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Making a difference booklist

Right now many parents, teachers, librarians, and other caregivers are having difficult discussions about how to talk with children about the election and its potential repercussions; how to reassure children who are afraid; how to encourage children (and fellow adults!) to support one another and work together for social change. We are having those discussions here at The Horn Book, as well.

As we so often do, we are turning to good books for guidance. The books below — both fiction and nonfiction titles for a wide range of ages — portray many kinds of social justice work. Many specifically highlight what children can do to contribute this work, helping empower them to fight the good fight. All were recommended at their time of publication by The Horn Book Magazine and Guide. Reviews reprinted from The Horn Book Guide Online.

Picture Book Fiction and Nonfiction

alko_case for lovingAlko, Selina  The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage
32 pp.     Scholastic/Levine     2015     ISBN 978-0-545-47853-3

Illustrated by Sean Qualls. Richard Loving (white) and Mildred Jeter (black) fell in love and married, then were arrested for miscegenation. Their 1967 Supreme Court case legalized interracial marriage. Alko does a mostly admirable job of shaping the story (some terms are hazy) and the legal proceedings for a young audience. The book’s optimistic message and tone are reinforced by mixed-media illustrations by Alko and Qualls (themselves partners in an interracial marriage). Reading list. Bib.

activism_bass_seeds of freedom

Bass, Hester  Seeds of Freedom: The Peaceful Integration of Huntsville, Alabama
32 pp.     Candlewick      2015     ISBN 978-0-7636-6919-5

Illustrated by E. B. Lewis. In this welcome story of nonviolent protests in early 1960s Jim Crow–era South, black residents of Huntsville, Alabama, organize Blue Jean Sunday — a boycott of shops that sold traditional expensive Easter outfits; students plan a sit-in at a lunch counter; schools are integrated through persistence and peaceful methods. Bright watercolors backdrop the relevant, calmly told story.

brown_side by sideBrown, Monica  Side by Side / Lado a lado: The Story of Dolores Huerta and César Chavéz / La historia de Dolores Huerta y César Chávez
32 pp.     HarperCollins/Rayo     2010     ISBN 978-0-06-122781-3

Illustrated by Joe Cepeda. Brown makes a significant contribution to the increasing number of books about César Chávez by focusing equally on his partner, Dolores Huerta. Their life stories are told in parallel until they meet and “side by side…began their journey.” Huerta’s accomplishments are admirable, and she gets her due in this heartfelt bilingual volume enhanced by Cepeda’s emotion-filled mixed-media illustrations.

red bird singsCapaldi, Gina and Pearce, Q. L.  Red Bird Sings: The Story of Zitkala-Ša, Native American Author, Musician, and Activist
32 pp.     Carolrhoda     2011     Library binding ISBN 978-0-7613-5257-0

Illustrated by Gina Capaldi. This picture book adaptation of three of Zitkala-Ša’s semiautobiographical stories (published in the early 1900s) begins with the Native American girl’s 1884 enrollment in a Quaker-run boarding school. Music, along with oratory skills, rekindled her ancestral spirit and prompted a life devoted to Native American rights. Sheet music, maps, and photographs are thoughtfully incorporated into the acrylic illustrations in this emotion-stirring biography. Reading list, websites. Bib.

watkins_love will see you throughWatkins, Angela Farris  Love Will See You Through: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Six Guiding Beliefs
32 pp.     Simon     2015     ISBN 978-1-4169-8693-5

Illustrated by Sally Wern Comport. Colorful mixed-media art illustrates Martin Luther King Jr.’s six guiding beliefs, focusing on peace-filled love over violence. Watkins, King’s niece, cites specific examples of victorious actions, including the desegregation of Alabama buses and his famous “Letters from the Birmingham Jail,” explaining with “love and respect” the importance of the fight for equality. The foundation of King’s philosophy will resonate with all ages.

