12 Books to Empower Young People of All Ages
Updated: May 10
By Ashley Dickson-Ellison (@teachingtheapocalypse)
With all of the tumult in our world right now, I'm thinking a lot about how we can encourage the young people in our lives to use their voices, to make wise choices, and to take action. Here are a few books for each age level that encourage young people to find their voices and to take action.
Chelsea Clinton's She Persisted Around the World: 13 Women who Changed History, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger - This is an inspiring book featuring courageous women who have changed and are changing the world for the better by overcoming adversity and staying determined.
Juan Felipe Herrera's Imagine, illustrated by Lauren Castillo - In this picture book, Herrera traces his own journey learning English and discovering his love for language. He shares his experiences and shows his remarkable pathway to becoming poet laureate of the United States, and then he encourages the readers to imagine what they can do in their lives.
Innosanto Nagara's A is for Activist - This board book is an alphabet book that celebrates the importance of activism and social justice reform. (I also love Counting on Community, another board book by Nagara that examines activism through counting.)
Peter H. Reynolds' Say Something! - I love every book I've read by Peter H. Reynolds. This one is no different! In this book, Reynolds encourages kids to be advocates for themselves and to say something, whether it is with their words, their art, or their actions.
Penguin Young Readers' The Little Book of Little Activists - This book is largely a photo essay documenting young activists who are protesting and participating in society to bring about change. My girls love the images of real kids around the world with real messages that they want to share.
Jacqueline Woodson's Harbor Me - I've talked before about my love for this one, and it is a favorite on the podcast. This book definitely teaches young people to connect to one another with empathy and to use that empathy to bring about unity and positive change.
Aisha Saeed's Amal Unbound - In this beautiful story, Amal uses her voice and her actions to bravely bring about change by taking on a corrupt landlord who is hurting her family and her community in Pakistan.
Elizabeth Acevedo's The Poet X - In this powerful novel in verse, Xiomara learns to use her words and her voice to speak for herself and to bring about healing change for herself and her family through her exploration of slam poetry.
Laurie Halse Anderson's SHOUT - In this memoir in verse, Anderson shares her own experience with sexual assault and talks about what it is like to be an advocate for victims of assault. She encourages us to shout together to bring about necessary reform.
Brandy Colbert's The Voting Booth - Colbert's brilliant story focuses on two young people on election day and highlights the challenges some voters face as they attempt to cast their votes. Through Marva's character, Colbert demonstrates the passion and commitment young people can have to getting out the vote. We're discussing this one as our buddy read this month! We have our first discussion tonight. DM us on Instagram if you'd like to join us for the final discussion on Monday, October 26th at 8 PM EST.
Mark Oshiro's Anger Is a Gift - In this powerful story with a rainbow of characters, Oshiro shows how young people can work together with adults to stand up against injustice and to bring about change. In this novel, it is clear the possible cost of that action, but the characters find a way to move forward even when it is dangerous so that reform can come.
Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely's All American Boys - We've shared our love of this one on the podcast. This powerful story looks at an instance of police brutality from the perspective of the victim and from the perspective of a witness. It encourages young people to take action when injustice occurs and to peacefully demonstrate in order to bring about change.