25 Nonfiction Books About Teenagers Who Changed The World
The Who were right when they said the kids are alright. The school shooting in Parkland, Fla. and legislators' subsequent inactivity on the issue of gun control have sparked a wave of student protests led by the survivors of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Teenage activists Emma González, Spencer Blum, Alfonso Calderon, Kai Koerber, Tyra Hemans, Daniel Bishop, Sheryl Acquaroli, Chris Grady, and many others have gone toe-to-toe with lawmakers and gun lobbyists, and they aren't showing any signs of backing down. I say, give 'em hell, kids, and many people seem to agree with me.
If you're looking to inspire activism, whether your own or someone else's, you need to check out these 25 books with real-life stories about teens rising up against injustice. In the nonfiction titles below, you'll find plenty of juvenile activists leading the charge for racial, class, gender, ethnic, religious, educational, LGBTQIAP+, and immigration equality. Reading these true stories will make you want to get up off the couch and do something about the problems facing the U.S. today — yes, gun control included. When it comes to resistance, it's time everyone followed the lead of the teens:
'Warriors Don't Cry' by Melba Pattillo Beals
In this memoir, Little Rock Nine member Melba Patillo Beals recounts black high schoolers' successful efforts to integrate an all-white Arkansas high school in 1957.
'We've Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children's March' by Cynthia Y. Levinson
A few years later, in May 1963, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference trained thousands of Birmingham children as nonviolent protesters. When the children marched, they were met with arrests, fire hoses, attack dogs, and expulsions. This is the story of their summer of resistance.
'The Soweto Uprising' by Noor Nieftagodien
Two years after Afrikaans was introduced into the curriculum of black schools in South Africa, thousands of students took to the streets in a series of protests that would propel the anti-Apartheid movement forward, and which are now remembered in South Africa on Youth Day each year.
'Youth Activism in an Era of Education Inequality' by Ben Kirshner
Based on a decade of research, Youth Activism in an Era of Education Inequality examines cases from around the U.S. in which students fought against anti-immigrant policies, the school-to-prison pipeline, and other injustices.
'The Gwangju Uprising: The Pivotal Democratic Movement That Changed the History of Modern Korea' by Jungwoon Choi
Protesting the military dictatorship of Doo-hwan Chun in May 1980, students gathered at South Korea's Chonnam University to begin a demonstration that ended with the deaths of hundreds at the hands of government soldiers. Although Chun would remain president until 1988, the Gwangju democratization movement would change South Korea's political landscape forever.
'Sophie Scholl and the White Rose' by Annette Dumbach and Jud Newborn
In 1942, as the Third Reich fought a war on two fronts, a small group of activists at the University of Munich began a war for Germany's heart, distributing anti-war literature and calling upon Germans to resist Nazi ideology.
'The People's Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited' by Louisa Lim
Like the Gwangju Uprising, the Tiananmen Square protests were a series of student-activist demonstrations in favor of democracy, and were met with state violence. Images of the violence and resistance captivated the world, but Tiananmen's memory has been suppressed in mainland China. The People's Republic of Amnesia revives the demonstration through interviews with people who were there in 1989.
'The Rebel Girl: An Autobiography, My First Life 1906-26' by Elizabeth Gurley Flynn
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, the co-founder of the ACLU, began her activism at an early age, giving her first pro-woman, pro-worker speeches while still in her teens. Read about the first 20 years of her social justice work in The Rebel Girl.
'I Am Malala' by Malala Yousafzai
After blogging about life as a schoolgirl in a Taliban-occupied area of Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai was the victim of an assassination attempt on her school bus. She survived, and went on to become the youngest ever winner of the Nobel Prize.
'The Hip-Hop Generation Fights Back: Youth, Activism, and Post-Civil Rights Politics' by Andreana Clay
Young people of color are routinely misrepresented as gang members, delinquents, and vaguely "troubled," but, as Andreana Clay's The Hip-Hop Generation Fights Back shows, these kids aren't about to sit back and watch as the media paints them in a poor light and the government ignores them.
