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Books to inspire activism - from toddlers to teens

Open book on table

Co-written by Nicky Parker and Letterbox Library

At Amnesty, we believe that children’s books are a perfect way to explore human rights, no matter how old you are. No idea is too weighty, even for a toddler, if it is communicated with skill. The best storytellers bring complex ideas to life with deceptive simplicity. Through words and pictures they build children’s knowledge, empathy and agency. They encourage young readers to think, to ask questions and to seek out the truth. To stand up for themselves and each other. These are some of the building blocks of human rights.

Here are our top tips for books to empower young activists. You can buy most of them from the ethical booksellers Letterbox Library, which specialises in inclusive and diverse children’s books. It also co-runs (with Housmans Bookshop) the Little Rebels Award for Radical Children’s Fiction on behalf of the Alliance of Radical Booksellers. This award celebrates the very best in social justice books for children.

If you can’t buy through Letterbox Library, please use another independent bookseller or borrow from your local library.

Hello: a counting book of kindnesses written by Hollis Kurman, illustrated by Barroux (Otter-Barry Books)

This richly coloured picture book provides an alternative way to learn to count, through simple acts of kindness. It encourages empathy and gently explores the situation of children who have to flee their home. Upholds children’s rights to a safe home, education, play and friends. Endorsed by Amnesty International. Ages 2+

Dare written by Lorna Gutierrez, illustrated by Polly Noakes (Tiny Owl)

Minimal rhyming text and bright splashes of colour encourage children to dare to try new things, to take a chance, to speak out, to express themselves and their identities. A wonderfully toddler-friendly and toddler-empowering text which cements the rights to have opinions and to voice them freely. The double page spread of adults and children bearing placards is a delight! (Ages 3 to 7)

Buy: https://www.letterboxlibrary.com/acatalog/Dare.html

Freedom We Sing written by Amyra León, illustrated by Molly Mendoza (Flying Eye Books)

A gloriously lyrical song to freedom with gorgeous illustrations. It offers hope in times of anxiety and invites children to consider what freedom really means, for themselves and others. Inspiring and uplifting. Endorsed by Amnesty International. Ages 3+

 

The Boy Who Loved Everyone written by Jane Porter, illustrated by Maisie Shearring (Walker Books)

 

Dmriti is a small child who loves everyone - and he never tires of telling them so. A beautiful, deceptively simple and subtle exploration of self-expression, kindness, and, even, consent. Winner of the Little Rebels Award for Radical Children’s Fiction 2020.  Judge Shaun Dellenty said: ‘In these challenging and divisive times, the most radical act of all is surely to love; this book brims joyfully with it.’ (Ages 4 to 7)

Buy: https://www.letterboxlibrary.com/acatalog/The-Boy-Who-Loved-Everyone.ht…

 

Sofia Valdez, Future Prez written by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts (Abrams Books)

Since she was a toddler, Sofia has wanted to help people. With her beloved Abuelo she happily whisks round her neighbourhood, raking leaves, pet-walking, delivering treats. But when her Abuelo trips and hurts himself on a local landfill, Sofia decides to aim her acts of kindness a little higher... a project that sees her adopt the mantle of Eco-Activist and Community Advocate, roles which take her all the way to City Hall. Fun inspiration for budding activists-in-the-making. Shortlisted for the Little Rebels Award for Radical Children’s Fiction 2020. (Ages 4 to 7)

Buy: https://www.letterboxlibrary.com/acatalog/Sofia-Valdez--Future-Prez.html

 

My Footprints written by Bao Phi, illustrated by Basia Tran (Raintree)

In this affirming story, Thuy finds the strength she needs to rise above her peers' prejudices by stomping out a snowy path, her two Mums foot-printing close beside her. A very positive tale of bullying overcome as Thuy grows to assert her identity, her ethnicity, her name and her family unit. (Ages 4 to 7)

Buy: https://www.letterboxlibrary.com/acatalog/My-Footprints.html

 

A Place to Stay: A Shelter Story written by Erin Gunti, illustrated by Estelí Meƶa (Barefoot Books)

An anxious child isn’t sure about the new shelter her mum has brought her to. She finds it hard to find ‘home’. But through her mum’s boundless, comforting imagination she is finally able to find a place of familiarity.  An expertly written, child-centred text which can be used to explore the many different traumas that force families into homelessness and to seek places of sanctuary. Includes a helpful end note on shelters and homelessness. (Ages 5 to 9)

Buy: https://www.letterboxlibrary.com/acatalog/A-Place-to-Stay--A-Shelter-St…

 

Fearless: The Story of Daphne Caruana Galizia written and illustrated by Gattaldo (Otter-Barry Books)

