Kid Activists Change the World


Despite Monday’s notoriously bad reputation, there’s much to celebrate today! Not only has Chicago’s unpredictable weather blessed Booklist staffers with a rare day of perfect sunshine (on Earth Day, no less!), our month of Middle-Grade Mania is still in full swing! In order to commemorate the holiday and demonstrate our support for environmental consciousness and advocacy, the Booklist team is sharing the Classroom Connections feature from the September 2016 issue of Book Links, highlighting exceptional social activism by children and adults alike. However young or old we may be, we all have the power to leave this world better than we found it. Here’s an extensive bibliography of middle-grade-focused books celebrating the heroes that encourage us to get informed, get inspired, and take action to change the world.

Informational Books

Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay, by Susan Hood and illustrated by Sally Wern Comport

Detailed collages illustrate this story of Ada Ríos, who lives in Cateura, a garbage dump for the capital of Paraguay. When she and other children don’t have the instruments or resources to take music lessons, their teacher builds them instruments out of materials collected from the garbage dump. This Recycled Orchestra soon gains fame around the world and gives the children better opportunities.

Be the Change: A Grandfather Gandhi Story, by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus and illustrated by Evan Turk

In this follow-up to Grandfather Gandhi (2014), Arun Gandhi revisits his childhood in an Indian ashram, recounting a memory of his grandfather, the Mahatma. When young Arun discards a pencil in frustration over the ashram vow not to waste, Gandhi teaches him about passive nonviolence and the effects of small actions on the world. Arun learns that to change the world, first change yourself.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

This young reader’s edition of Kamkwamba’s memoir brings his story to a middle-grade audience. He describes how, at 14, he set out to build “electric wind” in Malawi. After famine kept him out of school, he taught himself electrical engineering and built a windmill out of junk and found materials to electrify his village. For even younger readers, there’s a picture-book version of the same title.

Can We Help? Kids Volunteering to Help Their Communities, by George Ancona

Packed with color photos of kids in action, this informational book follows diverse children as they help with real community projects, such as knitting hats for homeless shelters, packing bags at a food bank, clearing litter from roads, and volunteering in school mentorship programs. Ancona describes how each program works and how the children’s actions contribute to the overall mission.

For the Right to Learn: Malala Yousafzai’s Story, by Rebecca Langston-George and illustrated by Janna Bock

Part of the Encounter series, this picture-book biography recounts how Malala fought for education for all—particularly girls, who were banned from classrooms—under the Taliban rule of Pakistan. After the Taliban shot Malala on her way to school, her brave recovery and continued activism made her the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. See also Jeannette Winter’s Malala, a Brave Girl from Pakistan/Iqbal, a Brave Boy from Pakistan (2014).

Give a Goat, by Jan West Schrock and illustrated by Aileen Darragh

Inspired by the book Beatrice’s Goat (2001), by Page McBrier, about a real-life girl in Uganda whose family receives a goat through Heifer International, diverse students in a fifth-grade classroom create a small school business to raise money to fund other animals for needy families around the world. Details throughout make this story a replicable activity for young activists.

Hands around the Library: Protecting Egypt’s Treasured Books, by Susan L. Roth and Karen Leggett Abouraya and illustrated by Susan L. Roth

This stirring picture book, illustrated with patterned collages, tells of young people’s role in leading the Egyptian uprising. It reveals how, during a protest, crowds of kids joined hands with the library director to protect the modern building and its books and technology. Back matter includes Arabic translations of the protest signs, facts about Alexandria, and photos of the library that day. A related title is Jeanette Winter’s The Librarian of Basra (2005).

It’s Your World: Get Informed, Get Inspired, and Get Going! by Chelsea Clinton

Activist and vice chair of the Clinton Foundation, the author invites readers to take a hard look at the world and guides them in ways to make it a better place. She helps readers get informed through eye-opening facts about topics as varied as poverty, gender equality, the environment, endangered species, and community health. Each section ends with a list of ways to improve these problems.

Kids Who Are Changing the World, by Anne Jankéliowitch

Produced by the GoodPlanet Foundation, this volume compiles successful interventions to environmental problems undertaken by some of the world’s most forward-thinking, optimistic kids. Each story is styled as an interview as it identifies the problem and walks readers through the formation of a goal, the actions taken, and the positive outcomes.

