Books to Inspire Your Student’s Activism
Guest blog post written by Alpha Diallo, First Book eCommerce Operations Intern
Students and young people have a long history of activism in this country, pushing for change to define our future culture. As your students learn concepts such as fairness and democracy, invite them to continue the tradition of advocacy in their communities.
While activism may feel like a scary or large undertaking, it’s more about defining a culture of behavior and taking steps to realize the vision of an overarching goal. By beginning this work at the school level, your students will feel empowered to advocate for change far beyond the classroom.
As students begin to explore issues they are passionate about, be sure to:
- Create space for conversation
- Listen to your students—they already know so much
- Use books to facilitate the conversation
- Center empathy as you create a safe space
- Invite students to brainstorm some next steps to address issues
Below are a few topics you can explore with your students, featuring books from First Book’s Marketplace. In addition to the categories highlighted below, you can always explore our Activism & Civic Engagement category to find great books about inspiring activists, community involvement, and more. Featured titles tend to sell out quickly, but more are always on the way, so check back often. First Book supporters, not currently eligible to join the network, can purchase books through Bookshop.org to still directly impact kids in need; 10% of your order is donated to First Book.
Climate change has been a long-standing topic of concern, with young people picking up the mantle of generations before them. As the crisis continues to escalate, young activists have pushed to create a multi-generational coalition advocating for individual behavior and systemic policy change. For those wishing to join the cause, children’s books are a powerful tool to raise awareness and share stories about youth participation.
However you and your students choose to get involved, cultivating environmental awareness through knowledge and conscious action will be vital to create transformative change in the near future. Browse titles from the Ecology and the Environment category to discover the many ways learners of all ages can protect the environment or be inspired by those working on this issue today. Below are four titles that nurture respect for nature and encourage students to organize — from promoting sustainable practices in their schools to forming clubs, and so much more!
- Yasmin the Recycler by Saadia Faruqi, illustrated by Hatem Aly
- Rocket Say Clean Up! by Nathan Bryon, illustrated by Dapo Adeola
- The Berenstain Bears Don’t Pollute (Anymore) by Stan and Jan Berenstain
- Climate Action: What Happened and What We Can Do by Seymour Simon
A perennial topic in children’s literature, bullying continues to be relevant in the 21st century as interpersonal interactions continue after school through technology and social media. Approaching this issue in the classroom means creating a safe space for students to engage in conversation.
Using books from our Bullying category as a launching point, ask your students to share their thoughts or experiences with bullying. To extend this dialogue beyond a lesson in empathy to anti-bullying action, challenge your students to brainstorm steps they can take to create a culture of care and accountability in their school. Titles in the Character Development category can be especially useful in deciding what that looks like in your classroom, from Respect & Empathy to Kindness & Compassion, and even Courage.
Check out these titles to start the conversation:
- Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
- Super Manny Stands Up! by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin
- Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis
- Auggie & Me: Three Wonder Stories by R.J. Palacio
For a generation growing up in a time where inequity and injustice are visibly prominent, creating an inclusive environment will be a goal many young activists strive to achieve. Empower your students by embracing literature that recognizes diversity and fights against gendered assumptions.
Incorporating social justice in your class discussions and instruction means introducing relevant text that features people of different backgrounds, acknowledges past (and contemporary) bias and discrimination, and celebrates the contributions of marginalized communities. From our bookshelf to yours, browse titles in the Diversity & Inclusion, Diversity in STEM, and Empowering Stories About Women & Girls categories to encourage your students to become informed, engaged, respectful of those around them, and willing to identify injustice and speak up about it!
- Bilal Cooks Daal by Aisha Saeed, illustrated by Anoosha Syed
- What Color is My World?: the Lost History of African American Inventors by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Raymond Obstfeld, illustrated by Ben Boos and A.G. Ford
- Me and the Sky: Captain Beverly Bass, Pioneering Pilot by Beverly Bass and Cynthia Williams, illustrated by Joanie Stone
- My Name is Maria Isabel by Alma Flor Ada
- They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, and Steve Scott, illustrated by Harmony Becker
Join the Network
Educators can join First Book’s network — the largest and fastest-growing network of educators, schools, and programs serving children in need across the United States and Canada — to bring these titles to your classroom.