written for kids as young as four years of age. Others target a slightly older audience. Sharing books about activism and activists helps kids understand how activism works and how action helps to improve lives. Lindsay Metcalf, Jeanette Bradley, and I collaborated on a book about young activists because we wanted to empower, inspire, and amplify young voices. In addition, introduce contemporary young activists to a young audience. After all, our youth is in training today, to become tomorrow’s leaders. In each of these books, adults can engage kids in important discussions about identity, social justice, equity, and events past and present.
No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History
by Lindsay H. Metcalf (Editor), Keila V. Dawson (Editor), Jeanette Bradley (Editor), Jeanette Bradley (Illustrator) Charlesbridge, September 2020, ages 5-9.
This picture-book anthology is about diverse contemporary young activists who are taking the lead where grown-ups aren’t moving fast enough. Each young person has an illustrated portrait, a short bio paragraph, a poem inspired by their life by diverse poets, and a call to action for the reader. Issues addressed include bullying, safe water, family equality, immigration reform and more. The layered text will provide multiple entry points for readers of varying ages.
Shaking Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed the World by Susan Hood, Sophie Blackall, et al. (Illustrator). HarperCollins, January 2018, ages 5 – 9 years.
This collection of poetry introduces young children to fourteen trail-blazing women who made history through their activism. This book about women, also illustrated, designed, and edited by an all-female creative team sends a powerful message about how women have been at the forefront of activism for generations.
The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, Kadir Nelson (Illustrator), Versify/HMH, April 2019, ages 6-9.
The Undefeated is a poem that speaks to Black life in the United States. It touches on the struggles, injustices and also the determination and perseverance of a people throughout history.
Stunning, detail-oriented illustrations give readers a look into generations of people who have been “undefeated” despite the “unspeakable” things they have had to deal with and overcome throughout history and today.
Dictionary for a Better World: Poems, Quotes, and Anecdotes from A to Z by Irene Latham, Charles Waters, Mehrdokht Amini (Illustrator), Carolrhoda, February 2020, ages 8-12.
This is a book of poems listed alphabetically that includes words that address themes like ALLY, DREAM, and GRATITUDE. The illustrations are in colorful collages and quotes provide another layer to give readers more insight about the word on the page. Each poem is by one of the two authors and includes a “Try It!” prompt as a call to action, and an explanation for various poetry styles.
We are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom, Michaela Goade (Illustrator), Roaring Brook Press, March 2020, ages 5-12.
An Ojibwe girl who learned about the importance of water from her grandmother recounts the story she was told about a black snake that will one day come to threaten their land. When oil spoils the water, her tribe takes a stand, and fights to preserve their lives, their land and their right to clean water.
Speak Up by Miranda Paul, Ebony Glenn (Illustrator), Clarion Books, July 2020, ages 4-8
This book encourages kids to speak up and take action when they see a problem. Using examples from everyday life, kids see how doing something can make a difference. Gives an empowering message to children, and shows that quiet kids can take action, too, without saying anything. The author addresses her person experiences in the back matter.
I Promise by LeBron James, Nina Mata (Illustrator), HarperCollins, August 2020, ages 4-8
This is a story LeBron James, the NBA champion and founder of I Promise School in Akron, Ohio inspires children everywhere to make promises to themselves and their communities to do their best and that can lead to success. There’s a checklist kids and schools can use based on the LeBron James Family Foundation I Promise School principles.
Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights by Rob Sanders, Jared Andrew Schorr (Illustrator), Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, September 208, ages 4-8
Using the alphabet, this book lists examples of how to get involved by speaking out, standing up, and using your voice to engage in activism. The author introduces abstract concepts through actions that kids can understand. Back matter includes a glossary of key terms used in the book.
Woke: A Young Poet’s Call to Justice by Mahogany L. Browne, Elizabeth Acevedo, Olivia Gatwood, Theodore Taylor, III (Illustrator), Jason Reynolds (Contributor),
Roaring Brook Press, March 2020, ages 8-12
This collection of poetry addresses social justice topics such as ableism, body positivity, racial injustice, privilege, and more. It is a call to action with an empowering message to young people to think about injustice and build communities that are more inclusive and welcoming to all.
Say Something! by Peter H. Reynolds, Orchard Books, February 2019, ages 4-8
This book is a call to action for a young audience. It encourages young children to speak up when they when they witness injustice. The book also shows different ways kids can use their voices and take action.
Keila V. Dawson worked as a community organizer, teacher, school administrator, educational consultant, and advocate for children with special needs before she became a children’s book author. She is co-editor of NO VOICE TOO SMALL: FOURTEEN YOUNG AMERICANS MAKING HISTORY, along with Lindsay H. Metcalf and Jeanette Bradley, illustrated by Bradley (Charlesbridge, September 22, 2020). Dawson is the author of THE KING CAKE BABY, illustrated by Vernon Smith (Pelican 2015) and the forthcoming OPENING THE ROAD: VICTOR HUGO GREEN AND HIS GREEN BOOK, illustrated by Alleanna Harris (Beaming Books, January 26, 2021). She is a New Orleans native, has lived and worked in the Philippines, Japan, and Egypt and lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.