10 empowering books for raising young activists

With so many deep worries around the world, it’s important to nourish hope so that we can continue to advocate for a better future. Without hope, it’s easy to stop believing that this is possible, or start to feel that our actions are futile. Children and teenagers, already living in an adult world, are definitely susceptible to feeling the latter.

So here are 10 empowering stories for young people that advocate for grassroots activism – whether it’s children picking up rubbish along the beach shore, crayons writing letters of protest to their careless owner, or a teen girl starting an anonymous zine. All these stories demonstrate the power of a small change to make a larger difference.


The Day The Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt & Oliver Jeffers

This fun and imaginative picture book is a great introduction to the art of the protest letter. When Duncan opens his box of crayons he’s surprised to find letters instead. In each colourful letter, a crayon tenders their resignation, and respectfully and humorously outline their complaints: some are ignored, some are overworked, and some are feuding with one another (it’s complicated). But don’t worry, Duncan eventually comes up with a creative solution to address everyone’s concerns.

For ages 2+


Tilly’s Reef Adventure by Rhonda N. Garward

Budding conservationists will love this gorgeously illustrated lift-the-flap picture book. As baby green turtle Tilly makes her way into the depths of the Great Barrier Reef, she gets swept on shore by a plastic bag and it’s up to a group of children to rescue her. At the back of the book, there is extra information about the reef, as well as tips on how people of all ages can help keep our environment healthy and free of rubbish.

For ages 4+


The Girl Who Ran by Frances Poletti, Kristina Yee & Susanna Chapman

It might surprise children to learn that women were banned from entering the Boston Marathon until the late 60s. Here is a fantastic retelling of runner Bobbi Gibb to protest that ban – a hoodie covering her face, she snuck onto the course of the 1966 race and became the first woman to run it in its entirety. The bright and energetic watercolours beautifully capture the motion of the race, and Gibb’s joy from running.

For ages 4+


Mister Cassowary by Samantha Wheeler

Samantha Wheeler is a favourite at Readings and her exciting eco-adventures are filled with children who are determined to make a difference to their worlds, and the lives of Australia’s endangered animals. Her latest tale is Mister Cassowary, and is the story of Flynn’s attempt to unravel the mystery of his grandfather’s banana farm and to save two small, orphaned cassowary chicks in the process. You can find all of Wheeler’s books here.

For ages 7+


Tiger Boy by Mitali Perkins

Set within the mangrove forests of the Sunderbans of India and Bangladesh, this is an engaging and thoughtful adventure. When a tiger cub escapes from a nature reserve near Neel’s island village, he resolves to find the cub first and return her safely to her home – before a wealthy newcomer can claim her skin for the black market. At the same time, Neel must balance his workload for school and family troubles, as well as make some big decisions about his future.

For ages 7+


Our Race for Reconciliation by Anita Heiss

Set in 2000 ahead of the Sydney Olympics, Our Race for Reconciliation this is the story of one Aboriginal family, and their journey through one life-changing year. Enthusiastic runner Mel is thrilled to learn that Cathy Freeman will be visiting her school in Ipswitch, and afterwards, her whole family travel to Sydney to join the first People’s Walk for Reconciliation – when 300,000 people walked across Sydney Harbour Bridge in support of reconciliation.

For ages 9+


Ban this Book by Alan Gratz

When Amy Anne Ollinger tried to check out her favourite book (From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler) from the school library she learns that it’s been banned! Another classmate’s mum thought the book wasn’t appropriate for kids to read. Fired up, Amy Anne decides to fight back by starting a secret banned-books library out of her locker, and engineering a campaign to challenge every single book in the school library. An amazing read for bookworms.

For ages 9+


Shaozhen by Wai Chim

Shaozhen is the second book in the Through My Eyes - Natural Disaster series, edited by Lyn White. Teenager Shaozhen plans to finish school and then work in a factory in one of the major cities, just like his father. But when he returns home for the holidays, he discovers his home is facing the worst drought in over 60 years and that it threatens the crops that the entire village relies on for income. Based on a real-life drought in Henan, China, this story demonstrates how Shaozhen’s ingenuity and strength brings the community together to tackle the problem.

For ages 10+


Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

Vivian Carter is one of the ‘nice girls’ so she’s more surprised than anyone when, angered by a spate of sexist behaviour and inspired by her mother’s own Riot Grrrl past, she creates Moxie – a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. She thinks she’s just blowing off steam but when other girls respond to the zine, both positively and negatively, it turns out she might have unknowingly started a revolution. This is such a wonderful book for demonstrating how small actions can lead to actual change.

For ages 12+


The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed

Our children’s bookseller Kushla Egan strongly recommends this YA novel in which three teenagers, enraged by the rape culture at their high school, decide to take action. She says: ‘If a teenager in your life has been asking you questions about Harvey Weinstein’s high profile case of alleged serial abuse, this is a brilliant piece of literature to equip them with. The novel explores politics of consent and power in a way that’s accessible and thoughtful, making it possible for them to start to contextualise the public discourse that they’re being exposed to.’ (You can read further thoughts from Kushla on this novel here.)

For ages 13+

We have even more recommendations for young adults on our list of rebel stories for teen activists, and you can find even more picks for younger readers by browsing the collections below.