'How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child' by Sandra Uwiringiyimana
At 10 years old, Sandra Uwiringiyimana escaped the rebel soldiers who killed her mother and younger sister, along with many others from their tribe. After finding sanctuary and assistance from the United Nations, Sandra and her family came to live in the U.S., where her identity as young black girl became more complicated, and where she now fights for justice for her slaughtered family members.
'Fighting Authoritarianism: American Youth Activism in the 1930s' by Britt Haas
An early-20th century youth movement in New York City focused on making the U.S. into a free democracy in which issues of social inequality would be solved by policy and peace. The students responsible fought their government representatives for a stronger New Deal that would meet these ends.
'Dreamers: An Immigrant Generation's Fight for Their American Dream' by Eileen Truax
With DACA and protections for undocumented immigrants in question today, it's a good time to revisit Eileen Truax's Dreamers, which examines how people without legal status in the U.S. are fighting for recognition and a place in the country they've always called home.
'We Fight To Win: Inequality and the Politics of Youth Activism' by Hava Rachel Gordon
Examining youth movements in Portland, Ore. and Oakland, Calif., Hava Rachel Gordon's We Fight to Win explores students' avenues for activism and how larger issues of racism, classism, and gender inequality can stand in the way of their progress.
'Red Power Rising: The National Indian Youth Council and the Origins of Native Activism' by Bradley G. Shreve
In the 1960s, indigenous youth from around the country joined forces to fight for racial equality, treaty enforcement, and the preservation of tribal cultures. Bradley G. Shreve documents the rise of the Red Power movement in this book.
'Igniting the Internet: Youth and Activism in Postauthoritarian South Korea' by Jiyeon Kang
When two U.S. soldiers were involved in a car crash that killed two South Korean teenagers, the country's youth took to the Internet to reflect, organize, and protest. In the wake of South Korea's successful ousting of President Geun-hye Park in 2017, Igniting the Internet is an important book for all young activists to read and examine thoroughly.
'Youth Activism in Egypt: Islamism, Political Protest and Revolution' by Ahmed Tohamy
Did you know that the Arab Spring began with youth activism? Me neither. Dive into the decade of student work for change in Ahmed Tohamy's Youth Activism in Egypt.
'Black Power in the Bluff City: African American Youth and Student Activism in Memphis, 1965–1975' by Shirletta J. Kinchen
While the NAACP was hard at work in Memphis in the 1960s, another, younger movement was just beginning. Memphis' early Black Power movement mobilized young people to do good work against the lingering effects of Jim Crow.
'We Took the Streets: Fighting for Latino Rights with the Young Lords' by Miguel Meléndez
Written by Young Lords co-founder Miguel Meléndez, We Took the Streets recalls the early days of the social movement, which was devoted to securing self-determination for Puerto Rico and its citizens.
'Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology,' edited by Amy Sonnie
Not the kind of activism you might think of when you hear the word, but every bit as revolutionary, this collection of writing, art, and performance from diverse, queer youth should be on everyone's TBR.
'Being Jazz' by Jazz Jennings
Trans girl Jazz Jennings has been in the spotlight since she was in elementary school, when her parents agreed to support her transition. She fought for two years to be allowed to play soccer with other girls, and started the TransKids Purple Rainbow Foundation to protect the rights of trans children. Being Jazz is her second book.
'Taking on the System: Rules for Radical Change in a Digital Era' by Markos Moulitsas Zúniga
Written by Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, Taking on the System is full of replicable strategies young people can use to reach their activism goals.
'Yes You Can! Your Guide to Becoming an Activist' by Jane Drake and Ann Love
Yes You Can! provides young activists with the tools they need to formulate a plan of action and effect social change. Environmental activists Jane Drake and Ann Love wrote this book with teens in mind, so be sure to pick up a copy for your favorite, young malcontent.
'An Autobiography' by Angela Y. Davis
A social justice champion ever since she was in the Girl Scouts, Angela Y. Davis has written many books on progressive movements and reform, including Women, Race, and Class and Are Prisons Obsolete?. She recounts her early life in this 1972 autobiography.
'Rebel Girls: Youth Activism and Social Change Across the Americas' by Jessica K. Taft
Containing stories from across North and South America, Rebel Girls is a brilliant, concise guide to modern-day justice movements spearheaded by young women.