A gold star achievement for a picture book: a wholly age-appropriate account of the extraordinary life of Maltese human rights journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia (1964-2017). The book explores complex ideas about freedom of speech, protest, justice and fake news, wrapped up in a sparse, accessible text and sweeping images rich with symbolism. It shows the vital importance of truth-seeking – of asking questions rather than accepting lies, of standing up for justice. Endorsed by Amnesty International. (Ages 6 to 10)

Buy: https://www.letterboxlibrary.com/acatalog/Fearless--The-Story-of-Daphne-Caruana-Galizia.html

 

Freedom by Catherine Johnson (Scholastic)

It's 1783. 12-year-old Nat's mother and sister have just been forcibly removed from the Jamaican plantation where they're enslaved….and he is being sent to England. Nat holds on to a tiny shred of hope - he's heard that there are no slaves in England; that you are free the moment you set foot on English soil. A smart little novella about the UK’s key participation in the slave trade by one of our foremost writers of middle grade historical fiction. Winner of the Little Rebels Award for Radical Children’s Fiction 2019. (Ages 8 to 12)

Buy: https://www.letterboxlibrary.com/acatalog/Freedom.html

 

Running on Empty by S. E. Durrant (Nosy Crow)

Welcome to the world of young carer AJ.  Both his parents have learning difficulties and his role intensifies when his much loved grandparent dies, leaving him dealing with his grief and a confusing adult world of bills and payments... He also wants to run as fast as Usain Bolt. Exposes our broken welfare system and how easily families can fall through the net and suddenly face financial struggles. Wonderfully written. Shortlisted for the Little Rebels Award for Radical Children’s Fiction 2019. (Ages 9 to 12)

Buy: https://www.letterboxlibrary.com/acatalog/Running-on-Empty.html

 

Boy Everywhere by A. M. Dassu (Old Barn Books)

13-year-old Sami and his family flee their comfortable life in Damascus, Syria, for safety in the UK. The journey is long, impeded by both opportunists and unyielding, inhumane bureaucratic systems. A fantastically well-researched and empathetic story that gives humanity and respect to those seeking sanctuary, busting a number of stereotypes about refugees along the way. (Ages 9 to 13)

Buy: https://www.letterboxlibrary.com/acatalog/Boy-Everywhere.html

 

When Secrets Set Sail by Sita Brahmachari (Orion Children’s Books)

The home of adoptee sisters, 11-year-old Immy and Usha, creaks heavily with secrets; voices from history whisper into the present, demanding resolutions and justice. A big-hearted modern ghost story in which the hauntings are the products of the UK’s past, a catalogue of acts which have threatened people’s rights to a safe home and to sanctuary: the devastations wreaked by colonialism, the Windrush scandal, the treatment of migrants and refugees. This is centred in the little-known story of the Indian Ayahs, who were subjected to cruel betrayals and abandonments when their employers no longer needed them to care for their children. A complete page-turner, its richly nuanced approach is underpinned by themes of identity, equality and justice.  Endorsed by Amnesty International. (Ages 9 to 13)

Buy: https://www.letterboxlibrary.com/acatalog/When-Secrets-Set-Sail-.html

 

Windrush Child by Benjamin Zephaniah (Scholastic)

Ten-year-old Leonard lives in Jamaica. His father answers the call of their British government and leaves home to work in the UK. When they can afford it, Leonard and his mother travel to join him. They are in search of a better life, but do they find one? And how can Leonard fit in? This is a great read that shows the injustice of racism and how it affects people’s whole lives. Historical fiction that goes to the heart of why we have human rights to a nationality, justice, equality and a safe home. Endorsed by Amnesty International. Ages 11+

 

Cane Warriors by Alex Wheatle (Andersen Press)

Directly inspired by Tacky’s Rebellion in Jamaica in 1760, the most significant slave uprising in British-owned plantations. This account from the perspective of 14-year-old Moa who joins the Cane Resistance accords real dignity, defiance and strength to the enslaved. Expertly presents the brutality of oppression with just enough information for the reader to take that knowledge and fill in the gaps as far and as much as they wish to. Strongly upholds human rights to equality and justice. Endorsed by Amnesty International. (Ages 13+)

Buy: https://www.letterboxlibrary.com/acatalog/Cane-Warriors-.html

 

I Am Change by Suzy Zail (Walker Books)

‘They told her that her body belonged to men and her mind didn’t matter. They were wrong.’ A powerful and relatable novel about the reality of FGM, early forced marriage and gender inequality. It’s the story of Lilian, who has been taught to diminish herself to fit other people’s ideas of what a girl should be, but who finds her own voice and the strength to take action and fight for change. Written in close consultation with Ugandan girls. Endorsed by Amnesty International. Ages 14+

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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