Ten Books that Encourage Teens to Speak Up and Speak Out by Kasey Short
Middle and high school students have strong sense of justice, innovative ideas, and the potential to make a significant impact on their communities. They need encouragement to use their voices to speak up and speak out for their lives, their school, their community, and our world. These books provide examples of teens speaking up for themselves, speaking out and uniting against injustice, standing up to authority to promote change, and using their strengths to inspire change. They also show that being an adult does not automatically make someone right and encourages young readers to think about how, like the characters in the books, they can use their voice to impact change.
Dress Coded by Carrie Firestone tells the story of Molly, who finds the courage to use a podcast to speak out against the sexist and unfair dress code at her middle school that singles out and humiliates girls based on size and body type. Molly works together with her classmates to spread awareness about the issue and ultimately leads an organized rebellion against the injustice.
A Good Kind of Trouble be Lisa Moore Ramee tells the story of Shayla who has always followed the rules but then everything changes after a police officer in her community is set free after shooting an unarmed black man. Shayla makes the difficult decision to wear a black arm band to school to support Black Lives Matter even when her friends and school administration do not support her actions.
Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro tells the story of a high school boy Moss whose father was killed by the police and is now experiencing extreme regulations, intimidation, and police presence at his high school. After another tragic death by the police, Moss realizes that he can use his voice through protest and working together with his community to bring about a positive change.
Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee tells the story of Mila a middle school girl who is experiencing sexual harassment at school through unwanted touching and comments from her peers, but she is not sure how to name what is happening or who to tell. She ultimately finds her voice an speaks out about what is happening to her and is empowered by speaking up and receiving guidance from parents and teachers.
Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian is set in 1989 during the AIDS epidemic. It tells the story of three teens: Reza an Iranian boy who is terrified of AIDS and coming out to his family; Judy a girl who loves fashion design, struggles with body image, and worries about her uncle who is dying of AIDS; and Art a gay teen who is navigating being out to his conservative and disapproving parents. This story shows that speaking you own truth and being yourself can be a revolutionary act with the power to transform your life.
The Assignment by Liza Wiemeris a fictional story based on the true story of a teacher giving students an assignment to defend the Nazi’s Final Solution and the students that took a stand. In the novel Cade and Logan decide to stand up against their teacher and the school to speak out against an assignment that they know is wrong. Their activism and diligence make a positive impact on their entire community and show young readers how they can make a difference.
Ban this Book by Alan Gratz tells the story of Amy whose favorite book and other books are removed from her school library due a parent insisting they are not appropriate. Amy teams up with friends to create a banned book locker library for their peers and then speaks out against censorship to the school board. This book shows that each child has an opportunity to make their voice heard and impact change in their school.
Front Desk by Kelly Yang tells the story of Mia, a Chinese immigrant who is helping her parents manage a motel. She experiences injustice in her own life and sees the injustice in the lives of other immigrants, as well as racism against a black motel guest. She shows readers the power of the written word as she writes letters to speak out against injustice and helps her parents save their jobs, other immigrants get their freedom, and clear the name of a wrongly accused man.
The Middler by Kristy Applebaum tells the story of Maggie an ignored, middle child who lives in an isolated community. The community leaders have forbidden anyone to leave go beyond the community borders and instilled the idea that they should be terrified of anyone living outside of their boundary. Maggie meets a girl who lives outside the boundary and realizes that everything she has been told may be a lie. Maggie risks everything to share the truth with the community and speak out against their leaders. Her bravery opens the eyes of her community to what is really going on.
Take the Mic: Fictional Stories of Everyday Resistance by Bethany Morrow is a collection of diverse short stories, poetry, and art that provide the reader various examples of how small acts can have a big impact. The stories leave the reader feeling empowered to make a positive change in their community by seeing the many ways the young people within the stories found a way to resist in their daily lives.
Kasey Short (@shortisweet3) attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and earned a Bachelor of Arts in middle school education with a concentration in English and history. She went on to earn a master’s in curriculum and instruction from Winthrop University. She is currently an eighth grade ELA teacher and English Department chair at Charlotte (NC) Country Day School. She frequently writes blog posts about her classroom practices and sharing her love of books.