Biographies and Learning About Activism

Focus on Anti-Bias Goals 3 & 4

Children need books that show and name unfairness and taking action to make things better. This includes learning to be kind,  thoughtful and empathetic. And it also means being able to name what is happening that is unfair, and then doing something about it.

It’s also important for young children to hear stories about real people who have stood for justice, have acted to protect the environment, and have bravely stood up for themselves. Here are a few of our favorite books.

To find more books like these, use the book search page. Look under Special Topics – “Activism” and under Peace Education Strands – “Creative Conflict Resolution”.



Activism in Children’s Story Books

We March - Cover
We March
Shane W. Evans, Roaring Brook Press 2012
Ages 2 - 6

We’re listing this first because we think every ECE program should have it on their shelves! With simple words and soft, gentle pictures, we follow a young boy waking up, getting dressed, packing lunch, and riding the bus with his parents to Washington DC – where they sing, listen to leaders, and march together for freedom. Beautiful and rich, even 2 year-olds will understand the power of participation and community in this story about the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Goal 1, 2, 3 & 4
A is for All the Big Things You Are: A Joyful ABC Book - Cover
A is for All the Big Things You Are: A Joyful ABC Book
Anna Hindley, Smithsonian Press 2019
Ages 4 - 8

Published by the National Museum of African American History & Culture, this alphabet addresses a wide range of skills and strengths our young ones need to live in our diverse (and still inequitable) world. B is for Brave, F is for Fair, K is for Kind, O is for Open-Minded. And there’s creative, daring, emotional, grateful, questioning and resourceful, and X for Xenial (look it up!!). A joyful book with marvelous illustrations which celebrate multiple family structures, gender expressions, racial identities and more. The only ABC book you must have in your library!
Goal 1, 2, 3 & 4
The Big Umbrella - Cover
The Big Umbrella
Amy June Bates, Simon & Schuster 2018
Ages 3 - 6

The magic of the big umbrella is that there is always room for more. This playful children’s book offers visually beautiful pictures and an important message for children about sharing resources. The language is enticing and the illustrations explore a diverse community sharing the shade and shelter of an ever-growing umbrella.
Goal 1,2, 4
Brave - Cover
Stacy McAnulty, Running Press Kids 2017
Ages 3 - 6

Kids are brave in so many ways. They check for monsters under their bed. They speak up to bullies. They try new scary things. They act kindly even in strange places like hospitals. Each time they are brave they are being real superheroes!
Goal 1, 2, 3 & 4
Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type - Cover
Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type
Doreen Cronin, Simon and Schuster 2000
Ages 3 - 8

It’s cold in the barn and the cows want blankets – and since they found an old typewriter, they are able to post their request on the barn door. When Farmer Brown refuses – and won’t even negotiate – they go on strike! Eventually Farmer Brown breaks out his own typewriter to reply with his own ultimatum (and, oh my, do children love that word!!). Duck – “as a neutral party” – delivers it to the strikers (now including the chilly chickens). Eventually a compromise is reached. The cows get blankets and the  typewriter is is given to Duck. The next day, Farmer Brown receives a new note – the ducks want a diving board! This is a funny, funny, wonderful book about the importance of including all members of a group in decision making.
Goal 1, 2, 3 & 4
Desmond and the Very Mean Word - Cover
Desmond and the Very Mean Word
Desmond Tutu, Candlewick Press 2013
Ages 5 - 8

This biographical story from the childhood of the South African Nobel Prize winner, Desmond Tutu, reveals the power of words and of forgiveness. Called a “very mean word” by some boys while riding his bike, Desmond wants to retaliate to make them apologize, but he finds that fighting back doesn’t make him feel any better. With help from his priest, he comes to see the power of compassion and connection, a lesson that guides him the rest of his life.

Goal 1, 2, 3 & 4
Fire! Fuego! Brave Bomberos - Cover
Fire! Fuego! Brave Bomberos
Susan Middleton Elya, Bloomsbury Books 2012
Ages 3 - 5

Men and women, Latinx, Black and White – the firefighters rush to a fire. They work as a team doing the hard, dangerous work to put out the flames, save the family and the cat, and then head back to the fire station. The bomberos are taking care of the community and keeping people safe! Written in English with many Spanish nouns (bomberos, corozones, humo, maguero …) that all children can understand in context.
Goal 1, 2, 3 & 4
The Hike - Cover
The Hike
Alison Farrell, Chronical Books 2019
Ages 4 - 8

