Human rights for kids

1 January 2014 by

to-kill-a-mockingbird-first-edition1UKHRB editor Adam Wagner asked Twitter for suggestions of human rights kids for books… and Twitter responded! Here are some of those responses, compiled by Thomas Horton.

‘Whether Maycomb knows it or not, we’re paying the highest tribute we can pay a man. We trust him to do right. It’s that simple.’ (Harper Lee, Nelle ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, Ch. 24)

Whether Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ (as recommended by @Kirsty_Brimelow) will impact a child so much that they want to become a human rights lawyer is not a given. Yet there are plenty of classic novels and human rights-centered literature aimed at a younger audience which give children the opportunity to learn human rights principles. The legal twittersphere responded in their droves to suggestions of such literature, and below are just a selection of what is available:

A Bag of Marbles, Joseph Joffo (recommended by @SCynic1)

A story following two young Jewish brothers avoiding German soldiers occupying their country to escape being sent to concentration camps. Joffo presents a Jewish 10-year-old’s perspective of World War II, providing a comprehendible understanding of what children experienced during wartime.

A is for Activist, Innosanto Nagara (recommended by @clivebaldwin)

An ABC Book that teaches the importance of activism for the protection of equality, justice and the values of community. D is for Democracy.

Anne Frank’s Diary (recommended by @Yyadiloh)

The diary of a young Jewish girl during World War II that has provided the world with one of the most insightful and shocking understandings of a Jewish family in hiding from the invading Nazis and the fate beheld at concentration camps.

Briar Rose, Jana Yolen (recommended by @still_i_sing)

A retelling of the Brothers Grimm’s ‘Briar Rose’ (Sleeping Beauty). Gemma had repetitively told the classic fairytale to her grandchildren. Following her death, one of her grandchildren, believing there was a hidden meaning to the fairytale, discovers that her grandmother was a Holocaust survivor. How her grandmother survived provides a perceptive story demonstrating the fortune of her survival juxtaposed with the atrocities of the concentration camps.

Comfort Herself, Geraldine Kaye (recommended by @sleepgoldfish)

Comfort, the young protagonist, is faced with the decision of staying in England, or travelling to Africa to find her father following the death of her mother. The book is ideal for those trying to understand their individuality and the importance of that to Comfort as she makes her decision.

I Have the Right to be a Child, Alain Serres (recommended by @STrimel)

193 countries have signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This book takes the 54 articles of the Convention and translates them into language and artwork that children can understand.

If a Bus Could Talk, Ringgold Faith (recommended by @goldshirt9)

The inspirational story of Rosa Parks who helped change a country is recapitulated for children, providing a terrific introduction to the importance of standing up for civil rights.

Kiss the Dust, Elizabeth Laird (recommended by @KateMaltby)

A story about a teenage girl named Tara fleeing from Kurdistan to England at the time of the First Gulf War to find refuge. Following the dangerous journey to England, Tara then has to come to terms with being away from home, which provides for an enlightening perspective of those who have to adapt to new lifestyles and cultures out of necessity following traumatic experiences.

Losing Agir: A story of courage, justice and love, crossing borders and cultures, Liz Fisher-Frank (@lizfisherfrank) (recommended by @AlisonCIHBoard)

Drawing on many years’ experience as a children’s rights lawyer, the author presents the story of two children in foster care, Alice and Agir. The latter is a teenage Kurdish boy who was forced to flee to the UK and in doing so he is forced into child trafficking. Alice accordingly learns the truth of her foster home. An account of two people in care following tragedies they have suffered, mixed with the legal knowledge of the author, provides for an enthralling journey for justice and the relationship this brings between people.

The Paper Bag Princess, Robert Munsch (recommended by @ruth_dixon)

A princess story that challenges the dogmatic conceptions of fairytales, encourages challenges to stereotypes, and promotes independence.

The Silver Sword, Ian Serraillier (recommended by @Maggotlaw)

A well-researched story of a Polish family torn apart by the Nazi invasion of Poland and then reunited at the end of World War II. The survival of the family, and in particular the development of the Children’s instincts and cooperation demonstrates the difficulties of surviving war and what war risks taking away.

