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Books to teach children and young people about activism

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Books to teach children and young people about activism

03 April, 2017

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.” So says the titular character from the well-loved children's book, The Lorax, by Dr Seuss. Many of the young people in our classrooms have passionate desires to change the world for the better, but often aren’t sure how to begin. Reading a well-informed text can explain a cause, fully inform on an issue, alter pupils’ view of the world and give a starting point for a future of activism. Texts which engage with activism through exploring global issues or telling the stories of those who campaigned for justice in their communities, past and present inspire pupils to do the same.

Below is a selection of both non-fiction and fiction texts which communicate a desire for global justice in a variety of ways and champion any pupil’s inner activist!

Key Stage 1

These texts, suitable for group reading, teach the tiniest of children universal truths about our world.

My World, Your World
Melanie Walsh
This picture book teaches young children that even though we speak different languages and lead different lives all over the world, we have so much in common. We are all human and should be treated fairly.
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We Are All Born Free
Amnesty International
Illustrated beautifully throughout, We Are All Born Free explains the principles of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Every declaration is expressed in simple, accessible terms and illustrated by international artists.
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Key Stage 2

As children move to reading independently, these texts provide moral, though-provoking reads.

Be the Change: A Grandfather Gandhi Story
Arun Gandhi, Bethany Hegedus & Evan Turk (Illustrator)
A sequel to the original Grandfather Gandhi book, this is touching personal story of the damage of wastefulness. Grandfather Gandhi's village’s a big focus is placed on work that is done for the good of all. His Grandson Arun Gandhi tries very hard to follow all the village’s codes of simple, peaceful living but he struggles with one of the most important rules: not to waste.  Grandfather Gandhi steps in and helps Arun understand how every wasteful act affects others and that we each must be the change we want to see in the world.
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Maya's Secret
Holly Webb
The first of a series of four books for older Key Stage 2 readers, Maya’s Secret explores friendship in a world with environmental problems The novel’s protagonist, Maya, loves clothes. However, when she researches for a school fair trade project, she discovers that her favourite sparkly t-shirts are produced with the labour of other children in developing countries. Desperate to do something about this injustice, how can she make a difference without revealing her pop star secret to the world?
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Malala, a Brave Girl from Pakistan/Iqbal, a Brave Boy from Pakistan: Two Stories of Bravery
Jeanette Winter
Sensitive and inspiring, Jeanette Winter introduces the reader to the story behind the headlines of two real-life activist children: Iqbal Masih and Malala Yousafzai. Both from Pakistan, they defied violent adults to speak out for the right to freedom and education. Iqbal fought against child slavery in the carpet industry. Malala spoke out for the right of girls to attend school. Both were shot by their opponents: Iqbal in 1995 and Malala in 2012. Iqbal was killed instantly. Malala miraculously survived and continues to campaign on female education and justice issues around the world. In 2014, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
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Key Stage 3

It’s important to keep the 12-14 age group reading. We've chosen a book which will fuel imaginations and stir desires for justice.

Free?: Stories About Human Rights
Amnesty International (editor), with various contributers
In this collection of short stories for Amnesty International, eight well-known children’s writers explore what freedom means. With an introduction by Jacqueline Wilson, the collection spans stories from many different countries, as well as travelling through time to a future setting where humans are surveilled by microchips.  Using genres as diverse as comedy, detective drama, dystopia and realism, the authors delve into themes such as asylum, law, education, and faith.
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Key Stage 4

Reading inspirational texts allows mid-teen pupils to be challenged by real-life, living activists who continue to seek change for the better in our world.

Rebel Girls: Youth Activism and Social Change Across the Americas
Jessica K. Taft
Rebel Girls chronicles modern day female agents of social change across the Americas. The book explores how teenage girls’ construct activist identities and reinvent the concept of girlhood in their assertion of political authority. The author, Taft, argues that adult movements could learn from these girl activists and should seek to collaborate with them.
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Key Stage 5

It’s difficult to get Key Stage 5 pupils to think beyond the demands of a subject specification. However, the novels below complement syllabus specifications while providing a much-needed escape from the demands of exams.

We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler
Russell Freedman
Subject area(s): History, Government & Politics, General Studies
Informed by thorough research, this book tells the story of the White Rose student resistance in Nazi Germany. It is a novel of defiance and resistance in the face of fascist dictatorship, which complements the teaching of Nazi German at A ‘Level and provides inspiration for any budding protestor.
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Heat and Light
Jennifer Haigh
Subject area(s): Geography, Health & Social Care, Philosophy, Religious Education.
Heat and Light, the latest novel from Haigh, sees her return to Bakerton, a fictional mining town which has featured in some of her previous writings. This time around, Bakerton becomes divided when a massive deposit of natural gas suitable for fracking is discovered under the town. The question is, “to drill or not to drill?” as the story weaves together a huge variety of characters from local residents and activists to migrant drillers and businessmen.
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Resources to Support Classroom Practice and a Whole School Approach

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