We MarchEvans, Shane W.  We March
32 pp.     Roaring Brook/Porter     2012     ISBN 978-1-59643-539-1

A mother and father rouse their children from bed, pray at their local church, board a bus, march on the Mall, and listen to Dr. King speak at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington. Small touches clearly anchor the story within the experiences of a child, while quietly dramatic full-bleed, double-page illustrations bring context to the minimalist text.

grimes_chasing freedomGrimes, Nikki  Chasing Freedom: The Life Journeys of Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony Inspired by Historical Facts
56 pp.     Scholastic/Orchard     2015     ISBN 978-0-439-79338-4

Illustrated by Michele Wood. In this lengthy picture book, best for mid-primary graders, Tubman and Anthony sit down for tea. In a chatty imagined narrative, the women discuss their own lives in the context of major historical events. Inspired by a series of dramatic monologues written by Grimes in 1988, this ambitious project is both intimate and illuminating. Wood’s colorful, folksy paintings convey much emotional nuance. Extensive back matter adds value. Bib.

kimmel_taste-of-freedomKimmel, Elizabeth Cody  A Taste of Freedom: Gandhi and the Great Salt March
48 pp.     Walker     2014     ISBN 978-0-8027-9467-3

Illustrated by Giuliano Ferri. A grandfather tells his grandson about the 1930 Salt March undertaken by Gandhi and thousands of Indians, including the old man (as a boy) and his brother, in the fight for India’s independence. The glowing watercolor and colored-pencil illustrations reflect the text’s idealism, but the story is a good introduction to the event and Gandhi’s work. An afterword provides more context. Reading list, websites.


McCarney, Rosemary  Dear Malala, We Stand with You
32 pp.     Crown     2014     ISBN 978-0-553-52120-7
Library binding ISBN 978-0-553-52121-4
Ebook ISBN 978-0-553-52122-1

With Plan International. Young girls and women from around the world speak out vigorously for the right to education in an inspiring letter addressed to the youngest Nobel Prize–winning activist, Malala Yousafzai. The powerful photos come from countries including Niger, Nepal, and Paraguay (each identified in small type). Malala’s UN speech, websites for charities (including Plan International), and relevant participatory projects are included.


Thompson, Lauren  The Forgiveness Garden
32 pp.     Feiwel     2012     ISBN 978-0-312-62599-3

Illustrated by Christy Hale. Sama is hurt by a boy from the enemy village, but she decides to end the cycle of hate by building a “forgiveness garden” instead of retaliating. Hale’s mixed-media collages in a limited palette of natural colors beautifully illustrate this gentle but profound parable. An afterword addresses the Garden of Forgiveness in Lebanon and the movement to spread its peaceful message.

Separate Is Never EqualTonatiuh, Duncan  Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation
40 pp.     Abrams     2014     ISBN 978-1-4197-1054-4

In 1947 the Mendez family fought for — and won — the desegregation of schools in California. Tonatiuh uses a child’s viewpoint to succinctly capture the segregated reality of Mexican Americans. The straightforward narrative is well matched with illustrations in Tonatiuh’s signature style, their two-dimensional perspective reminiscent of the Mixtec codex but collaged with paper, wood, etc. to provide textural variation. An author’s note with photos is appended. Bib., glos., ind.

weatherford_mosesWeatherford, Carole Boston  Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom
48 pp.     Hyperion/Jump      2006     ISBN 0-7868-5175-9

Illustrated by Kadir Nelson. Weatherford’s poetic telling and Nelson’s atmospheric paintings of Tubman’s role in the Underground Railroad portray the spiritual life of the African American visionary. From her days as a slave to her life as a free person, three narrative voices (a third-person narrator, Harriet herself, and God’s words to Harriet) make clear that it was Tubman’s faith that sustained her on the freedom journeys.


