The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The best books for raising activist kids

(Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)

As protests and marches continue to sweep the country, parents can use books to help them broach complex topics with their kids. Many kids recently attended protests for the first time and these budding activists often have tough questions.

Here is a list of books that can introduce even the youngest children to the idea of rebellion in an age-appropriate and inspiring way. Give the princesses and pirates a rest and try these inspiring reads — just don’t be surprised if bedtime negotiations rise to a new level. Every activist has to start somewhere!

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo. With 100 stories about the lives of women throughout history, each paired with a striking illustration created by a female artist, this isn’t your typical children’s book. Each story is one page long, making it just the right length for bedtime reading with little ones, or for older children to pick up between activities. It’s beautifully presented, with thick paper and glossy images, and the title catches kids’ attention. “Rebel is usually a word that has a negative connotation, especially when it’s associated with women,” Favilli said. “This was a way to say that being a rebel woman is actually a good thing.”

The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist, by Cynthia Levinson, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton. The book tells the true story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, who was arrested at a civil rights protest in Birmingham, Ala., when she was 9 years old. In it, Audrey is introduced to stories about the Ku Klux Klan and police brutality, and she decides to join the protest. The compelling story about white supremacy and the civil rights era illustrates the courage and personal sacrifice that activism requires, and teaches kids why it matters.

Tough times out there? Here’s why reading with your kids is more important now than ever.

A Is for Activist, by Innosanta Nagara. A familiar format is paired with a progressive message in this book. Each letter sparks thought-provoking entries, such as “A is for Activist. Advocate. Abolitionist. Ally. Actively Answering A call to Action.” or “Y is for You. And Youth. Your planet. Your rights. Your future. Your truth. Y is for Yes. Yes! Yes! Yes!” Young children will enjoy the poetic format and delight in finding the playful black cat hiding on every page. Older children will have questions about everything from black history to McCarthyism, making it a great discussion starter.

We March, by Shane W. Evans. Children who participated in the Women’s March in January may especially enjoy this book’s dive into the 1963 March on Washington. It tells the story of two children who, along with their parents, wake up early and travel to join what they call the march for their dreams. The short, simple story begins with the family and swells to encompass the universal tale. The illustrations, drawn by Evans, show people of all colors and religions using wheelchairs and walking. It’s a gentle yet powerful introduction to the historic march, and why we march today, that’s suitable for even the youngest children.

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909, by Michelle Markel and Melissa Sweet. Children will love hearing the true story of Clara Lemlich, a Ukrainian immigrant who began joining strikes and speaking out about unfair working conditions in shirtwaist factories when she was 17 years old. The book, which chronicles Clara’s arrival in the United States and follows her rise to fame while leading the major shirtwaist makers’ strike of 1909, introduces children to activism and fair working conditions.

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark, by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddely. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has become a feminist icon, and “I Dissent” teaches kids why. The first picture book for kids about Ginsburg uses her life as a lens to introduce children to topics ranging from racial and sexual discrimination to nontraditional family roles. In each case, whether at home or on the Supreme Court, Ginsburg stood up for what she believed in, even if she was in the minority.

It’s Our World, Too! Young People Who Are Making a Difference: How They Do It — How You Can, Too!, by Phillip M. Hoose with a foreword by Pete Seeger. Two books in one, “It’s Our World, Too!” features in-depth stories of 14 young activists, as well as a practical guide to activism for kids ages 10 to 14. The youth who are profiled are working to help the environment, bring about world peace and feed the hungry. The practical steps offered in everything from organizing to fundraising will inspire tweens to look for ways to bring change, both big and small.

Be a Changemaker: How to Start Something That Matters, by Laurie Ann Thompson with a foreword by Bill Drayton. This book shares stories of teens who made a difference in their world, then connects readers with the tools to do the same. It teaches teens how to plan, organize and launch a project; get help from adults; raise money; and work with the media. Plus, it encourages teens to believe that they are capable of creating change, helping them find the confidence to tackle big problems.

Like On Parenting on Facebook for more essays, news and updates and sign up here for our weekly newsletter.

You might also be interested in:

My teen boys are blind to rape culture

My 4-year-old’s first encounter with homelessness left me struggling for answers

10 ways to foster kindness and empathy in kids