Books to Inspire the Inner Activist

As I write this, hundreds of thousands of children, teenagers, and adults are marching through various cities across the country. Many are inspired by teen activist Greta Thunberg. Together they are saying enough is enough, we need to start putting the environment ahead of our pocketbooks, and our politicians and leaders need to make a stand.

A few days after the march, another teen activist, Autumn Peltier, will stand before the United Nations. She will speak at their Global Landscapes Forum about the importance of water.

Both young women are encouraging others to follow their lead, speak up about the injustices that surround us, and do something to make them right.

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This month’s books look the inspiration needed to make things right, and then give some ideas—some easy, some hard—on how our own children can change the world around them.

The first book is Hands Up! by Breanna J. McDaniel and illustrated by Shane W. Evans (Dial, 2019). This story follows Viv through her life and highlights all of the times that she raises her hands: grabbing juice off of the high table, getting dressed, and dancing. While the start of the book focuses on moments that build connection with friends, family, and fun times, the book ends on a more serious note when Viv throws her hands up to raise a sign at a protest to remind us to “Lift Every Voice,” “Love Your Neighbour,” and that “Black Lives Matter.” For ages 4 to 7.

Attending protests is not for everyone, and that is fine. There are still other ways to help support causes you and your children believe in. For starters, you can take time to learn about different issues, and one book that can help with that is Don’t Let Them Disappear: 12 Endangered Species Across the Globe by Chelsea Clinton and illustrated by Gianna Marino (Philomel, 2019).

This book is filled with facts about different endangered species, such as pandas, giraffes and sea otters. It explains what the different terms like “nearly vulnerable,” “endangered,” and “extinct in the wild” mean. With your new-found knowledge, you can start conversations with your family, friends, and neighbours about conservation. For ages 5 to 8.

Fox finds a way to protect the world around him in The Golden Glow by Benjamin Flouw (Tundra, 2018). Fox is a botanist and he loves to spend his evenings leafing through his botany books to discover new flowers to add to his collection. One evening, when he is perusing the books, he discovers a page without a picture. The flower in question is called “The Golden Glow.”

Fox decides that he is going to set out in the morning to find this flower and add it to his collection. But along the way he learns that there are more ways to enjoy the beauty of nature than just having them growing in pots all around him. For ages 4 to 7.

If your child wants to delve into a more public manner of activism, then like Mya in Mya’s Strategy to Save the World by Tanya Lloyd Kyi (Puffin, 2019) they will need a multi-pronged strategy. Twelve-year-old Mya wants to work at the UN when she grows up. As the president and founder of the Kids for Social Justice club at her school, she is doing everything she can to make her dream come true. But she knows things would be so much easier if only she had a cell phone. For ages 8 to 12.

Maybe your child is interested in becoming a Member of Parliament or a Member of the Legislative Assembly so they can propose and vote for the changes themselves. If that’s the case they may enjoy Lambslide by Ann Patchett and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser (Harper, 2019). In this beautifully illustrated tale, a few lambs think they hear the farmers tell their daughter they’re getting a lambslide when they say she’ll win the student election by a landslide.

A lambslide sounds like a great idea to these three lambs, so they set out to figure out exactly where this slide should go. But first, they need to figure out if the other animals even want a lambslide, what concerns the other animals have about the accessibility and location of the lambslide, and how to create a lambslide that will appease everyone’s needs. For ages 4 to 7.

Another great book for a budding politician is Vote for Me! by Ben Clanton (Tundra, 2012). In this story a donkey and an elephant are trying to get your vote, and they resort to all of the usual tactics—including mud-slinging. Although, for them the mud-slinging is a bit more literal than what our politicians usually get up to. But the book doesn’t stop there. It also explains that there is a better way that doesn’t involve hurting the other candidates, which is a good lesson for anyone to learn. For ages 4 to 7.

Nothing will ever happen if we don’t believe change is possible. Believe by Robert Sabuda (Candlewick, 2019) is a gorgeous pop-up book filled with images and written reminders about what can happen if we let ourselves dream. For ages 2 to 5 with help, and up to age 8.

Christina Van Starkenberg
Christina Van Starkenberg
Christina Van Starkenburg lives in Victoria with her husband, children, and cat. She is the author of One Tiny Turtle: A Story You Can Colour and many articles. To read more of her work and learn about her upcoming books, check out her website at