Three little girls – African American, White, Asian American – take off on a hike through the woods and up to the top of a mountain. The girls are adventurous and brave, through detours, problems and discoveries, and when one child gets too tired, the others carry her for a while, determined that all of them will make it to the top. A nice addition is the careful illustration and labeling of the wildlife and plant life the girls pass along the way. Lyrical, joyous, magical, and honest
Goal 1, 2, 3 & 4
Pearl Moscowitz’s Last Stand - Cover
Pearl Moscowitz’s Last Stand
Arthur A. Levine, Tambourine Books 1993
Ages 3 - 8

Pearl Moscowitz will never forget the day her mother got the mayor to plant flowering trees on their street. Pearl grew, the neighborhood grew and changed, and there were new families of many different cultures. When new electrical codes called for cutting down the trees, Pearl decides to chain herself to the last tree to keep it alive. A wonderful story of neighborhood activism and solidarity.
Goal 1, 2, 3 & 4
Stone Soup - Cover
Stone Soup
Jon J. Muth, Scholastic Press 2003
Ages 3 - 8

Three Buddhist monks journey along a mountain road in China trying to understand what makes one happy. They soon encounter frightened villagers who lock their windows and darken their homes. The villagers have long been ravaged by harsh times, and their hearts have grown hard towards everyone they meet. But when the monks decide to share the making of stone soup with them, the villagers discover how much they each have to give – and how much more comes back in return.
Goal 1, 2, 3 & 4
Sometimes Bad Things Happen - Cover
Sometimes Bad Things Happen
Ellen Jackson, Millbrook Press 2002
Ages 4 - 8

Sometimes we see scary things happening on television, or a game is canceled, or grown-ups fight, or bullies pick on us. These leave us scared, angry or hurt. But there are many people in our community who try to make our world a better place, and there are many things we can do to help ourselves feel better. The wonderful photos in this book depict these issues and solutions.
Goal 1, 2, 3 & 4
Somewhere Today: A Book of Peace - Cover
Somewhere Today: A Book of Peace
Shelley Moore Thomas, Albert Whitman 1998
Ages 3 - 8

Somewhere today, someone is planting a tree to replace one that was cut down. Somewhere today, someone is writing a letter to someone far away. Somewhere today, someone is helping someone else learn how to ride a bike. This book plants seeds of justice in children’s minds by posing important questions and showing how to offer healing, love, and peace. Wonderful photos of families of many racial identities and ethnicities,.
Goal 1, 2, 3 & 4
Subway Sparrow - Cover
Subway Sparrow
Leyla Torres, Farrar Straus & Giroux 2010
Ages 3 - 8

A small sparrow is trapped in the subway, and four strangers, two who speak English, one who speaks Spanish and one who speaks Polish, find a way to understand each other so they can rescue the bird.
Goal 1, 2, 3 & 4
The Teddy Bear - Cover
The Teddy Bear
David McPhail, Henry Holt 2005
Ages 3 - 8

A young boy carries his teddy bear with him everywhere, but accidently leaves the teddy bear at a diner, and it is thrown into the garbage. A homeless man finds the bear and lovingly takes it. One day, the little boy sees the bear sitting on a park bench and starts to take the bear away. But, when he realizes the homeless man loves the bear as much as he does he quietly walks away, and the man is able to keep the teddy bear.
Goal 1, 2, 3, & 4
26 Big Things Small Hands Can Do - Cover
26 Big Things Small Hands Can Do
Coleen Paratore, Free Spirit 2006
Ages 3 - 6

Small hands applaud. They explore the earth for treasures. They give gifts made with love. They help. They invite new friends to play. They open books and travel far. They plant. They recycle. They volunteer… and more. Go through the letters from A to Z and see what small hands do. This terrific alphabet book is full of ideas for making our world a better place.
Goal 1, 2, 3, 4

Biographies to Inspire!

Dolores Huerta: A Hero to Migrant Workers - Cover
Dolores Huerta: A Hero to Migrant Workers
Sarah Warren, Marshall Cavendish Books 2012
Ages 4 - 8

Dolores is a teacher, a mother, and a friend. She wants to know why her students are hungry and why they don’t have shoes. So Dolores becomes a teacher, a warrior, an organizer, and a peacemaker. In this beautifully written, realistically illustrated book, children can see the key role Huerta played in organizing farm workers to demand an end to dangerous working conditions, to achieve a living wage, and to get health care so they could raise healthy children. Written by a Head Start teacher, this is one of the rare books that brings the issues of labor struggles and unionization to the understanding of young children. It has our highest recommendation.
Goal 1, 2, 3 & 4
Fearless: The Story of Racing Legend Louise Smith - Cover
Fearless: The Story of Racing Legend Louise Smith
Barb Rosenstock, Penguin Books 2010
Ages 4 - 8

