Encourage your young world changers with these incredible books that inspire kids to be leaders! From picture books to chapter books, these works showcase people overcoming obstacles to follow their dreams as well as real life heroes who made a difference in the world. What inspires you?
Disclosure: I received complimentary copies of the books below for review purposes; however, all opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.
Books that Inspire Kids to Be Leaders
Mayanito’s New Friends/ Los Nuevos Amigos De Mayanito is a beautiful allegory of a young prince who befriends children from distant lands and journeys far from his rainforest home to visit them. The animals of the jungle help him on his quest, until he is reunited with his friends and even brings them back to the his village to celebrate their global friendship. Prince Mayanito declares all the children of the hemisphere as his tribe and from his home at the equator can listen to music coming from his world map. A lovely story from the late poet and playwright Tato Laviera, with gorgeous illustrations of Mayanito’s lush rainforest home. I love stories like this that celebrate what unites us despite our differences and that recognize that children don’t have to wait to to grow up to become leaders.
One of the most famous Latin American leaders was José Martí, the Cuban poet who traveled the world to advocate for the oppressed and to speak out for Cuba’s independence from Spain. This wonderful picture book tells of the inspiration behind his convictions as well as the sacrifices he made for them, living in exile from his beloved island for so many years and later dying in battle in the war for its independence. I love that Martí’s Song for Freedom / Martí y sus versos por la libertad uses Martí’s own verses to tell his story, inspiring another generation with the legendary words of this great freedom fighter. Includes historical notes at the end for even more information about this incredible figure.
Remember the Ladies (Ellis the Elephant) celebrates the often overlooked contributions of America’s first ladies, such as Abigail Fillmore, who helped build the collection of the national library, and Edith Wilson, who helped fulfill her husband’s duties when he became ill. These women are remarkable leaders in their own right, including one of my personal heroes, Eleanor Roosevelt. Written by a diplomat, this book keeps a steady hand even when discussing more recent first ladies, celebrating achievements from women from both sides of the political aisle. Featuring the adorable character Ellis the Elephant, it also includes more detailed biographies of all the featured women at the end of the book.
For most kids, reading about the history of the US Senate would seem incredibly dry, but the story of Dennis Chávez is completely the opposite. Dennis Chávez: The First Hispanic US Senator/ El Primer Senador Hispano De Los Estados Unidos is a beautifully done biography for older kids of the first US-born Hispanic Senator, one of the most remarkable leaders you’ve never heard of. Indeed, as I was reading, I found myself asking over and over, Why is this the first time I am reading about him? Born in rural New Mexico before it was even a state, Dionisio Chávez grew up speaking only Spanish, tending sheep, and living in a house with dirt floors and no indoor plumbing. But he was bright and motivated, and quickly learned English and excelled at his studies. Then in 7th grade, he had to drop out of school to work and was never able to complete high school or college.
Yet he went on to graduate from Georgetown Law School and serve as a US Senator for 27 years. Inspired by his own first hand experiences of injustice, he fought tirelessly for minorities and workers, even standing up to McCarthy at a time when speaking out against him was virtually unthinkable. Throughout it all he maintained his optimism and commitment to faith and family.
This gem is written by the Senator’s own granddaughter and puts Chávez’s accomplishments squarely within the context of history. She also brings out the warmth of his personality and sincerity of his convictions. A book that will inspire any child to stand up for what they believe in, no matter how great the obstacles.
Do you ever wish you could teach bullies a lesson? The Shameless Shenanigans of Mister Malo/ Las Terribles Travesuras De Mister Malo is a wonderful bilingual chapter book about a boy who does just that, on a regular basis. Through his secret persona Mister Malo, Lance takes assignments from other fourth graders – with payment in fruit snacks – to take care of kids who are making their lives miserable. But when his payback to one playground bully backfires, Mister Malo is forced to look deeper to try and discover why bullies act like they do. Lance also faces a bully of his own and must learn to stand up for himself, without the comforting mask of Mister Malo.
This book not only teaches important lessons, it’s incredibly funny as well – but parents should be warned that there is plenty of bathroom humor, though of course young readers will love this! Let’s just say that the climax of the book is when Lance and his buddies create a school project all about why people fart! This, um, unique project is not just for laughs – it actually resolves a bully problem for a young girl who has been teased mercilessly for tooting on the playground.
Really fun bilingual chapter book for young readers about how to deal with bullies in unconventional ways.
Among the great inspirational figures of the twentieth century is the groundbreaking Jackie Robinson. The Hero Two Doors Down: Based on the True Story of Friendship Between a Boy and a Baseball Legend is written by none other than Jackie Robinson’s daughter! An accomplished author, Ms. Robinson tells the charming tale of a young white boy and his incredible friendship with the legendary baseball player during the beginning of his career in the major leagues. It was common at that time for Dodgers players and their families to rent rooms in Brooklyn neighborhoods during the season, so when 8 year old Steve finds out his hero is moving to his street, he feels like he’s just won the lottery!
But Jackie Robinson teaches Steve about more than just baseball. He shows Steve how to deal with bullies and inspires him to do well in school and follow his dreams. Even more than that, during a time of deep racial and religious divides, this African American legend showed a young Jewish boy how to reach across lines and build bridges instead. The Robinson and Satlow families remain close to this day, and their story gives a wonderful glimpse of the remarkable man behind the myth.
Baseball is also center stage in Out of Left Field, a wonderful new chapter book about a girl determined to bring the real history of baseball to light. The year is 1957, and Katy Gordon loves nothing more than standing on the mound and throwing one of her famous pitches, shocking the boys who never expect a girl to be able to play ball like she can. But when she is barred from Little League because baseball has supposedly always been a man’s sport, she turns her frustration into a zeal for digging up the forgotten history of women in baseball in order to prove them wrong.
Young readers will easily relate to Katy, an ordinary girl driven to do extraordinary things because of a passion for justice and her beloved baseball. They will also enjoy getting to know her unconventional family – the professor mom who encourages Katy in her quest, and her sisters, an engineer and an artist, who inspire Katy to follow her passion. I love that throughout Katy’s mom takes her seriously, offering support and advice without condescending or doing the work for her. And being from California, of course I enjoyed the detailed portrait of life in San Francisco during the era of Sputnik and the Little Rock Nine.
While the story is fictional, many of the women showcased in the story – such as Maud Nelson, Jackie Mitchell, and Toni Stone – are not. Generations before Mo’ne Davis pitched a shutout in the Little League World Series, girls and women fought simply to have a place on the field. This book brings well deserved attention to their struggle and their incredible talent.
How do you inspire your children to be leaders?