Activism and Upstanders in Children’s Literature

Injustice is rampant in the world, but as history has shown, there are often brave people who choose to fight it. Activists are people who fight for change, while upstanders are those who act in support of a person or a cause. Activists and upstanders have made real change happen, and continue to do so today. Check out the inspiring stories below to learn how anyone can make a difference.

Atkins, Laura and Stan Yogi
Fred Korematsu Speaks Up. 2017 (Biography).
When American citizens of Japanese descent were forced into prison camps in the United States during World War II, Fred Korematsu knew that he must resist. After being caught and jailed, he sued and took his case all the way to the Supreme Court. This biography tells the story of this brave civil rights activist, whose fight against discrimination holds many parallels to the world today.
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Brimner, Larry Dane
Twelve Days in May: Freedom Ride 1961. 2018 (Non-Fiction).
In May of 1961, thirteen peaceful protesters boarded some buses and traveled into the South. Their mission was to make known the continued practice of segregation in the South, despite its illegality. The farther they traveled, the more violence they faced, but these determined activists continued on. This important piece of history is illustrated here with large, impactful photographs.
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Levy, Debbie
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark. 2016 (Picture Book Biography)
As a Jewish woman, Ruth Bader Ginsburg has felt the sting of prejudice throughout her entire life. However, she has never let the opinions of others stop her from choosing her own path and helping marginalized people. Constantly disagreeing and dissenting with injustice, she fought her way to the top and is now the oldest justice on the Supreme Court after years of service. This fascinating biography chronicles the life of a fierce upstander.
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Nielsen, Jennifer A.
Resistance. 2018 (Middle Grade Novel).
Based on actual World War II events, this intense historical fiction novel does not shy away from describing atrocities faced by Jewish people in Poland. Tough-as-nails Chaya Lindner, a Jewish teen, works as a courier, smuggling food, papers, and people in and out of the ghettos in an effort to do as much good as she can for her people. After an ill-fated mission, her resistance group is lost and Chaya joins the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto. Knowing the whole time that she is unlikely to survive, Chaya works to prove to the Nazis that she and her people will not go down without a fight.
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Pitman, Gayle E.
The Stonewall Riots. 2019 (Non-Fiction).
This book details the history of the LGBTQ+ community before, during, and after the Stonewall Riots of 1969. A pivotal point in American history, the riots were a sometimes-violent reaction to a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay club in New York City. Fed up with continuous raids and angry at their unequal status, the patrons of the club fought back, and the Stonewall Riots lasted for six days. This engaging book for older readers includes interviews with witnesses and people who were involved, photos, newspaper clippings, and more.
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Prévot, Franck
Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees. 2015 (Picture Book Biography)
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai was an environmental and political activist. Through nonviolence and reforestation, she empowered women, fought poverty, and advocated for democracy in her native country of Kenya. This action-packed biography details the life of this incredibly brave person, from her multiple arrests to the millions of trees she succeeded in planting.

Ramée, Lisa Moore
A Good Kind of Trouble. 2019 (Middle Grade Novel).
Like many kids starting middle school, Shayla must navigate changing friendships, body insecurities, crushes (including being on the receiving end of unwanted crushes), and more. But Shayla’s world is changed even more when news spreads about a Black man shot by a white police officer. At first, Shayla is hesitant to be involved in the national reaction, but after joining a protest, she begins wearing a black armband to school to support Black Lives Matter. When it becomes clear that not everyone appreciates the armband, Shayla is forced to make a choice. This novel is a thoughtful and accessible introduction to activism generally and the Black Lives Matter movement specifically.
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Roberts, Justin
The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade. 2014 (Picture Book).
No one ever notices small Sally McCabe, but Sally notices everything. She sees the kite in the tree, the keys on the janitor’s ring, and the everyday bullying that happens around her. Eventually, Sally realizes that she has had enough of the spreading meanness, and she decides to take a stand. Sally’s decision proves that even the smallest of voices can make a big difference.
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Yousafzai, Malala
Malala’s Magic Pencil. 2017 (Picture Book Biography).
Older readers may be familiar with the story of Malala Yousafzai, a young Pakistani girl who stood up for girls’ education and was shot point blank by the Taliban. In this picture book adaptation, her inspirational life is made accessible to younger readers.
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Watson, Renée
Watch Us Rise. 2019 (Teen).
Jasmine and Chelsea have big plans this year at their progressive New York City high school. But when the clubs they join turn out to be less than what they had hoped, the two create their own club dedicated to writing and creating artistic works that support women’s ideas. Their online work goes viral, and they find themselves both praised and attacked, even in the real world. Soon the school administration steps in and threatens to shut them down, but Jasmine and Chelsea refuse to be silent.