Making It Right: Building Peace, Settling Conflict, by Marilee Peters

The thought-provoking text introduces readers to restorative justice, which focuses on building peace in communities, rather than on punishment. Following a brief overview of the modern U.S. justice system, it includes fictional scenarios based on actual events, and profiles of real child activists around the world who are practicing restorative justice in the face of bullying, crime, and war.

Olivia’s Birds: Saving the Gulf. By Olivia Bouler

When an oil spill devastated the Gulf Coast’s wildlife, budding ornithologist Bouler, 11, wrote to the National Audubon Society and volunteered her help: she would draw pictures for people who contributed to the cleanup campaign. This book features her charming illustrations, with information about bird groups and particular species.

Our Rights: How Kids Are Changing the World, by Janet Wilson

In this companion to Our Earth: How Kids Are Saving the Planet (2010), children and teens describe a humanitarian cause that not only concerns them but also sparked them to take action. For instance, Ndale, an 11-year-old Congolese boy and former child soldier, now demonstrates with children against conscription. The book closes with accessible ways for young readers to become activists.

Pay It Forward: Young Readers Edition, by Catherine Ryan Hyde

The best-selling adult novel about kindness, tolerance, and activism has been reworked for a younger audience. Trevor McKinney is asked to do a seemingly impossible assignment—come up with an idea to change the world and put it into action. His idea is so simple that it might work: do someone a favor and ask them to do a favor for someone else instead of paying it back.

Pocket Change: Pitching In for a Better World, by Michelle Mulder

With a focus on economic sustainability, Mulder describes how the rise of the Industrial Revolution led to the rise of more income—and more stuff. But while some have too much, others live in poverty. This Footprints volume presents alternative ways that people around the world are making ends meet and how children are helping this cause.

The Red Bicycle: The Extraordinary Story of One Ordinary Bicycle, by Jude Isabella and illustrated by Simone Shin

After outgrowing his beloved bike, Big Red, Leo, a North American boy, donates it to an organization that sends bikes to Africa. Alisetta, an orphan in Burkina Faso, chooses Big Red and uses it to earn money to send her brother and sister to school. Later, a medical clinic buys it and transforms it into an ambulance. Information about similar organizations concludes the story.

Taking Action to Improve People’s Health, by Eric Braun

This entry in the Who’s Changing the World? series offers short profiles on kid, teen, and adult activists who are working in the U.S. and around the world to fight hunger, stop the spread of disease, and raise awareness for mental illness. Some of these issues include reducing vehicle emissions and barriers faced by people of color in the area of mental health. Other copublished titles in the series includes Taking Action to Help the Environment and Taking Action to Improve Schools.

Tortuga Squad: Kids Saving Sea Turtles in Costa Rica, by Cathleen Burnham

After observing a poacher flip a sea turtle and steal her eggs, young Bianca runs back to her village on Costa Rica’s Parismina Island to alert the Tortuga Squad, a group of kids who help the turtle get back to the sea before the poacher returns. Lightly fictionalized narratives tell of Tortuga Squad members saving other endangered species. Color photos show these environmental activists in action.

12 Children Who Changed the World, By Kenya McCullum

Part of the Change Makers series, this title introduces 12 remarkable young people from Joan of Arc to Ruby Bridges, as well as lesser-known names like Ryan White, who put a young face on AIDS early in the epidemic. Double-page spreads, complete with sidebars and photos, give the facts of their lives in digestible bites. A final spread offers suggestions for how “you can make a change.”


Crane Boy, by Diana Cohn and illustrated by Youme Ladowne

As a boy named Kinga awaits the return of the black-necked cranes to his Himalayan village, he learns that the crane population is diminishing. After getting the idea to perform a cranelike dance to celebrate his village’s archery team, he asks the local monks about developing a crane festival to spark interest in saving the birds. Information about Bhutan and the Crane Festival closes the story.

In Lucia’s Neighborhood, by Pat Shewchuk and illustrated by Marek Colek

Inspired by her grandmother’s stories of urban activist Jane Jacobs, young Lucia takes a walk with her grandmother and begins to notice the people, activities, jobs, cultures, and beauty that make up her diverse Toronto neighborhood. Vibrant digital illustrations reflect it all, from the people practicing tai chi in the park to the Portuguese festival preparations to the front-porch conversations.

Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood, by Isabel F. Campoy and Theresa Howell and illustrated by Rafael López

López is both the inspiration for and illustrator of this dreamy picture book about community activism. Along with his wife, he initiated a program to revitalize San Diego’s East Village, transforming it from a concrete desert into an inspiring home for public art. The text follows a girl whose own passion for making art ushers in the muralist. Soon the whole neighborhood gets involved.

Mimi’s Village: And How Basic Health Care Transformed It, by Katie Smith Milway and illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes

Based on a blend of real events in rural Kenya, this story relates how Mimi’s sister almost dies from unsanitary water. A trip to a clinic in a nearby village inspires Mimi and the rest of her village to start a clinic of their own to learn healthy habits and prevent disease. Concluding back matter describes a real village health-care worker and ways that American citizens can help and create change.

The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano, by Sonia Manzano

Growing up in the Puerto Rican East Harlem barrio in 1969, Rosa, 14, changes her name to Evelyn to be more mainstream. Then her activist abuela arrives from Puerto Rico and inspires Evelyn to join the Young Lords, the political activists who are working closely with the Black Panthers and fighting for Puerto Rican rights. Family drama ensues against the backdrop of real-life political events.

Adults Modeling Activism

Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table, by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and illustrated by Eric-Shabazz Larkin

After spending his childhood on a farm—where he vowed never to plant or dig again—Will Allen played professional basketball in Europe. While there, he realized that he actually enjoyed growing food. Once back in the U.S., he purchased a derelict lot in Milwaukee and began to transform it into an urban farm. Digitally enhanced artwork depicts Allen’s efforts at community building.

The Good Garden: How One Family Went from Hunger to Having Enough, by Katie Smith Milway and illustrated by Sylvie Daigneault

María Luz’s family owns a small plot of land in the hills of Honduras, but they can’t raise a profitable farm, until a new teacher arrives and shows the village how to make compost for the soil and terraces to prevent erosion. Based on a real Honduran family, the story is followed by a profile of Don Elías, who taught sustainable farming and ways to improve food security locally and globally.

The Mangrove Tree: Planting Trees to Feed Families, by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore and illustrated by Susan L. Roth

Dual narration (one in simple, cumulative text and the other in more detailed prose) recounts how Japanese American Gordon Sato realized a way to grow mangrove trees along the shore of Eritrea in Africa. Accompanied by textured collages, the book explains how this innovation provides nutrients to animals and resources for impoverished villages. Back matter expands on Sato’s mission.

One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia, by Miranda Paul and illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon

Patterned mixed-media artwork illustrates this picture book about Isatou Ceesay, who improved the beauty and economy of her Njau village in Gambia. After noticing a proliferation of plastic bags littering the roads and harming the goats, she enlisted other women to help her crochet purses out of the plastic bags and sell them. An author’s note provides more information on Ceesay’s work.

Rad American Women A–Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries Who Shaped Our History . . . and Our Future! by Kate Schatz and illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl

From Billie Jean King to Temple Grandin, this alphabetical book presents catchy profiles of 25 women activists and groundbreakers in American history. The letter X is dedicated to women whose voices and histories were never recorded. Illustrated with stylized prints on vibrant backgrounds, it also offers 26 ways for readers to become rad activists.

The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever, by H. Joseph Hopkins and illustrated by Jill McElmurry

Growing up in the 1860s, Katherine Olivia Sessions wasn’t supposed to get dirty or study plants and trees. After being the first woman to graduate from the University of California with a degree in science, Katie organized volunteers to help her turn the once-desert town of San Diego into a haven of trees and gardens. Fitting illustrations in a folk art–style complete this picture-book biography.

Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees, by Franck Prévot and illustrated by Aurélia Fronty

Folk art illustrations adorn this picture-book biography of Wangari Maathai, who created the Green Belt Movement in Kenya to bring back the country’s trees lost to deforestation. It concludes with photos of the Nobel Peace Prize winner, a time line, and more info about Kenya and its forests. See also Jeanette Winter’s Wangari’s Trees of Peace (2008) and Jen Cullerton Johnson’s Seeds of Change (2010).



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