Intermediate Fiction and Nonfiction

burgan_tank manBurgan, Michael  Tank Man: How a Photograph Defined China’s Protest Movement
64 pp.     Capstone/Compass Point     2014     Library binding ISBN 978-0-7565-4731-8
Paperback ISBN 978-0-7565-4787-5
Ebook ISBN 978-0-7565-4793-6

Captured History series. Analyzing visual images and setting them in a larger historical and cultural context is an important skill. In this volume Burgan uses the iconic photograph of a Tiananmen Square protester facing down a tank to discuss the 1989 student protest in China and the Communist government’s violent retaliation. A spacious page design, which includes plenty of photos, enhances the presentation. Reading list, timeline. Bib., glos., ind.

freedman_we will not be silentFreedman, Russell  We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler
104 pp.     Clarion     2016     ISBN 978-0-544-22379-0

Freedman’s latest photohistory is an excellent overview of the White Rose resistance movement, a group of university students who, beginning in June 1942 in Munich, Germany, risked their lives to write and distribute leaflets denouncing the Nazi regime. Freedman not only writes with clarity and pace but augments his text with primary-source quotes and photographs that add power and immediacy. Bib., ind.

lewis_voices from the march on washingtonLewis, J. Patrick and Lyon, George Ella  Voices from the March on Washington
114 pp.     Boyds/Wordsong     2014     ISBN 978-1-62091-785-5

Poets Lewis and Lyon here give voice to a cross-section of the 250,000 participants of the 1963 March on Washington: from first grader Ruby May Hollingsworth and Aki Kimura, a Japanese American sent to an internment camp during WWII, to Coretta Scott King. Many fine works on the civil rights movement are available; this adds the power of poetic imagination. Reading list, websites. Bib., ind.

obrien_after-gandhiO’Brien, Anne Sibley and O’Brien, Perry Edmond After Gandhi: One Hundred Years of Nonviolent Resistance
181 pp.     Charlesbridge     2009     ISBN 978-1-58089-129-5

Illustrated by Anne Sibley O’Brien. A mother-son team profiles sixteen activists or resistance groups and social movements, from Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh to Muhammad Ali to 2003’s worldwide Iraq war protest. The book begins with Gandhi, and a common thread is commitment to the credo of nonviolence. Sections include context-setting background information and shadowy black-and-white drawings. A significant and timely offering. Bib., ind.

marching for freedomPartridge, Elizabeth  Marching for Freedom: Walk Together, Children, and Don’t You Grow Weary
72 pp.     Viking     2009     ISBN 978-0-670-01189-6

Partridge writes about the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery from the viewpoint of children and teenagers who participated. Their recollections, culled largely from author interviews, perfectly balance and complement the information about the adults — Martin Luther King, George Wallace, Lyndon Johnson — that typically dominate historical accounts. The accompanying archival photographs have a moral impact as well as a visual one. Bib., ind.

silvey_let-your-voice-be-heardSilvey, Anita  Let Your Voice Be Heard: The Life and Times of Pete Seeger
104 pp.     Clarion     2016      ISBN 978-0-547-33012-9

Using abundant primary source material and terrific access to her subject (who died in 2014 at age ninety-four), Silvey tells Pete Seeger’s sometimes complicated life story with clarity and gusto. Silvey covers Seeger’s privileged, mildly eccentric upbringing; his path to folk singing; and his targeting during the Communist witch hunts of the 1950s. Scattered throughout are black-and-white photos, many of which capture Seeger’s charisma and the joy he took in music.

activism_yousafzai_i am malala

Yousafzai, Malala  I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood up for Education and Changed the World
230 pp.     Little     2014     ISBN 978-0-316-32793-0

With Patricia McCormick. Young Readers Edition. Young education activist and Taliban victim Malala Yousafzai recounts her Pakistani childhood in this deftly adapted memoir. Domestic and academic tales illustrate her unusual maturity and resilience in the face of increasing Taliban threats. Yousafzai’s moving narrative and engaging, sincere voice may provide an entryway to international awareness for middle-grade readers; a map and a thorough timeline provide additional political context. Glos.


