How Children’s Books are Inspiring the Next Generation of Activists
Susan Hood | The Children’s Book Review | March 21, 2018
KidLit is Shaking Things Up
I had the great honor of meeting Ruby Bridges a few weeks ago…thanks to a fifth grader. I’m talking about THE Ruby Bridges—the civil rights pioneer who at age six became the first African American student to integrate an all-white school in 1960. THE Ruby Bridges I researched and wrote about in Shaking Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed the World. I have ten-year-old Dana Warren to thank for what was one of the most moving experiences of my life. So do two thousand other people.
It all started when Dana read two children’s books —The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles and Bridges’ autobiography Through My Eyes.
In the back of one book, Dana read that Bridges visits schools around the country. Why not hers? Unfortunately, budgets at Westhampton Elementary were tight; there were no PTO funds to make Dana’s dream come true.
Dana didn’t give up; she persevered. She decided to write a letter to Kathy McCartney, President of nearby Smith College, asking, “Can you help me with my dream?” She could indeed!
On February 2, 2018, Bridges visited Dana’s school and later appeared at Smith College before a standing-room-only audience of thousands, including hundreds of kids. She told her story of how, at age six, she braved a screaming mob to integrate William Franz Elementary School in New Orleans; how she spent the entire year in a classroom for one, forbidden to go to the cafeteria or recess, isolated from other children. I spent the hour rapt, tears pooling in my eyes. Afterward Ruby took questions from the audience. One young boy had the courage to step up to the long line at the microphone. In a shaking voice he admitted his stage fright. But he had to tell Ruby he was sorry for what happened to her. That did it! The tears fell.
This life-changing evening started with one young girl and her books. I talked to elementary school teachers I admire to get their take on kidlit’s connection to social activism and find out how they use children’s books in the classroom.
“My goal is to promote empathy,” says Michele Knott, a K-4 Literacy Specialist in Illinois. “We talk about point of view and perspective as a way of understanding and changing things.”
Fifth-grade teacher Kristen Picone in New York agrees. “Last year when the word ‘refugee’ became an everyday word that kids encountered we turned to books to help students understand the plight of refugees, to understand the human side of the political debate that began to infiltrate their lives. We talked about the necessity of looking at all social issues from multiple perspectives.”
Picone adds, “I spend a lot of time talking to my kids about questioning what they hear on social media, TV, and even from adults in their lives. Books give us a place to go when we need answers. Kids feel empowered that they were able to speak with adults about important topics from a place of knowledge.”
Massachusetts fifth-grade teacher Jason Lewis says, “I love the conversations we have when reading these books. You can almost see [the kids] having those Aha moments. Things they’ve heard on TV, in the news, and from their friends finally make sense now. They’re able to separate fact from fiction.”
After February’s tragedy in Parkland, Florida, Cara Newman, a fourth-grade teacher from New York, wrote a blog post about using children’s books to tackle difficult conversations, necessary conversations. Newman wrote, “It’s in times like this tragedy, that I am reminded of the deep discussions my classroom had, when we read books like Let the Children March, The Other Side, Wishtree, Shaking Things Up, The Story of Ruby Bridges and so many more powerful titles.”
“Every time I close a #classroombookaday book,” says Newman, “I hear myself saying or thinking the words ‘history repeats itself and you boys and girls are part of the change. Every moment, of every day, you children have the power to make a difference. Even if it’s through a simple gesture, smile, or invitation to be included.’
Illinois fifth-grade teacher Lorie Barber adds that reading makes her kids “more empathetic, deeper thinkers who care so much more about the world around them.”
Inspired by books, kids are taking action. Ten-year-old book activist Olivia Van Ledtje (thelivbits.com) from New Hampshire reaches a global audience through her “mom-monitored” website, selfie videos, blog, digital book club and social media. She shares her love of books, her kid’s-eye-view of the world, and her passion for promoting digital literacy. Recently, she started a podcast called TheKidLitShow on Pinna and she travels the world delivering keynote addresses at national conferences. As she likes to say, #KidsCanTeach Us.
Twelve-year-old Marley Dias was weary of reading books about white boys and their dogs. So she started a campaign to collect 1000 books featuring black girls as lead protagonists with the hashtag #1000blackgirlbooks. To date, she has collected more than 11,000 books and given them away to kids who need them most.
Marley’s efforts led to appearances on Today, CBS This Morning, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, The View and more. And she just published her own book—Marley Dias Gets It Done and So Can You!
What’s next for young Dana Warren? It’s hard to top bringing Ruby Bridges to town! This summer, Dana hopes to attend Camp Congress for Girls in Washington, D.C., where girls choose to run for a seat in the House, the Senate or for the Presidency. They run a campaign, register to vote, and once elected, learn how to propose and pass a legislative bill.
Kids like Liv, Marley, and Dana are doing their part to spark conversation, empathy, and community action. And like the young Ruby Bridges, they may just change the world.
Susan Hood is the award-winning author of SHAKING THINGS UP: 14 Young Women Who Have Changed the World illustrated by Selina Alko, Sophie Blackall, Lisa Brown, Hadley Hooper, Emily Winfield Martin, Oge Mora, Julie Morstad, Sara Palacios, LeUyen Pham, Erin K. Robinson, Isabel Roxas, Shadra Strickland and Melissa Sweet (HarperCollins, 2018). She lives in Connecticut with her husband and dedicated this book to her two daughters and baby granddaughter. Visit Susan at www.susanhoodbooks.com or on Twitter @sHood125
Written by Susan Hood
Illustrated by Multiple Illustrators
Publisher’s Synopsis: Fresh, accessible, and inspiring, Shaking Things Up introduces fourteen revolutionary young women—each paired with a noteworthy female artist—to the next generation of activists, trail-blazers, and rabble-rousers.
From the award-winning author of Ada’s Violin, Susan Hood, this is a poetic and visual celebration of persistent women throughout history.
In this book, you will find Mary Anning, who was just thirteen when she unearthed a prehistoric fossil. You’ll meet Ruby Bridges, the brave six-year-old who helped end segregation in the South. And Maya Lin, who at twenty-one won a competition to create a war memorial, and then had to appear before Congress to defend her right to create.
And those are just a few of the young women included in this book. Readers will also hear about Molly Williams, Annette Kellerman, Nellie Bly, Pura Belprè, Frida Kahlo, Jacqueline and Eileen Nearne, Frances Moore Lappè, Mae Jemison, Angela Zhang, and Malala Yousafzai—all whose stories will enthrall and inspire. This book was written, illustrated, edited, and designed by women and includes an author’s note, a timeline, and additional resources.
With artwork by notable artists including Selina Alko, Sophie Blackall, Lisa Brown, Hadley Hooper, Emily Winfield Martin, Oge Mora, Julie Morstad, Sara Palacios, LeUyen Pham, Erin Robinson, Isabel Roxas, Shadra Strickland, and Melissa Sweet.
Ages 4-8 | Publisher: HarperCollins | January 23, 2018 | ISBN-13: 978-0062699459
Discover the complete list of books mentioned in this article: 12 Kids Books That Are Inspiring The Next Generation Of Activists
The article How Children’s Books are Inspiring the Next Generation of Activists was written by Susan Hood, author of Shaking Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed the World (HarperCollins, 2018). For similar books and articles, follow along with our content tagged with Books With Activism and Women’s History.