Most parents today understand the need to raise children who are open-minded and aware of all the social issues happening in the modern world.
It can be a difficult task — but luckily we have plenty of books at our disposal to help.
These 12 progressive books are kids are perfect for parents hoping to raise young social justice warriors.
1. The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch
In this book, Princess Elizabeth has lost everything she owns and must wear a paper bag to rescue her prince from a dragon. When she gets there, he’s ungrateful—and she decides she doesn’t need him after all.
“Written in the 80s, it’s awesome feminism and flips the Princess stereotype.” —Beth Buehlman, teacher
2. Your Life Matters by Chris Singleton
Pulling in Black heroes like Maya Angelou, Jackie Robinson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Aretha Franklin, Your Life Matters strives to teach every Black child that no matter what happens, their life matters. A different hero is depicted mentoring a modern child on each page of the book.
“This book is a true gift, a fusion of powerful lyricism and vivid imagery. It’s simple and succinct, yet it really stays with you—and it’s filled with the faces of powerful, iconic beings who have led us toward a brighter world. This is a message we need right now.” —John Buell, Amazon review
3. A Kids Book About series by multiple authors
Designed to be read by a parent and child together, the “A Kids Book About” series tackles major issues affecting people in the world today, like racism, anxiety, mental health, and addiction.
Each book (they don’t have pictures) introduces the topic, shares stories about each topic, and then wraps it up with a conclusion at the end. You can buy three at once for a discount, buy them separately, or sign up for a book subscription that sends one or two of the books to your home each month.
“I love that each one is written by an expert in that field. It’s refreshing to read from authors who have a first-hand, authentic experience with the topics, instead of one author trying to write about everything regardless of personal experience. And they use appropriate language for kids, but don’t gloss over the issues.” —Marcie in Mommyland review
4. I Am Not A Number by Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer
This book is based on the life of Dupuis’ grandmother. It educates children about Canada’s history of sending First Nations children to residential schools, what that means, and all the problems that came with it. I Am Not A Number also helps children relate to the story so they can learn from it.
“This one is not for younger children. But, then again, social justice is a difficult topic, to say the least.” —Bethany Tomlinson, mother of two
5. ABC, Rise Up and Be!: An Empowering Alphabet for Changing the World by Annemarie Riley Guertin
Forget learning the alphabet with barnyard animals. This book pairs each letter with a character-building word that both empowers and encourages the child reading the book. The letter C, for example: “Courageous: Courage is a whisper from inside that says, ‘You can do this.’ Fighting for what is right will never be wrong.”
“I read this book to my high school students, and in the process, began to cry. It is truly amazing how the author was able to find a word for every letter of the alphabet that teaches how to be a good human. In this day and age, it is difficult to capture how complicated the world is (and is going to be) for the next generation. This book is not just a lesson on the alphabet, but a simple guide on how to face the world and be a good person.” —Nancy Scavo, Amazon review
6. Just Ask: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You by Sonia Sotomayor
You may recognize the author’s name — Sonia Sotomayor is a Supreme Court Justice. In this book, she celebrates all abilities, showing challenges kids with things like diabetes, autism, and asthma face and what special powers those challenges actually give them.
“I bought this book early so I could check it before getting it as a Christmas gift for my nephews. Disabilities are presented so that readers can see that there are things that are different or harder for us, but we can still do plenty of other things. Being Autistic myself, I really like the balanced way of presenting disability. Now I know what I’m getting them!” —Ryan Senft, Amazon review
7. A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara
Another alphabet book, A is for Activist is one of the most well-known progressive books for children.
It goes through the alphabet letter by letter, pairing each one with content that discusses everything from LGBTQ rights to environmental justice. It tries to cover most major issues that activists get involved in.
“A is for Activist was the first social justice book my kids got. It covers nearly everything by introducing words that are used.” —Katie Bush, mother
8. Adventures With Charlie Series by Charles Schoen
Author Charles Schoen, the author of this book series and the executive director of the Adaptive Learning Center in Atlanta, used his own son Charlie as inspiration for the series.
Each book shares a story of Charlie, a young disabled boy, going out to a new place and making friends. In the series, he heads to Waffle House, school, and a barbershop, and in other books, he participates in sports.
The series sends the message that it’s OK to be different.
“Children need to have stories that illustrate the idea that ‘being different from typical peers’ can have some special rewards,” —Charles Schoen, author
9. In the Nick of Time by Deedee Cummings
When author Deedee Cummings looked through holiday books, she noticed not many of them had a Black main character—so she wrote one. In the Nick of Time follows Nick Saint as he opens a letter intended for Saint Nick, and then follows the content on a journey of gratitude, service to others, and the true meaning of holiday spirit.
“It is important for kids to see themselves in books because it validates their existence and models new and important experiences for them.” —Deedee Cummings, author
10. Kalamata’s Kitchen by Sarah Thomas
Kalamata’s Kitchen dives into the main character’s fears of her first day of school.
Kalamata and her stuffed alligator friend Al Dente dream of going back to an Indian spice market they visited over the summer, and that event turns into a method of encouragement — helping Kalamata to be brave, not just about food, but about everyday experiences as well.
“As someone who’s always trying to get my niece and nephew to try new foods, I love this book. It shows that every type of cuisine can be exciting, and encourages bravery and a giving attitude.” —Jennifer Billock, author of this article
11. Completely Me by Dr. Justine Green
As far as the main character in Completely Me knows, she’s perfectly normal — until other people point out to her that she isn’t.
But she doesn’t let her disability stop her, or other people’s judgment of her. She stands up for herself, and in the process, teaches everyone a valuable lesson about diversity, inclusion, and acceptance.
“This was a beautiful book that reminds the reader that everyone is unique in their own special way! I greatly appreciated the message of standing up for yourself and being proud of who you are! There was also a part in the book where the characters were doing more hurting than helping the main character. I absolutely loved how Justine Green was able to get the message of ‘good intentions, bad execution’ in a very age-appropriate way! The illustrations were mesmerizing too!” —Kayla Spears, Amazon review
12. Little Feminist series by Archaa Shrivastav
Beautiful photos of real-life families showcase all the wonderful forms of family, while poetic text builds both vocabulary and family connection. Little Feminists helps families and educators discuss sexuality and celebrate all genders and was created with 0-5-year-olds in mind.
Understanding queer identities and representation can be this simple. Families show children 0-5 the true diversity of the world around them and the families to which they belong.” – American Library Association
Not enough? 10 more gifts for your little activist:
- Little Passports World Edition
- Mon Coeur Sustainable Clothing
- Lavley Rosie the Riveter Socks
- Little Partners™ Artist EZ Easel
- The Little Market Coloring Without Borders Coloring Book
- Letterfolk Hug Me Doll
- Tenth & Pine Human*Kind Organic Tee
- Wanderwild Explorer Backpack
- Smart Teddy Interactive Educational Toy
- CreateOn Galaxy Rocket Magna-Tile Structure
Jennifer Billock is an award-winning writer and best-selling author. She’s been published in The New York Times, Smithsonian, Wired, and National Geographic Traveler.