While the term “social justice” may seem overly complex or political to adults, young people are deeply attuned to concepts of equality and fairness and how these play out within their homes, classrooms, and communities.
Children’s books are an excellent entry point into units on social justice and social activism. Narrative nonfiction provides models of real people who have stood up for what’s right; fiction provides opportunities for discussion about difficult choices and character traits like courage, persistence, and respect.
Below are some of our favorite social justice books for middle school and high school that allow young readers to build an understanding of social justice and activism in the context of gender, socioeconomic status, race, or the environment:
Ahimsa, written by Supriya Kelkar
In this historical novel, Gandhi asks for one member of each family to join the fight for independence from the British, and when Anjali’s mother is jailed for doing so, Anjali must step out of her comfort zone to take over her mother’s work.
Grand Theft Horse, written by G. Neri, illustrated by Corban Wilkin
Told in graphic novel format, this is the powerful true story of activist Gail Ruffu, who rescued a racehorse from her fellow owners, and ended up taking on the horse racing industry to fight for the humane treatment of animals.
Etched in Clay, written and illustrated by Andrea Cheng
This biography in verse reveals the life of Dave, an enslaved potter who inscribed his works with sayings and short poems, in spite of the slave anti-literacy sentiment in the years leading up to the Civil War.
I Am Alfonso Jones, written by Tony Medina, illustrated by Stacey Robinson and John Jennings
The Hate U Give meets The Lovely Bones in this unflinching graphic novel about the afterlife of a young man killed by an off-duty police officer, co-illustrated by New York Times bestselling artist John Jennings and with a foreword by Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy.
Dear Mrs. Parks: A Dialogue with Today’s Youth, written by Rosa Parks with Gregory J. Reed
On a December day in 1955, Rosa Parks changed the course of history when she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery, Alabama bus.
All the Stars Denied, written by Guadalupe García McCall
Guadalupe García McCall tackles the hidden history of the United States and its mass deportation event that swept up hundreds of thousands of Mexican American citizens during the Great Depression.