We Are All Born Free: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Pictures, Amnesty International (recommended by @niamhable)

A self-explanatory title, providing an easy-to-understand account of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 30 rules for the world to live by.

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, Judith Kerr (recommended by @AdamWagner1)

A semi-autobiographical, fictional story demonstrating the suffering endured for one’s belief in their faith during World War II. The Nazis target Anna’s father, a famous Jewish writer. The target placed on Anna’s father and all the family sees her safety and childhood destroyed as they flee from one country to the next. The need for secrecy during their movements is vital, and even requires Anna to leave her pink rabbit at home in Berlin to ensure their survival.

And there are plenty more

Even this brief review shows that periods of cruel actions of humans sometimes inspire great literature for children. The understanding of justice and freedom, which forms the basis of human rights protections, can be instilled in children from a young age thanks in part to this literature. Ignorance of these principles and available resources is not strength: 1984, George Orwell (recommended by @_tomhorton).

Further suggestions are welcome via the comments! And for other sources of information, see:

Thomas Horton is a paralegal at HowardKennedyFsi and is Assistant Editor of Keep Calm Talk Law

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  1. “Giraffes Can’t Dance” Giles Andrae & Guy Parker-Rees, suitable for babies to adults! Message is about celebrating differences (quote: “sometimes when you’re different you just need a different song”). Lovely way to explain how everyone is unique, but worth the same. Good intro to HR I think :)

  2. Nicky Parker says:

    Great blog and some wonderful responses! And I totally agree with you about the power of kids’ fiction. My work at Amnesty International UK is about encouraging awareness of links between fiction and human rights . It doesn’t have to be literary fiction, either. Graphic novels, adventure stories, humour and picture books for little ones can have just as much power in stimulating awareness of human rights. They also help develop readers’ empathy – to get under the skin of characters from child soldiers to teddy bears – which takes us a step closer to combating prejudice and standing up for human rights.

    Some recommendations: Bob Graham writes and illustrates some lovely books for small children (age 4+) that go right to the uplifting heart of human rights – try How to Heal a Broken Wing and A Bus Called Heaven, also his new one Silver Buttons. For upper primary, you could try Amnesty’s short story anthology FREE?, with contributions by top writers including Malorie Blackman, Roddy Doyle and David Almond. For 11 to 14 year olds (roughly) try Michael Morpurgo’s very moving Shadow, set partly in Afghanistan. Henning Mankell (better known for his Inspector Wallander series) has written an extraordinarily moving novel for teens called Secrets in the Fire, based on the true story of a friend of his who stepped on a landmine in Mozambique – it sounds terrible but is a great read and very inspiring. Patricia McCormick and Suzanne Fisher Staples are consistent in their incorporation of human rights into their children’s novels, as is Benjamin Zephaniah.

    Due out this March is Tribute by Ellen Renner, set in a fantasy world but extremely well written and tremendously pacy. The human rights that leap out – despite the setting not being out world – are our rights to freedom, equality, life, to an identity, to privacy, education, safety, to enjoy our own culture, not to be tortured… It’s for 12+.

    Most of the above books are endorsed by Amnesty and we also produce free teacher notes on using fiction to teach about human rights – see

    And thanks to the person who recommended Amnesty’s picture book We Are All Born Free! We’re just in the process of commissioning its follow-up, What is Freedom? as well as a short story anthology for teens, designed to inspire readers to stand up for all of our human rights.

    I would love to hear from anyone wanting to know more and/or get involved with Amnesty’s work on fiction!

  3. Another good book, I used it with 12 -16 age group but could read with younger is Friedrich by Hans Peter Richter:
    I have found it particularly good for exploring conscious and unconscious prejudice and their relationship to discrimination and disempowerment.

  4. Gutted my suggestion of “¡Si, Se Puede! / Yes, We Can!” about the famous janitor strike of 2000 in Los Angeles didn’t get a mention! It is told from the perspective of a latino immigrant boy whose mother is striking for better conditions. It’s nicely illustrated and bilingual.

  5. Beth Lubin says:

    Animal Farm by Orwell for kids 10+, perhaps?

  6. I would welcome suggestions for the age range of the books.

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