Books for standing up

One of our greatest aims as parents is to pass on timeless values to our children. Explicit teaching is part of that, and modeling those values ourselves is important to their learning, too. Another critical component of their moral education is storytelling. Stories with characters and plot that show moral values (without moralizing) are my favorite tool for this kind of education. Story gives a person the ability to discover truth for themselves instead of just being told it. Story gives a person the chance to imagine how this truth applies to myriad people in different places and times. Story cements a person’s learning about the convictions therein and even compels them to share that learning when they invite others to join them in reading a good one. I could go on and on! Here are some of my favorite titles for teaching children about the value of standing up for what’s right, even when it is unpopular or imprudent.

A word of caution: while the authors handle complex issues like suffering and violence in a manner that’s appropriate for a range of children, I recommend pre-reading to make sure the stories are right for your children.

The Tuttle Twins Guide to Courageous Heroes
by Connor Boyack
You won’t want to miss the newest Tuttle Twins series. This particular guidebook recounts people who stand up for those who are bullied or even oppressed. The companion books share inspiring entrepreneurs and logical fallacies. Together this set will give you and your child plenty of chances to discuss critical thinking and moral fortitude.

The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet!
by Carmen Agra Deedy & Eugene Yelchin
The people in a noisy village elect a mayor to regulate the noise and at first they are happy with his rules. But when he begins to encroach on every area of their lives, peace is replaced with persecution. One rooster is not willing to submit to tyranny no matter how he is threatened:

“Aren’t you hungry you crazy bird?” wailed Don Pepe.
“Claro, of course,” said the gallito. “But if the sun can still shine despite this world’s troubles – how can I keep from singing?”
“And if you never see the sun again?” snarled the mayor. And he ran for a blanket to cover the cage.
“I may sing a darker song,” the brave gallito called after him. But I. Will. Sing.”

So Far from the Sea
by Eve Bunting & Chris K Soentpiet
Laura Iwasaki and her family visit her grandfather’s grave at Manzanar, a Japanese internment camp. The illustrations help the reader follow the split story that alternates between between the present day visit and the past injustices Laura’s father and grandfather experienced at the camp.

Show Way
by Jacqueline Woodson & Hudson Talbott
Woodson’s family heritage of oppression and courage is recounted in this lyrical picture book. It will be a title you’ll want to reread again and again!

Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust
by Eve Bunting & Stephen Gammell
The forest animals think that when their friends are taken away, it’s best not to say anything. They are frightened but think that laying low will keep them safe. But eventually, the Terrible Things come for everyone. Bunting highlights a sobering message about standing up for what’s right even when it seems dangerous.

Bold Tales of Bravehearted Boys
by Susannah McFarlane, Brenton McKenna, Simon Howe, Matt Huynh, & Louie Joyce
This chapter book compilation of reimagined fairytales showcases boys who are as kind and virtuous as they are daring and strong. They endeavor to make things right, including their adventures and rescues.

Ella Enchanted
by Gail Carson Levine
A blundering fairy tries to “help” little Ella and “blesses” her with the gift of obedience. As Ella grows up it’s clear this gift is a curse, but she stoutly refuses to accept her fate and endeavors instead to change it.

When We Were Alone
by David A Robertson & Julie Flett
A little girl asks her grandmother about her life when she was young, when she was forced to attend cultural assimilation schools and hide her cultural heritage.

It Began With a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way
by Kyo Maclear
Gyo Fujikawa grew up in a time when her options as a Japanese-American were limited. She persisted, overcoming many trials and creating beautiful, timeless picture books depicting kids of all colors.

A Voice of Her Own: The Story of Phillis Wheatley, Slave Poet
by Kathryn Lasky & Paul Lee
This picture book biography details Phillis Wheatley’s enslavement as well as her brilliant poetry. If your curiosity is piqued, you can read more of her story and her poetry in The Poems of Phillis Wheatley.

League of Heroes
by Rachelle Ferguson at Kittywham Productions
Seven novelists are shocked when their favorite literary heroes come to life, wanting to know why their authors put them through so much hardship. This witty full cast play explores what it means to overcome suffering. Team Hero, a shorter version, is intended for a single family or small group.

Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories
by Dr. Seuss
The turtles are commanded to stack higher and higher until one brave turtle speaks up, unwilling to suffer in silence. The pile topples and “all the turtles are free, as turtles, and maybe all creatures, should be.”

The Emperor’s New Clothes in Classic Storybook Fables
by Scott Gustafson
This familiar tale reminds us that children have a lot to teach us about going against the popular stance to speak the truth! Gustafson’s remarkable illustrations make this tale, and the others in the collection, worth lingering over.

The Chronicles of Narnia
by CS Lewis
Maybe Peter, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy were the first characters you thought of when I mentioned standing up. These siblings have suspenseful adventures and up close encounters with moral matters of eternal significance. They take missteps, experience grief, act fearfully – but with the help of Aslan they head into battle outnumbered but ready to fight for what’s right.
(Lewis wrote about this kind of moral courage in many of his books for adults, too!)

Queen Esther Saves Her People
by Rita Golden Gelman & Frane Lessac
An engaging and detailed retelling of the book of Esther and the origins of the Jewish festival of Purim. This picture book version is worth hunting for secondhand for its close following of the original story and truer representation of the Persian culture.

Anne of Green Gables collection
by LM Montgomery
Anne Shirley is quintessentially counter-cultural. She is not dissuaded from her creativity no matter how out of sync it is with the “normal” lives of people around her. Indeed, the more opposition she encounters, the more staunchly she sticks up for what she believes. As a young girl this gets her into scrapes, but it is a quality she hones and uses to stay true to her strong convictions as she grows.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
by JK Rowling
Hogwarts students encounter real tyranny in book 5 of the HP series. As the newest professor of Defence Against the Dark Arts, toad-like Dolores Umbridge wields oppressive rules, abusive punishments, and deliberate removal of all that makes the students’ lives celebratory and joyful. Harry and friends are unwilling to comply, remaining stalwart in standing up to her at any cost.

The Giver Quartet
by Lois Lowry
The Giver kicks off this renowned four book dystopian series. Jonas becomes The Receiver at his coming of age ceremony and begins to see the truth about the tepid society surrounding him. He grows uncomfortable, then angry at his people’s sameness and compliance that contributes to violence and death.

Foundations: 12 Biblical Truths to Shape a Family
by Ruth Chou Simons & Troy Simons
This bonus recommendation is a family devotional, not a story, but it is worth a look. Ruth Chou Simons is a prolific author and artist, and this is a glimpse into how she and her husband are raising their six boys. Strengthen your family by spending some time on foundational truth.