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Challenge your students to activism

I was too young in the 1960s to join the activist movement, and the narrow-minded family in which I grew up wouldn’t have tolerated it. But I feel as if I’ve been given a second chance. Today’s political and social atmosphere simply won’t let me be silent to the injustices I see being committed all around me. So I make phone calls, sign petitions, canvass for voter registration, and march for causes statewide and nationally. And I encourage my students to be activists as well — to make their voices heard in a variety of ways. Here are three recent picture book biographies about women of three different eras making a difference in their own ways. They are inspiring to middle grade students, helping them to start thinking about what their passions are, and what they can do about them.

Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education by Raphaele Frier, illus. by Aurélia Fronty (Charlesbridge)
There have been several books written about Malala Yousafzai, but this one is somewhat of a departure because it frames her life in the politics of Pakistan. Frier describes Malala’s determination and commitment to worldwide education for girls, her persecution, and her ability to eventually turn that discrimination into activism. The story is peppered with Malala’s quotations and paired with folk-style illustrations in bold colors. The book concludes with additional quotations; a timeline; notes on Pakistan, schooling, religion, Malala’s inspirations; and additional sources.

Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song by Gary Golio, illus. by Charoltte Riley-Webb (Millbrook)
Holiday was an early success with her smooth jazz voice and sense of activism, striving for equality for all African Americans. She bristled when she was denied her rightful place in the culture of the day, and set out to change that. One of her most powerful statements was a song by Abel Moorpol, “Strange Fruit,” about lynchings in the south. Though she received many threats for singing and recording the song, she continued to sing out in protest. Bold, textured paintings in acrylic paint and tissue paper are electric statements of emotion, music, and activism. The book is completed with notes providing further information about her life.

Around America to Win the Vote: Two Suffragists, a Kitten, and 10,000 Miles by Mara Rockliff, illus. by Hadley Hooper (Candlewick)
Come take a ride with Nell Richardson and Alice Burke as they tour the US in their little yellow car in 1916. They traveled 10,000 miles from shore to shore and back again, spreading their message of “votes for women!” as they proved to everyone that women were both smart enough and deserving. This rollicking story is paired with lively, bold-colored illustrations that show the path of their trip as well as the receptions they received. The back matter gives more information about Nell, Alice, and their work for women’s suffrage; additional notes on the history of the fight for the vote; as well as a note on sources and a short bibliography.


For more more books addressing activism and social justice, visit the “Making a Difference” portion of this website.

Christina Dorr About Christina Dorr

Christina Dorr is an elementary and middle school media specialist in Hilliard, OH and has a middle school classroom teaching license. She received a Ph.D. in children’s literature from the Ohio State University and is currently serving on the 2016 Coretta Scott King Book Award jury.

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