Who gets to drive fast cars and be brave? Race car driver Louise Smith, one of the first women to race (and crash) fast, fast cars. A terrific story about a tough, determined, brave life. Written for early elementary school kids, but the 4’s and 5’s have loved it!
Goal 1, 2, 3 & 4
The Hallelujah Flight - Cover
The Hallelujah Flight
Phil Bildner, Penguin Books 2010
Ages 4 - 8

James Banning and Thomas Allen were real people, two friends who were the first African Americans to fly their small plane coast-to-coast across the U.S. This lively book tells of their adventures, their mechanical struggles, the beauty of the country from the air, the painful racism they experienced, and the joyful hallelujahs they received for their achievement.
Goal 1, 2, 3 & 4
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark - Cover
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark
Debbie Levy, Simon & Schuster 2015
Ages 4 - 8

An exciting biography of Ruth Bader Ginsburg filled with wonderful phrases like, “I Disagree, I Object, I Beg to Differ, I Dissent.” Written for 6- to 10-year-olds, but we found the 4-year-olds loved it (and loved saying “I dissent”!) The book begins in her childhood and her early awareness of bias and prejudice. It carries her all the way to the Supreme Court and her powerful, influential work there opposing racism and sexism, supporting voting rights and more. There is a segment for adults at the end.
Goal 1, 2, 3 & 4
The Mangrove Tree: Planting Trees to Feed Families - Cover
The Mangrove Tree: Planting Trees to Feed Families
Susan L. Roth, Lee & Low Books 2011
Ages 4 - 8

This is a remarkable, true story, about Dr. Gordon Sato, a Japanese American scientist, who solves problems of hunger, poverty, and lack of schooling, by inventing a simple, inexpensive way mangroves can grow in salt water. The people of Eritrea can then plant mangrove trees – which brings leaves to the goats, and fish to the tree roots, which feds the people, and frees children from herding so they can go to school. There is a double text, a simplified one for 3 – 5 year olds, a more complex text for older children, and a segment for adults at the end. This is one of our all-time favorite books.
Goal 1, 2, 3 & 4
Mae Among the Stars - Cover
Mae Among the Stars
Roda Ahmed, Harper Collins 2018
Ages 3 - 6

A simply told (and beautifully illustrated) biography of astronaut Mae Jemison, the first African American Woman to go into space. Her life story focuses on her childhood dream of “seeing the world from up there” and her hard work to achieve that goal despite pressures that told her she couldn’t do so. The book is infused with a sense of magic and wonder about space and stars and travel.
Goal 1, 2, 3 & 4
Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. - Cover
Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Doreen Rapport, Jump at the Sun 2001
Ages 5 - 7

This is a beautifully illustrated biography of Dr. King’s life, focused on the power of his words (with quotations). Written simply enough for five year olds, yet speaking to the breadth of his work (ending segregation, civil rights for all, ending poverty, ending war) and to the courage and hope that supported him to face violence and death. You can tell the story rather than read it and it works for four year olds as well.
Goal 1, 2, 3 & 4
She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World - Cover
She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World
Chelsea Clinton, Philomel 2010
Ages 5 - 8

Short, enthralling portraits of 13 women of courage who refused to back down or give up and who paved the way for every girl today. With inspiring quotes from Harriet Tubman, Helen Keller, Clara Lemlich, Nelly Bly, Virginia Apgar, Maria Tallchief, Claudette Colvin, Ruby Bridges, Margaret Chase Smith, Sally Ride, Florence Griffith Joyner, Oprah Winfrey, and Sonia Sotomayor.
Goal 1, 2, 3 & 4
Wangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa - Cover
Wangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa
Jeanette Winter, Harcourt 2008
Ages 4 - 8

Beautifully illustrated, this true story about Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathal shows the importance of planting and caring for trees, as well as the power of women who organize to make their world a better place. (This book echoes “Aani and the Tree Huggers” which is a similar story from India). Told in simple language appropriate for children as young as four – it includes a page showing Wangari going to jail and her work continuing despite that incarceration. The book is also available in Spanish: “Wangari y los arbors de la paz”.
Goal 1, 2, 3 & 4
The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps - Cover
The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps
Jeanette Winter, Schwartz & Wade 2010
Ages 4 - 8

Beautifully illustrated, this book takes young children through Jane Goodall’s life – starting in her childhood, through her work at Gombe with her discoveries about the lives of chimpanzees, and her growing work as an activist working to protect the environment. There is an on-going focus on Goodall’s ability to observe carefully, take notes, and care deeply – a terrific description of a scientist at work.
Goal 1, 2, 3 & 4