In turbulent political times, it is important to put the appropriate discourse out into the world. A type of discourse that isn’t cruel but accepting. One that helps us learn from our differences instead of alienating us because of them.
Children are the future, and with so many hateful messages circulating in the country, it is essential to counteract racism, homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia with themes of acceptance, love, and the willingness to learn.
It is important to instill these ideas in children while they are young, so they may treat everyone with kindness, not just those with similar backgrounds. And a great way to instill these beliefs is to present children with illustrated reading materials.
Here are 5 children’s books teaching young minds to become activists.
Sofia Valdez, Future Prez
Written by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts
Sofia Valdez and her Abuelo serve their community by walking dogs, visiting the elderly, raking leaves, and more, that is, until Abuelo is injured at the local landfill. Sofia gets the bright idea to make a change in her own way by building a park and seeking input from her community for what they want and need.
Sofia heads to City Hall and visits various offices until she is told a kid can’t build a park. Despite her fear, Sofia thinks of her Abuelo and grows in courage, sharing her ideas with the mayor and starting a petition. With the help of her community, Sofia is successful and brings the town together at Citizens’ Park.
Sofia is in second grade and proves to her community that anyone can make a difference in their own way. It all just begins with one person and grows from there. This book is great for children learning about community service and the idea that change can start from you, even if you’re a child. The illustrations by Roberts portray a diverse community that works together to make their space a better one for every member.
A is for Activist
Written and illustrated by Innosanto Nagara
Indonesian children’s author and illustrator Innosanto Nagara takes children through a rhyming and alliteration alphabet, each letter accompanied by several terms that reference a form of activism: A is for Ally, L is for Liberate your notions of Limited emotions, and W is for “Wondrous World. Wondrous We. We cannot be Whole. We cannot be free. Unless we delight in di-ver-si-ty.”
A is for Activist is a great book for children of various ages; even as some of the terms are dense, the idea of an activism alphabet is also great for engaging younger children.
The illustrations show diverse communities, protest signs, and various famous activists, largely having illustrations of children, showing them they deserve to be a part of the conversation. Touching on LGBTQIA, workers’ and environmental rights, social justice, and peace, Nagara introduces children to the most important aspect of activism, that is, that it includes everyone.
Sometimes People March
Written and illustrated by Tessa Allen
Watercolor illustrations accompany the many reasons why people march: for the people they love, for their own health, and for the freedom to “Love, and live, and learn.”
There are many references to marches and associated signage, and there is even a glossary referencing what the illustrations are of, from the NAACP’s silent protest parade in 1917 to the Selma to Montgomery march of 1965, the Pride parades since 1970, March for our Lives since 2018, the Global Climate Strike since 2018.
The story also shares the ways in which people resist: verbal to written, lyrical to artistic, standing up or taking a knee. Whether marching or asking questions, even when things are difficult and feeling hopeless, communities are stronger when they work together.
She Persisted Around the World
Written by Chelsea Clinton and illustrated by Alexandra Boiger
A companion book to She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World, She Persisted Around the World profiles 13 women from various countries who persevered when told no. From Sor Juana Inés De La Cruz of Mexico to Mary Verghese of India and Aisha Rateb of Egypt, these women persisted when obstacles were thrown their way, fighting for girls’ and women’s right to education, protecting women and people with disabilities, and challenging laws that exclude females.
The vibrant artwork displays the vibrancy and strength of the women. Various groups are represented in the illustrations and show that inclusivity is essential to being an activist.
The story ends with a call to action of sorts, calling on girls to be inspired by what they’ve read.
“So, speak up, rise up, dream big. These women did that and more. They persisted, and so should you.”
We Came to America
Written and illustrated by Faith Ringgold
Coretta Scott King and Caldecott Honor Award winner Faith Ringgold tells the story of the millions of people who have immigrated to America since the first Native Americans. An ode to immigrants from the past, present, and future, We Came to America is a beautiful telling of the stories that make America the melting pot that it is.
This honest telling of how people before us arrived, Ringgold begins by acknowledging that some lived in America before it was America, and some arrived in chains via slavery, “losing our freedom and our names,” in the process.
Ringgold references the diverse culture different groups have brought to America, and ends with the idea that we’re all the same, no matter our backgrounds and what or how got us here.
“We Came to America is dedicated to all the children who come to America. May they find peace, freedom, and prosperity in their new home. May we welcome them and inspire them to sustain a love and dedication to peace, freedom, and justice for all.”
The spirited illustrations are unique in style, and represent all of the different people who have immigrated to America. Ultimately, we are all the same, even if we look different.
These authors and illustrators are doing important work – helping to shape the children that are our future – for the better.
Children aren’t born hateful. And these books are making activism accessible to them so that we may ensure we are headed in the right direction. Children are the future, and instilling these beliefs is essential for guaranteeing we do not repeat our mistakes.