Recently, the publishing industry has seen an uptick in books that showcase activism from the youth perspective. Books like She Persisted by Chelsea Clinton, Dear Martin by Nic Stone, and I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez broach topics of social justice and acknowledge the presence of racial, socioeconomic, and gender divides in our society.
We sat down with Jill Santopolo, editorial director at Philomel, and Josh Redlich, publicist at Random House Children’s Books, to talk about their experience acquiring and publishing these kinds of books.
Can you give us some context on the emergence of youth activism as a topic in children’s literature?
JS: There have been books focusing on kids as tiny activists for a long time—I remember reading 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth in the early 1990s—but when the government is humming along in a way that makes people feel comfortable, there’s less of an imperative to raise your voice and make yourself heard. I think the recent election has shown all of us—including, or perhaps especially, kids—that when there’s something important to you, something you want changed, you can speak out and make a difference. In the last year, we’ve seen that fighting for your beliefs is one of the bedrocks of our society and can have tangible effects. As an adult, I know that I want kids to understand that, and I think a lot of parents, teachers, writers, and publishers want that as well.
JR: Incorporating stories of young activism in publishing is not so much a “trend” as it is a necessity. With our social and political climate what it is, the need for activists has never been greater, and it is the responsibility of those in publishing—agents, authors, illustrators, editors, etc. —to share that with young readers. They are our future, and if we want our future to be any better than our present, we need to arm them with the tools that will let them rise up and make a positive difference.
How do these stories impact young readers?
JS: I hope stories about kids and teens who have effected change in their community will inspire the readers of those stories to harness their passion into activism.
JR: Publishing, children’s publishing in particular, has the ability to reach today’s youth directly with stories that inform them, inspire them, and, in many ways, shape the person they will one day become. By providing them with stories of other young activists, both fictional and true, we show young readers that their voice matters and that they too can make a difference.
What do you see for the future of books with young advocates?
JS: I hope that we never stop publishing books that empower young readers and encourage them to be empathetic, to use their voices, and to make a difference in the areas that matter most to them.
JR: I think we’re on the right track. We have picture books like The Pink Hat by Andrew Joyner, which illustrates the 2017 and 2018 Women’s Marches, as well as books for older children and teens like We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices, an upcoming anthology from Crown Books for Young Readers that features poems, letters, personal essays, and art about young activism. Let’s just keep books like these coming!
How can readers go beyond the book to increase their own activism?
JS: In addition to the wonderful books out there for and about young activists, I’d also suggest checking out DoSomething.org, which gives you lists of causes and organizations to support based on what you are passionate about. The Girl Scouts of America and Boy Scouts of America are also great, as is John and Hank Green’s Project for Awesome, in which thousands of people post videos advocating for charities, and communities then promote these videos and raise money for the charities.
JR: For teen advocates, Teen Vogue first comes to mind. They have made a shift toward covering and supporting social activism, and it’s a great resource. In a recent interview, the magazine’s former editor-in-chief, Elaine Welteroth, said of this evolution: “[O]ver the years we’ve realized that our mission was really to become more focused on making this an inclusive community, that speaks to every kind of young person.” That’s a message we can all get behind.
Neda Dallal is Coordinator of Publishing Development and Author Platforms for Penguin Random House.