Little Kids can do Big Things: Children and Young Adults Who Changed the World

History class can seem boring to kids and teenagers in the K-12 system — who wants to hear about a bunch of dead guys? The SSHEL S-Collection holds biographies of and books about young people who made a real impact on their world. These resources can be used in a classroom setting to spice up a history lesson or recommended to a student who prefers relatable informational texts. Books about real kids and young adults who changed the world may inspire students to make their own mark.

To find books about your favorite historical kid or teen, try their name as a keyword search — either first and last names, or even last name then first name. This combined with a subject search of “juvenile” to limit resources to juvenile literature should provide plenty of reading for the ambitious mind!

Books for Beginning Readers

Coles, Robert.
The Story of Ruby Bridges. 1995.
Ruby Bridges was the first African-American to enter first grade in an all-white Louisiana school in 1960. Because of the courage of kids like Ruby, American school systems became more diverse and accepting.
[SSHEL S COLLECTION S. 370.19342 C679s]

Tutankhamun. 2009.
King Tut, “The Boy King” of Egypt, might be best known for the discovery of his tomb by a British archaeologist. However, Tutankhamun lived an extraordinary life, ascending to the throne as a child and restoring religious freedom to Egypt.
[SSHEL S COLLECTION S. 932.014 D3952t]

Hazell, Rebecca.
The Barefoot Book of Heroic Children. 2000.
Hazell tells short, easy-to-read stories about real children whose innovations and creativity made them movers and shakers.

Lamadrid, Enrique R.
Amadito and the Hero Children/Amadito y los niños heroes. 2011.
Although a fictionalized retelling, Amadito and the Hero Children tells the true story of the young boys who bravely smuggled the smallpox vaccine from Mexico to New Mexico in 1805. Amadito (Jose Amado Dominguez) later became one of the first nuevomexicano physicians. Lamadrid tells this story in both English and Spanish.
[SSHEL Q. S. L162a]

Stabler, David.
Kid Presidents: True Tales of Childhood from America’s Presidents. 2014.
The President of the United States is one of the most powerful people in the world, so what were our presidents like as children? This book tells true stories about the men we’ve read about in history books.
[SSHEL S COLLECTION S. 973.099 St118k]

Books for Intermediate Readers

Frank, Anne.
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. 1958.
Anne Frank is one of the world’s most famous voices from the Holocaust. As a young Jewish woman in hiding, Anne wrote a diary that has changed the way students learn about genocide, war, intolerance, and courage. This school edition was edited by M.H. Lewittes.

Lewis, Barbara A.
Kids with Courage: True Stories about Young People Making a Difference. 1992.
While many of the books in this bibliography deal with historical kids, Kids with Courage focuses on 20th century young people who stood up for causes they believed in.
[SSHEL S COLLECTION S. 920.0083 L585k]

McLeese, Don.
Pocahontas. 2004.
Many people have seen her in the Disney film, but McLeese’s book gives an accurate portrayal of Pocahontas’s life and friendship with John Smith. Includes references and an index for curious researchers and readers.

McCann, Michelle Roehm.
Boys Who Rocked the World. 2012.
This edited book of true tales gives readers insight into the lives of men who changed the world — and started when they were teenagers or even younger. Boys Who Rocked the World gives the young men of today positive role models from history, including Mozart, Crazy Horse, and Steve Jobs.

McCann, Michelle Roehm.
Girls Who Rocked the World. 2012.
The companion to Boys Who Rocked the World, this collection of stories tells the incredible true backgrounds of some of history’s most amazing women — from Harriet Tubman to Coco Chanel.
[SSHEL S COLLECTION S. 920.72 G4437]

Wilkinson, Philip.
Joan of Arc: The Teenager Who Saved Her Nation. 2007.
Joan of Arc was only thirteen when she first heard the voice of God telling her to save France from the English. Wilkinson’s detailed look at the life, victories, and tragic death of the young Joan reveal the power teenagers have to change the course of history.

Books for Advanced Readers

Lang Lang.
Lang Lang: Playing with Flying Keys. 2008.
Lang Lang began playing the piano in China when he was only three years old. By the time he was 13, he was performing in national concert halls. Today, he is one of the best known and most talented pianists in the world.

Lowery, Linda Blackman.
Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March. 2015.
Linda Lowery Blackman tells her story of participating in the Selma marches when she was only 15 years old; Blackman’s perspective emphasizes the role of the young in this important American event that contributed to civil rights discussion.
[SSHEL S COLLECTION S.323.1196073076145 L3597t]

Hoose, Philip.
The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club. 2015.
15-year-old Danish Knud Pedersen formed the Churchill Club during the second World War with one purpose in mind: sabotage the Nazis. His group of brave young men inspired the entire country of Denmark to join the resistance against Hitler.
[SSHEL S COLLECTION S. 973.099 St118k]

Nelson, Marilyn.
Carver: A Life in Poems. 2001.
George Washington Carver is sometimes known as the “Peanut Scientist,” but at 8 years old, his neighbors were already calling him the “Plant Doctor.” Carver was a scientist and inventor who revolutionized agriculture in America — and who started when he was “just a kid.” Nelson’s biography tells his story in verse.

Yousafzai, Malala.
I am Malala: How One Girl Stood up for Education and Changed the World. 2014.
Malala Yousafzai became history’s youngest Nobel Prize laureate at age 17 after she took a stand for women’s education against the Taliban in her home country, Pakistan. The Taliban tried to silence her with violence, but Malala has continued to speak out about issues concerning women, education, and personal freedoms across the world.