12 Children’s Picture Books about Human Rights Issues

Every human being has rights. From the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, each of us – woman, child, and man – has certain rights that are meant to help us live with sufficiency, safety, and dignity. December is Universal Human Rights Month, an especially poignant time to discuss issues of human rights with young people.

Use these 12 children’s picture books to help start the conversation.

1. Every Human Has Rights: A Photographic Declaration for Kids
2008. Grades 3-7.
Accompanied by photos and poems by young people, this book offers simple definitions for the 30 rights listed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

2. I Have the Right to Be a Child by Aurelia Fronty
2012. Grades K-3.
“I am a child with eyes, hands, a voice, a heart, and rights.” In simple text this book highlights some of the many rights represented in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, including the right to an education, to play, to clean air and water, and to be protected from harm.

3. My Name Was Hussein by Hristo Kyuchukov
2004. Grades 2-5.
Hussein, a Muslim Roma who lives in Bulgaria, has a happy life until soldiers come and the government tells his family they all must become Christians and change their names.

4. The Stamp Collector by Jennifer Lanthier
2012. Grades 3-6.
Two boys in an unnamed country grow up far from each other, but as adults, their passions and lives bring them together: one as a prisoner whose words bring hope to many, but which have also sent him to prison – and to his death; the other a prison guard who is moved to help the prisoner by ensuring that his words live on.

5. Sélavi: That is Life: A Haitian Story of Hope by Youme Landowne
2005. Grades 1–4.
“Not so long ago and not so far away, people with guns could take a family, burn a house and disappear, leaving a small child alone in the world.” In this story, Haitian street children band together and work to create a life – and a home — for themselves.

6. Running Shoes by Frederick Lipp
2007. Grades 1-5.
Every year the “numbers man” comes to Sophy’s village to count the residents. This year he notices Sophy, whose family is very poor, admiring his running shoes. When a pair of running shoes arrive for Sophy a few weeks later, she is delighted, because this means that she can run to the school eight kilometers away. When the numbers man returns the next year, Sophy has a gift for him: she can read and write.

7. Yasmin’s Hammer by Ann Malaspina
2010. Grades 1-5.
Yasmin and her sister spend their days working hard in the brickyards to help make money for their family. Yasmin dreams of going to school so that she can have a better life (“… I don’t want to sweep a rich lady’s floor”), and decides to take action herself to help her dream come true.

8. The Carpet Boy’s Gift by Pegi Dietz Shea
2003. Grades 2-5.
A young boy who labors in a carpet factory is inspired by former child slave Iqbal Masih and summons the courage to fight for his freedom and lead the children in the factory to the new school in town.

9. The Composition by Antonia Skarmeta
2003. Grades 2-6.
Children living under a military dictatorship are pressured to reveal “What My Family Does at Night” through writing a composition. What can Pedro do?

10. Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh
2014. Grades 2-5.
When Sylvia Mendez and her family move to Westminster, California, and try to enroll in the neighborhood school, Sylvia’s parents are told “Your children have to go to the Mexican school.” The only reason given? “That is how it is done.” Sylvia, her family, and others in the community must fight to attend their neighborhood school. Will they win?

11. Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed
2007. Grades 1-5.
When relief workers bring donated clothing to the refugee camp in Peshawar, Lina discovers a sandal just her size. But another girl, Feroza, has claimed the other. Eventually the girls work out a way to share the sandals, each wearing the sandals on alternate days, and their friendship grows. When Lina’s family is finally sent to America, Feroza gives her one of the sandals to keep—to always remember their friendship.

12. Our Rights: How Kids are Changing the World by Janet Wilson
2013. Grades 3-7.
Offers brief profiles of children around the world who are working to help people in need, including other children.  Examples include Nujood from Yemen, who speaks out about child marriage; Hanwood from South Korea, who brings attention to issues of bullying; and Anita from India, who helps girls become educated and empowered. (Note that some of the topics are appropriate only for older children.) Suggestions at the end of the book offer ideas for taking action and learning more.

Find more suggested children’s books in our online Resource Center.