I may as well be honest with you: I’m not feeling very peppy today, as I sit down to type a couple of days after the Las Vegas shooting. It’s another horrific mass shooting with Congress poised to do little to nothing about it. We are a short-sighted country.
However, we can make our voices heard. Always. Speak up. Let our representatives know how we feel. Resist. As I thought about that this week, I found myself looking for my copy of a book I’d seen earlier – The Little Book of Little Activists. It is the children’s book that made the most sense to me this week, and I decided I’ll use this space here to tell you about this small, unassuming offering so that perhaps you can share it with the children in your lives.
There’s a blurb on the back of the book (from author Kate Schatz) that references the fact that this book includes “our tiny, beautiful future leaders.” That pretty much sums it up. This book, with its small trim size, features on the cover a child holding a sign that says, “HEAR OUR VOICES!” Open it up, and you see that it’s divided into six categories – Activism, Feminism, Democracy, Protest, Freedom, and Equality. Each spread includes one or more photo of children marching, peacefully protesting, or otherwise exercising their right to have their say – children of all shapes, sizes, and skin tones.
When a new category is introduced, a definition is provided. “Activism: Taking action in order to create social change. Anyone can be an activist.” Each spread also includes a quote from a child. There’s a refreshing honesty to these sentiments; it manages to avoid being altogether too kids-say-the-darndest-things. For instance, on the “Activism” spread, Carsyn, age 11, believes that “we need to make our generation a nicer one. If there’s a mess, it’s our job to fix it.” Feminism is the belief that “women and men deserve equal rights, opportunities, and respect.” On one spread, two boys with beaming smiles hold signs that say: “Girls should be treated fairly” and “Women are important.”
The book’s introduction is written by Bob Bland, co-chair of the Women’s March on Washington, the historic January 2017 event. She writes about organizing the march, which “signified a new wave of activism for many,” while she was nine months pregnant and how she welcomed her daughter, Chloe, into an environment where we are able to exercise the right to protest. She writes:
“I stand in gratitude with parents who teach their children to push back in the face
of oppression and prejudice and to use their voices, no matter how little, to speak
up for marginalized communities.”
She also acknowledges that it is a “feat” to teach children about racial and social justice while still maintaining their innocence. This book strikes that balance with its serious themes but smiling faces and bright, appealing colors. It’s a conversation-starter for young readers. And these conversations about speaking out about women’s rights, civil liberties, and equality need to happen – especially now in this country. In the “Democracy” section of the book, children even get a primer on our First Amendment Rights.
The afterword is written by Lynda Blackmon Lowery, who marched in the 1965 voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery. She celebrated her fifteenth birthday while marching and was the youngest person involved. She emphasizes that children are “never too young to fight nonviolently” for what they believe in. She certainly has walked the walk—both figuratively and literally.
This book is inspiring and hopeful in all the best ways. The youngest of children need to see adults in action, speaking up for their rights. With this book, they’re reminded that they can do so as well. After all, as Maddie, age 14, tells us on the book’s final spread, we all need to speak the truth, even if our voices shake.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.
Image above used by permission of Penguin Random House LLC.