Using books to encourage discussion around social issues and climate change

Published on: 18 April 2023

Author Samantha Hawkins explores why books are so important in showing children that they can make a change in the world. The revolution may start with a book!

The front cover of My Mummy Marches

We are what we read.

We need to be instilling in our children a desire to open their minds and hearts to books on social justice, activism and environmental responsibility. Leaders are readers!

And thankfully, there are so many wonderful books on some of the most influential leaders in our world. Behind every great leader is the backbone to stand up for something she or he believed in, and the nerve to do something uncommonly extraordinary.

A major part of why I was inspired to write my debut children's picture book My Mummy Marches was because I wanted to give parents a book to introduce the concept of 'activism' to their kids. No child is too young to learn the value of using their hands and feet to campaign for social, environmental and economic change in the world they live in.

The revolution that our children will lead will be propelled by the solutions and inspiration they find in books.

Making a difference in the world

The front cover of Be Kind - an illustration of a child holding up an umbrella to cover another child, who is shivering in the rain

Activism means fighting for the change you wish to see in the world. It can start with a thought or a desire to make the world around you a better place for yourself, your family, friends, classmates, and so on. No cause is too small or unimportant to champion if it means contributing to making the world a nicer, safer place for everyone.

Children need to read books that teach them that accountability to the world we call home starts with being kinder to everything and everyone around us. It's about kindness in action!

Two great books that convey this message of how kindness can be the chain reaction that produces real change in your community are The Power of One by Trudy Ludwig and Mike Curato and Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller and Jen Hill.

Everyone can have an impact

An illustration from Old Enough to Save the Planet - a group of children working hard to look after a forest area, picking litter, riding bikes and planting trees

Children deserve to read books that teach them that ONE is a powerful number. It truly can take just one person to start a movement, a wave, a revolution, or a push toward making the kind of progress this world needs.

Like Greta Thunberg, who was just one young Swedish teenager on a mission to reduce carbon emissions in her country and ended up becoming the face of environmental activism for her generation, daring to challenge world leaders to take action against a looming climate crisis.

One person can make a difference. One person can light the fire that ignites others to seek change too.

Two awesome books I recommend on Greta's story (and other changemakers like her) are Our House Is on Fire: Greta Thunberg's Call to Save the Planet by Jeanette Winter and Old Enough to Save the Planet by Loll Kirby and Adelina Lirius.

Building compassion and empathy

An illustration from the front cover of Say Something: a group of children protesting, holding signs, guitars, wearing slogan T-shirts and speaking through megaphones

Reading books to our children about activism also means teaching them about compassion towards others. Sometimes, the battles we will pick might not be because of a wrong done to us; sometimes it will be because of something done to someone else.

Sometimes, activism is taking a stand for the invisible, the voiceless, the overlooked, or the forgotten. It might look like standing up for a classmate being judged for the way they look, the way they wear their hair, or the culture they belong to. It might sound like speaking up for someone who is being bullied or mistreated.

As responsible adults, we need to encourage our children to SAY SOMETHING, DO SOMETHING when they see any injustice happening. Here are a couple of books I recommend that teaches kids that at any age they have the power to impact their world: Change Sings: A Children's Anthem by Amanda Gorman and Loren Long and Say Something! by Peter H. Reynolds.

Exploring social justice

An illustration from The Fog - a bird and a child looking at each other through binoculars

Every child deserves to learn what social justice looks like for everyone because their future depends on it – our future depends on it!

Reading books that teach our children how to combat bigotry, hate or racism will mean a future where every child can grow up to be a happy, safe, contented and fulfilled adult. Taking a stand against social injustice will mean a brighter future for everyone everywhere, and a world where no one will have their civil rights violated because of the colour of their skin.

Calling for fewer disposable plastics in our schools will mean a future that isn't overrun by waste, garbage, or plastic pollution. And speaking of saving our planet from being overrun by waste, these two books about protecting our planet are incredible: The Fog by Kyo Maclear and Kenard Pak and We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom and Michaela Goade.

Making a difference every day

An illustration from the front cover of The Pink Hat - a girl smiling walking down the street holding a sign, watched by smiling children and a smiling dog and cat; the illustration is in black and white except for the girl's hat, which is pink

Every adult in this world owes it to our children to introduce them to books that talk about social responsibility and accountability in our everyday life practices. Are they reading picture books on recycling, reusing items we would normally dispose of, and reducing our carbon footprint?

Are we showing our children books that will encourage them to be unafraid to speak up over social issues that are plaguing our world?

Are we filling up their libraries with books that champion a more inclusive world, books about marching for truth and justice, or about getting involved in causes that affect our future and the future of Earth?

The leaders of the future are being made today!

Let's all do our part to help contribute to giving them all the tools, resources, support, and examples to be leaders in the here and now, too. Two books I love that encourage children to be the change they want to see in the world are The Pink Hat by Andrew Joyner and The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Brian Mealer.

My Mummy Marches by Samantha Hawkins and Cory Reid is available now.

Booklists to try

If you're looking for more inspirational reads, these great books could be just the thing.

Eco-warriors and activists

From fighting plastic to shutting down fast fashion, explore our list of practical guides for those who want to change the world for the better.

All sorts of heroes (younger children)

These books are perfect for showing toddlers and younger children that there are all sorts of everyday heroes in life, including even themselves.

Black Lives Matter

Our pick of the top books that examine the structural oppression experienced by people of colour, aimed at inspiring and empowering young children to talk about anti-racism.

Kindness, compassion and empathy: picture books

Help put your child in another person's shoes with these books that inspire compassion: whether that's towards animals, friends, or people in very different situations to your own.

Celebrating inspirational women

Whether it's International Women's Day or not, it's always worth pointing out and celebrating the – often forgotten or undervalued – achievements of women, both past and present.

National Children's Day

National Children's Day is all about the importance of a happy, healthy childhood and celebrating the achievements of some of the world's most inspiring young people. Which is your favourite?

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