Book List: 12 Books On Social Activism

Social activism has always been a part of US history: from the abolitionist movement to the women’s suffrage movement, people have been fighting and protesting for the inalienable rights of all. With all that’s been happening in the world, we wanted to share some of our titles that are about social activism, and feature real and fictional social activists from the past as well as the present. Some of these activists are well-known and have a public platform on which to share their thoughts and opinions, while others act on a smaller scale, such as within their own neighborhood. So whether you consider yourself a social activist or are unfamiliar with how to bring about social change, the following 12 books are a great step in the right direction:

Books About Social Activism

Grades PreK-2

sparkle boy

Sparkle Boy
by Lesléa Newman, illus. by Maria Mola

Casey loves to play with his blocks, puzzles, and dump trucks, and he also loves things that shimmer, glitter, and sparkle. Casey’s older sister, Jessie, thinks this is weird until an encounter with teasing bullies helps her learn to accept and respect Casey for who he is.

Find the Teacher’s Guide here.
Purchase a copy here.

seeds of change

Seeds of Change: Planting a Path to Peace
by Jen Johnson, illus. by Sonia Sadler

This title brings to life the empowering story of Wangari Maathai, the first African woman, and environmentalist, to win a Nobel Peace Prize.

Find the Teacher’s Guide here.
Purchase a copy here.

destiny's gift

Destiny’s Gift
by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley, illus. by Adjoa J. Burrowes

Destiny loves words, and her favorite place in the world is Mrs. Wade’s bookstore, where words abound. One day Mrs. Wade does not seem her usual self, and Destiny later learns the store may have to close. Destiny is determined not to let this happen. As she works to help keep the store open, she also creates an imaginative gift for Mrs. Wade that captures the warmth and special magic of the store forever.

Find the Teacher’s Guide here.
Purchase a copy here.

armando and the blue tarp school

Armando and the Blue Tarp School
by Edith Hope Fine and Judith Pinkerton Josephson, illus. by Hernán Sosa

This is the story of a young boy who spends his days picking through a trash heap in search of anything useable or sellable, until he is given a chance to learn when Señor David—a real-life volunteer—spreads a blue tarp on the ground and calls it a school.

Find the Teacher’s Guide here.
Purchase a copy here.

Grades 3-5

marti's song for freedom

Martí’s Song for Freedom/Martí y sus versos por la libertad 
by Emma Otheguy, illus. by Beatriz Vidal

As a boy, José Martí believed freedom was the inherent right of all men and women. But his home island of Cuba was colonized by Spain, and some of the people were enslaved by rich landowners. Enraged, Martí took up his pen and fought against this oppression through his writings and speaking out for Cuba’s independence. But throughout his exile, he suffered from illness and homesickness. He found solace in New York’s Catskill Mountains, where nature inspired him once again to fight for independence.

Find the Activity Guide here.
Purchase a copy here.

as fast as words could fly

As Fast As Words Could Fly 
by Pamela Tuck, illus. by Eric Velasquez

When a civil rights group wins a school desegregation case, Mason learns that now he will be attending a formerly all-white high school. Despite his fears and injustice from the students and faculty, Mason perseveres.  And when he competes in the county typing tournament, Mason decides to take a stand, using his skills to triumph over prejudice and break racial barriers.

Find the Activity Guide here.
Purchase a copy here.

irena's jars of secrets

Irena’s Jars of Secrets
by Marcia Vaughan, illus. by Ron Mazellan

Irena Sendler was raised to respect people of all backgrounds and to help those in need. She became a social worker and knew she had to help the sick and starving Jews who were imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto. She began by smuggling food, clothing, and medicine into the ghetto, then turned to smuggling children out of the ghetto. Using false papers and creative means of escape, and at great personal risk, Irena helped rescue Jewish children and hide them in safe surroundings. Hoping to reunite the children with their families after the war, Irena kept secret lists of the children’s identities.

Find the Teacher’s Guide here.
Purchase a copy here.

step up to the plate maria singh

Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh 
by Uma Krishnaswami

Nine-year-old Maria Singh longs to play softball in the first-ever girls’ team forming in Yuba City, California; however, Maria’s parents—Papi from India and Mamá from Mexico—can no longer protect their children from prejudice and from the discriminatory laws of the land. When the family is on the brink of losing their farm, Maria must decide if she has what it takes to step up and find her voice in an unfair world.

Find the Teacher’s Guide here.
Purchase a copy here.

Grades 6-8

growing peace

Growing Peace: A Story of Farming, Music, and Religious Harmony
by Richard Sobol

J. J. Keki, a Ugandan musician and coffee farmer, was in New York when he witnessed the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He came away from this event with strong emotions about religious conflict. Why should people be enemies because of their religions? Back home, J.J. was determined to find a way for people who held different religious beliefs to work together. Why not enlist his neighbors, all coffee farmers like himself, in a cooperative venture around a shared goal? Together they would grow, harvest, and sell their coffee. At the same time, they would bridge religious differences to work and live together peacefully.

Find the Teacher’s Guide here.
Purchase a copy here.

john lewis in the lead

John Lewis in the Lead: A Story of the Civil Rights Movement
by Jim Haskins and Kathleen Benson, and illustrated by Benny Andrews

This story celebrates the life of a living legend of American history. Lewis’s passionate belief in justice is a beacon for all who wish to make the country a better place to live.

See the Teacher’s Guide here.
Purchase a copy here.


by Supriya Kelkar

This moving middle grade novel, set during India’s independence movement, shows the power of one young person to change the world.

See the Teacher’s Guide here.
Purchase a copy here.

i am alfonso jones

I Am Alfonso Jones
by Tony Medina, illus. by Stacey Robinson and John Jennings

In the first graphic novel for young readers to focus on police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement, as in Hamlet, the dead shall speak—and the living yield even more surprises.

See the Teacher’s Guide here.
Purchase a copy here.