Young Adult Fiction and Nonfiction

bausum_stonewallBausum, Ann  Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights
120 pp.     Viking     2015     ISBN 978-0-670-01679-2

Bausum begins with a detailed, nuanced exposition of the June 1969 Stonewall riots as a galvanizing moment for the gay rights movement, then traces the movement’s evolution (in a somewhat more cursory way) for the second half of the book. Bausum’s narrative integrity makes her conclusions about the persecution and resilience of the LGBTQ community all the more powerful. Bib., ind. Bausum,


Brimner, Larry Dane  Strike!: The Farm Workers’ Fight for Their Rights
172 pp.     Boyds/Calkins     2014     ISBN 978-1-59078-997-1

Brimner’s comprehensive history recounts the movement for better wages and working conditions among migrant farm workers in the Southwest, from California’s burgeoning need for farm workers in the twentieth century to the story of César Chávez, the United Farm Workers of America, and the Delano grape workers’ strike. The compelling narrative includes both textual and visual primary sources. Reading list, timeline, websites. Ind.

freedman_because they marchedFreedman, Russell  Because They Marched: The People’s Campaign for Voting Rights That Changed America
83 pp.     Holiday     2014     ISBN 978-0-8234-2921-9
Ebook ISBN 978-0-8234-3263-9

With characteristically clear prose sprinkled liberally with primary source quotes and carefully selected photographs, Freedman documents the historic 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march that sparked the passing of the Voting Rights Act, “the crowning achievement of the civil rights movement.” Freedman’s opening chapter is particularly effective because it focuses on the teachers’ march to the courthouse to register as a major trigger for the movement. Timeline. Bib., ind.

The Boys Who Challenged HitlerHoose, Phillip  The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club
198 pp.     Farrar     2015     ISBN 978-0-374-30022-7
Ebook ISBN 978-0-374-30272-6

When Hitler invaded Denmark, teenaged Knud Pedersen (with his brother and some mates) engaged in civil disobedience, inspiring a larger-scale Danish revolt. Hoose brilliantly weaves Pedersen’s own words into the larger narrative of wartime Denmark, showing how the astonishing bravery of ordinary Danish teens started something extraordinary. An outstanding addition to the WWII canon. Bib., ind.

We've Got a JobLevinson, Cynthia  We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March
176 pp.     Peachtree     2012     ISBN 978-1-56145-627-7

Levinson does a superb job demonstrating just how difficult it was for the leaders of the civil rights movement to create a movement at all. When adults didn’t take to the streets in great enough numbers, children volunteered. The narrative focuses on four young African Americans; clear and lively writing, well-chosen photos, and thorough documentation make this a fine chronicle of the era. Bib., ind.

lewis_march book 1Lewis, John and Aydin, Andrew  March: Book One
128 pp.     Top Shelf     2013     ISBN 978-1-60309-300-2

Illustrated by Nate Powell. Congressman John Lewis — the last surviving member of the “Big Six” civil rights leaders — recounts his formative years in this first volume of a planned trilogy. The book opens on “Bloody Sunday” then fast-forwards to Barack Obama’s January 2009 inauguration. The volume is well designed and the story expertly paced. Powell re-creates the time period vividly through his emotion-filled black-and-white art. Don’t miss the second and (National Book Award–winning) third volumes.

lowery_turning 15 on the road to freedomLowery, Lynda Blackmon  Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March
127 pp.     Dial     2015      ISBN 978-0-8037-4123-2

Illustrated by PJ Loughran. As told to Elspeth Leacock and Susan Buckley. As a teenager, Lowery heard Dr. King speak out for black voting rights; was beaten on “Bloody Sunday”; and marched from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. Lowery’s voice is consistently engaging and casual; period photos and boldly colored illustrations are integrated seamlessly into the design. An epilogue — “Why Voting Rights?” — explains the significance of the right to vote for African Americans.

rubin_freedom summer_170x205Rubin, Susan Goldman  Freedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi
120 pp.      Holiday      2014     ISBN 978-0-8234-2920-2

With meticulous research and documentation, Rubin focuses broadly on Freedom Summer: the organizers, the volunteers, the voter registration drives, etc. She conducted many interviews, in person, by telephone, and by email, with people who were directly involved, and their firsthand accounts — along with copious archival black-and-white photographs — bring the events to life. Timeline, websites. Bib., ind.




  1. This is such a great list! I read Strike!: The Farm Workers’ Fight for Their Rights and it changed the way I think!

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