12 Books To Nurture Budding Young Activists | Summer Reading 2021

Aimed at infants and toddlers through elementary school students, these titles introduce topics such as intersectionality and privilege, with explanations that are age-appropriate and honest.

3 Social Justice book covers


Learning to recognize and combat racism and other forms of injustice and move toward a more equitable world is a lifelong process—and one that must start as early as possible. Aimed at infants and toddlers through elementary school students, these titles introduce topics such as intersectionality and privilege, with explanations that are age-appropriate and honest.

See more Summer Reading 2021 selections

Looking for more summer reading recommendations? SLJ is publishing lists all summer long—from family stories to mysteries to teen reads. 

Woke: A Young Poet’s Call to Justice by Mahogany L. Browne & others. illus. by Theodore Taylor III. Roaring Brook. ISBN 9781250311207.

The team behind Woke Baby introduce concepts and explains issues that concern activists of all ages. These 24 poems celebrate diversity and individuality, touching on issues of gender, physical ability, race, immigration, and protest, as well as the complex web of discrimination and systemic oppression that impacts many marginalized people. The message is clear: We must fight against injustice, and our words can be our greatest source of power.

An ABC of Equality by Chana Ginelle Ewing. illus. by Paulina Morgan. Quarto/Frances Lincoln. ISBN 9781786037428.

Many people must consciously unlearn the system of beliefs imposed by parents, authority figures, and the overall dominant culture. Ewing’s colorful, sunny board book takes such nebulous ideas and packages them into an easily digestible vocabulary bank for young readers. Highly recommended for school and public libraries and can serve as an entry point into social justice literature.

Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness by Anastasia Higginbotham. illus. by author. Dottir. ISBN 9781948340007.

In this call to action, a young white child catches news fragments of a police officer shooting an unarmed black man, then witness their family members’ discomfort and avoidance of the topic (“We don’t see color”). The child's confusion leads them to the library for answers about the history of racism in the United States. Employing age-appropriate language and direct explanations, this is an essential text for young readers, and adults, unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the role of white people in dismantling racism.

We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices ed. by Wade Hudson & Cheryl Willis Hudson. Crown. ISBN 9780525580423.

Within these pages is the collected wisdom from dozens of writers and artists who share poems, advice, artwork, passion, concern, love, and experience with the next generation. In the introduction, the editors describe this book as a treasury for children to read, and reread, when they need a boost, or comfort, or love. A book to be quietly contemplated, and shared with an adult, as there is much to be discovered from multiple readings.


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IntersectionAllies: We Make Room for All by Chelsea Johnson & others. illus. by Ashley Seil Smith. Dottir. ISBN 9781948340083.

A cheerful, diverse cast of friends describe living the ally life in this progressive picture book. Though they’re all the same age, the friends are otherwise very different; their unwavering support for one another helps readers understand what intersectionality means and looks like. The book’s core message—“Where there’s room for some, we make room for all. Friends can be allies no matter how small!”—offers a memorable refrain caregivers and educators will be eager to integrate into daily mantras.

Stand Up! Speak Up!  by Andrew Joyner. illus. by author. Random/Schwartz & Wade. ISBN 9780593301586.
Relying on a limited palette with seemingly unlimited energy, this guide to believing in a cause addresses emotions effectively, showing kids what it means to take part in something that’s meaningful and the pain of being discouraged, while always emphasizing perseverance.

Dictionary for a Better World by Irene Latham & Charles Waters. Illus. by Mehrdokht Amini. Carolrhoda. ISBN 9781541557758.

This collaborative effort from the team behind Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship uses poetry to explore identity, diversity, empathy, social justice, community, and change. Inclusive and thought-provoking, it offers a number of entry points for exploring concepts and issues related to identity, social justice, and making a difference.

Black Women Who Dared by Naomi M. Moyer. illus. by author. Second Story. ISBN 9781772600711.

The importance of collectives is central to this illustrated nonfiction work, dedicated to communities within transnational (mostly Canadian) Black history. Moyer focuses on grassroots organizations, ranging from the international Black Cross Nurses group in the early 20th century to the more recent creation of Blockorama, which makes "a space for the black LGBTTI2QQ community within Toronto's Pride Parade.” It is a testament to the book's strength that after reading each profile, readers will want to know more; librarians would be wise to have a list of further reading handy.

A Is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara. illus. by author. Triangle Square. ISBN 9781609805395.

Not your typical alphabet board book, this powerful title presents a letter and a bit of social commentary urging children to take a stand against war and violence, develop an awareness of our environment, and promote acceptance and equality for all cultures, races, religions, genders, and walks of life. "A is for Activist./Advocate. Abolitionist. Ally./Actively Answering A call to Action." "Y is for You. And Youth./Your planet. Your rights/Your future. Your truth./Y is for Yes. Yes! Yes! Yes!"

We Are Still Here!: Native American Truths Everyone Should Know by Traci Sorell. illus. by Frané Lessac. Charlesbridge. 2021. ISBN 9781623541927.

Students at the Native Nations Community School share presentations about the history, present, and future of Indigenous communities. The lyrical text and jewel-tone illustrations elegantly work together to stirringly portray the ongoing fight for Native American recognition and rights.


Kid Activists: True Tales of Childhood from Champions of Change by Robin Stevenson. illus. by Allison Steinfeld. Quirk. ISBN 9781683691419.

Stevenson highlights many figures for whom there are few youth resources available, including Janet Mock, James Baldwin, and Autumn Peltier, as well as names that often appear on juvenile biography shelves, like Alexander Hamilton and Rosa Parks. The author never shies from topics such as racism, homophobia, or transphobia and uses plain language and simple descriptions to examine the oppression and discrimination the activists faced in their youth. The vivid details of each activist’s story, combined with vibrant illustrations, demonstrate that every civil rights hero and popular firebrand started out as children, just like the rest of us.

Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family's Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh. illus. by author. Abrams. ISBN 9781419710544.

When the Mendezes moved to Westminster, CA, in 1944, third grader Sylvia tried to enter Westminster School, only to be told that she and other Mexican American children had to attend a separate school. In response, the Mendezes formed the Parents' Association of Mexican-American Children, distributed petitions, and eventually filed a successful lawsuit. Tonatiuh deliberately connects his heritage with the prejudices of mid-20th century America; his stirring work will prompt readers to recognize the injustice still endemic in our society.

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