Activism in Children’s Books: 5 Revolutionary Biographies

This week marks the release of Martí’s Song for Freedom/ Martí y sus versos por la libertad, our new bilingual picture book biography of the Cuban revolutionary and poet José Martí. In celebration, we’ve pulled together a list of five of our favorite picture book biographies about revolutionary figures who started movements. Use these award-winning books to teach about social activism, core values like perseverance and grit, and the importance of art and science in our society!

5 Revolutionary Picture Book Biographies

1. José Martí – Martí’s Song for Freedom/ Martí y sus versos por la libertad

Martí's Song for Freedom

This gorgeous bilingual biography by Emma Otheguy chronicles the life and work of José Martí, a figure central to Latin American history and literature. A poet as well as a political leader, Martí used his writing to advocate for an end to slavery in Cuba as well as Cuba’s independence from Spain.

Awards: starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Booklist, and Kirkus Reviews

Buy the book.

2. Muhammad Yunus – Twenty-two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank

Twenty Two Cents

Growing up in Bangladesh, Muhammad Yunus witnessed extreme poverty all around and was determined to eradicate it. An Economics professor, Yunus created the innovative concept of microlending to help impoverished people access small loans that would make a big difference in their lives. Yunus was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in economic innovation that changed millions of lives.

Awards: Best Children’s Book of the Year (Bank Street); Notable Books for a Global Society (ILA); Eureka! Award (California Reading Association).

Buy the book. 

3. Irena Sendler – Irena’s Jars of Secrets

Irena's Jars of Secrets

Born to a Polish Catholic family, Irena Sendler was raised to help those in need. After Germany occupied Poland during WWII, Irena knew what she had to do. She began smuggling food, clothing, and medicine into the Warsaw Ghetto…and eventually built a network to start smuggling children out to safety. At great personal risk, she confronted an enormous moral challenge and saved the lives of thousands of Jewish children.

Awards: Sydney Taylor Notable Book (Association of Jewish Libraries); Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Award; Land of Enchantment Book Award Masterlist (New Mexico Library Association)

Buy the book

4. Crazy Horse – Crazy Horse’s Vision

Crazy Horse's Vision

Crazy Horse is among the best known Native American heroes. As a boy whose name was Curly, he tamed wild horses and was a leader among his friends. When a Lakota leader was mortally wounded by White settlers, Curly defied traditional custom and risked his life by running away in search of a vision. He became a respected military leader who, against overwhelming odds, led his people in their resistance against the settlers who threatened their very existence.

Awards: Teacher’s Choices (ILA); Starred review, Kirkus Reviews

Buy the book.

5. Richard Wright – Richard Wright and the Library Card

Richard Wright

As a young black man in the segregated South of the 1920s, Wright was hungry to explore new worlds through books, but was forbidden from borrowing them from the library. This account spotlights his love of reading and unwavering perseverance. Wright later became an important author whose writings helped to change race relations in the United States.

Buy the book.

What are your favorite books for children that spotlight activists and revolutionaries? Let us know in the comments!

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