Eight books that empower children to stand up for themselves

Published on: 20 November 2023

Author A. M. Dassu shares her favourite books that show children they have rights. 

Young people have very little control over their own lives. They can’t choose where they live or who they live with. They often can’t walk away from the circumstances surrounding them and they cannot change the way their identity is perceived or stereotyped. And so when an issue arises on a global, national or even community level that ultimately impacts their future, they might feel they have even less control or influence.

This is why it’s important to give young people the tools to feel empowered and show them that even in less than ideal circumstances they can use their voice and that they have rights. They might feel they can’t impact restrictions to their rights or climate change or even immigration laws, but we can show them that their opinions and voices can bring change, and we can do this at first through books.  

Here are eight books that empower young people to stand up for themselves: 

Our Rights!: Stories and Poems about Childrens Rights, edited by Jake Hope, for ages 8-12

I’m really proud to have my very first short story published in this important and much-needed collection of stories and poems, edited by leading children's book consultant Jake Hope and illustrated by Ruthine Burton, Chih-An Chen and Habiba Nabisubi, recent graduates of the Pop-Up Pathways scheme. 

You’ll find offerings from 22 well-known authors and poets, including two UK Children's Laureateshighlighting that all children have the right to life; the right to protection from violence and abuse; to education; to express their opinions and be listened to. The stories and poems are inclusive, diverse, thought-provoking and will encourage discussion. And what I love best is that all author royalties go to Amnesty International.  

Here’s a list of contributors: Valerie Bloom, Sita Brahmachari, Cathy Cassidy, Maisie Chan, Joseph Coelho, Dom Conlon, A.M. Dassu, Nicola Davies, Anne Fine, Jamila Gavin, Morris Gleitzman, Jake Hope, Paul Jennings, Elizabeth Laird, CG Moore, Jackie Morris, Beverley Naidoo, RR O'Neill, Rashmi Sirdeshpande, Chitra Soundar, Jordan Stephens, Benjamin Zephaniah. 

Children Who Changed the World: Incredible True Stories About Children's Rights! by Marcia Williams, for ages 8-12 

This book marks the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the amazing children from all over the world who have stood up for those rights. 
You’ll read about children you have heard of such as Malala Yousafzai, and also inspiring activists who have not made global headlines, like Baruani Ndume, who, when he became a refugee in Tanzania, was told refugee children have the right to special help. His life changed in that moment and he dedicated it to helping other refugee children share their stories by setting up a radio programme. It was so successful, he reunited families and even won a prize for his work.

There are so many more stories like this that are inspirational andare the perfect way to start a conversation about children’s rights. Fully illustrated in a comic-book style, it will appeal to all children and perhaps even help them to discover great role models!

Read Marcia's blog: "Meet the children who changed the world"

Malala: My Story of Standing Up for Girls' Rights; Illustrated Edition for Younger Readers by Malala Yousafzaiand Patricia McCormick, for ages 7-9  

This is the abridged and illustrated chapter book edition, adapted from Malala Yousafzai's memoir, I Am Malala, and is aimed at readers aged 7+. It showcases the incredible story of teenage Malala, who risked her life for the right to go to school and get an education. 

It’s a hugely inspiring story that shows what can be achieved when we stand up for our rights. The black and white artwork, font size and age-appropriate content make this book a great way to introduce your child to Malalathe youngest person ever to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.   

A beautiful picture book for 6-9 year olds that celebrates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Each declaratio– from all of us being born free and equal, to having the right to live in freedom and safetyis illustrated by an internationally renowned artist or illustrator such as Axel Scheffler, Chris Riddell and Satoshi Kitamura. It is published in association with Amnesty International, and has a foreword by David Tennant and John BoyneThis book serves as a great introduction to human rights and as a springboard to delve deeper into the topic.

Here's who you can expect to enjoy artwork from: Axel Scheffler, Peter Sis, Satoshi Kitamura, Alan Lee, Polly Dunbar, Jackie Morris, Debi Gliori, Chris Riddell, Catherine and Laurence Anholt and many more! 

You Are a Champion: How to Be the Best You Can Beby Marcus Rashfordand contributors Katie Warrinerand Carl Anka, for ages 9-12

Marcus Rashford MBE is a world-famous footballer and inspiring campaigner for the ending of child food poverty. In this book he shows how to achieve your dreams using stories from his life, and contributor Katie Warriner gives tips from a performance psychology perspective. Readers will hopefully leave this book comfortable with who they are, confident to dream bigto practise and work hard, knowing you can learn from mistakes, and to use their voice to stand up for others. It also has an afterword by Tim S. Grover, who is a trainer and mentor to Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan. Perfect inspiration for 9-12 year olds!  

Every Child a Song: A Celebration of Children's Rights by Nicola Davies and illustrated byMarc Martin, for ages 5-7  

A beautiful, lyrical picture book that explores the universal rights that every child is entitled to under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the global issues children face.  

It starts by showing the arrival of a newborn and all the things we need to thrive, including love, protection, a home, a name, the chance to explore and learn. Then it sensitively expands to look at global issues such as child labour, exploitation and war, showing how we can all champion children's rights and support those in need. This book will encourage readers to speak up and treat others with compassion. 

5% of the selling price of each book sold is given to The Young Center for Immigrant Childrens Rights, a human rights organisation that advocates for the rights and best interests of immigrant children. 

Speak Up! by Nathan Bryonand illustrated byDapo Adeola, for ages 3-8 

This gorgeous, empowering picture book follows Rocket as she organises a peaceful protest to save her local library. For children aged 3-8, it showcases inspiring activists from Black history, such as Rosa Parks, and empowers readers by showing we have power in our voice and what can happen when we speak up about the things that matter. Ultimately, it encourages readers to stand up for what’s right. Did I mention, I’m a Rocket fan? 

Stand Up and Speak Out Against Racism by Yassmin Abdel-Magied, illustrated by Aleesha Nandhra, for ages 9+

This important book, with full colour illustrations, is a brilliant way to introduce young people aged 9+ to racism and give them the tools to stand up to it. School children were asked what they wanted to know about racism and how to fight for social justice by the author, in order to write this book, which makes this so meaningful. In it, you learn how racism started, what it looks like today and importantly, how we can stand up and speak out against racism. It contains plenty of practical and empowering suggestions, such as asking someone why a racist joke is funny to them to figuring out why someone might think you’re racist when you don’t believe you are

This book will help encourage conversations, build empathy and hopefully empower young people to speak up for what’s right 

A. M. DASSU is the internationally acclaimed author of Boy, Everywhere and Fight Back, and Kicked Out, which are available now. You can also find her on X@a_reflective or Instagram @a.m.dassu. 

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