Summer Reading to Inspire Middle School Activists

Teachers whose student are interested in tackling local or national issues can share these titles now or use them in the classroom next year. Summer is an ideal time for students to enthrall themselves in reading. Books can take them on adventures in fantastic places and help them focus on essential matters close to home. As you read about characters exploring issues within their communities. Books can be powerful tools for developing empathy and inspiring action.

Books that explore themes of social justice focus on issues of human rights and dignity. Equality and access to resources, personal responsibility and choices affecting the community. And change through action. Once students return to the classroom. These books guide them to discuss these issues meaningfully with their peers, and schools that engage in design thinking or project-based learning can help students find opportunities to make a difference, for example, by writing a letter to their local government or organizing a fundraiser.

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Finding Their Voices

An engaging picture book, No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History, is a set of biographies of young activists working for causes they care about. Some have drawn attention to issues of representation, such as Marley Dias, founder of #1000BlackGirlBooks. Others tackle environmental justice, like Mari Copen, who has raised money for water filters in Flint, Michigan.

Reading can be a gateway to wisdom and action for those who want to use their voice for evolution. After reading, students can request themselves, “What did you already know about this subject?” “How has my understanding of this problem changed?” and “What steps can I take now or in the future to support?” The reflection method is valuable whether a reader presents their awareness or edifies them to produce an effort.


The double standards in school dress codes and the excessive policing of girls bodies are on display in Dress Coded, a novel by Carrie Firestone. To defend a friend who feels embarrassed and unfairly punished for violating the dress code, eighth-grade protagonist Molly starts a podcast in which girls share stories likely to be familiar to many middle-grade readers, stories that they highlight how dress codes intersect with issues of race and body size to impact girls’ self-esteem and feelings of belonging in school.

In Strange Birds: 

In a Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers by Celia C. Pérez, a diverse group of girls find unity despite their differences to end an outdated and troubled tradition at a local Girl Scout-type group, Floras. The novel addresses environmental justice, and intersectional feminism as Ofelia, Aster, Cat, and Lane explore ways of protesting that carry different risk levels for each due to their identities and relative privilege.

Count Me In by Varsha Bajaj is the story of two high school students, Karina and Chris. Told in alternate voices. The novel follows their unlikely friendship and how an incident of anti-Asian violence involving Karina’s grandfather shakes her community. Karina uses social media to post her feelings, attracting support from the entire community.

Understand the past and the present.

To understand today’s problems, students must understand how they began. One book that frees light on the past of racism in America in an available way is Stampa (For Kids): Bigotry, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ihram X. Kenda, adjusted by Sonja Cherry-Paul and defined by Rachelle Baker. This chapter book is the second adaptation for young readers of Kandi’s book Coined From the Origin: The Definitive Record of Racist Pictures in America.

Aimed at elementary and middle school readers. Cherry-Paul’s adaptation helps children learn the history of racist ideas and how to end them in their own lives. End the fight. The Brave and Revolutionary Women Who Fought for the Right to Vote by Veronica Chambers and writers from The New York Times document the lives of women of colour who fought to have their voices heard and continued.

An excellent anthology that celebrates these and other sacrifices and envisions a brighter future is Dictionary for a Better World Poems, Quotes, and Anecdotes From A to Z by Irene Latham and Charles Waters and explained by Mehrdokht Amina. In dictionary format, the book presents ideas that can help make the world a better place. Action items are included with each poem. Quote, or an anecdote so children can practice what it means to be an activist.

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