5 Picture Books About Californian Changemakers

Kadie Seitz, Librarian, Youth Services,
13 kids who came all the way from Little Rock, Arkansas to protest outside of Stevie Wonder's manager's office
Protesting for a good cause, [1982]. Photo credit: Mike Mullen, Herald Examiner Collection

California Nouns: People, Places, and Things
Californian Changemakers

California is full of dreamers and doers, whose efforts large and small remind us that we, too, can make a difference in our communities. From thinking up new ideas to using their talents for the benefit of all, to standing up for what’s right, the people featured in these books have made California (and the world) a better place. If you and your little ones are looking for some inspiration to make a change, check out these books for inspiration.

Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood
Campoy, F. Isabel

Mira lives in a big, gray city and wants to make her neighborhood as full of color and joy as her home is. So she starts making colorful paintings and handing them out to her neighbors. This small act of kindness inspires a local artist, who inspires an entire community to embrace art, color, and joy. This picture book is based on the true story of the East Village near downtown San Diego and will inspire you to create some colorful art of your own. Recommended for ages 4+.

Fun fact: The illustrator of Maybe Something Beautiful (Rafael López), created the real Urban Art Trail in San Diego in 1997. He has worked with communities all around the country to create urban art similar to the art in the book.

We Can: Portraits of Power
Gordon, Tyler

While the people featured in this book are all important changemakers in their own right, the reason this book is featured in this list is because of the author/illustrator himself: Tyler Gordon. Tyler is a 15-year-old Californian whose paintings have been featured all around the world. In this book, he tells readers both about interesting people that have inspired him and his own life story (so far). Recommended for ages 4+.

Fun fact: Tyler’s portrait of Vice President Kamala Harris went viral and caught the attention of the Vice President herself, who called Tyler to thank him for his art.

Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag
Sanders, Rob

Every June during Pride month (and often all year round), the Rainbow Flag can be seen everywhere. But where did it come from? Learn about the history of the colorful flag and pioneering Californian changemakers Harvey Milk and Gilbert Baker in this delightful book. You can learn more about the history of the flag, including timelines, in the back of the book. Recommended for ages 5+.

Fun fact: The original Pride flag was created by Gilbert Baker with about 30 different volunteers. That’s a lot of changemakers!

Ruby's Hope
Kulling, Monica

California has a way of attracting migrants from all over the country and the world to chase their dreams or just find a better life. During the Dust Bowl and Great Depression of the 1930s, many such migrants journeyed to California in hopes of steady work. Ruby’s Hope tells the fictionalized story behind Dorothea Lange’s famous “Migrant Mother” photograph and details the struggles and hopes of a migrant child and her family who traveled to California in search of better things. The end of the book also features the real story behind the photograph. Recommended for ages 6+.

Fun fact: Learn more about the Great Depression, Dust Bowl and Dorothea Lange on the Daily Life through History database—free with your library card!

Without Separation: Prejudice, Segregation, and the Case of Roberto Alvarez
Brimner, Larry Dane

When his local school district tried to make all elementary school students of Mexican descent attend a separate school from the white students, Roberto Alvarez knew something was wrong. School officials claimed it was so the students could learn English and American customs, but Roberto was American and spoke English perfectly. This book tells Roberto’s story of standing up for what’s right, boycotting the segregated school, and taking the battle to the courts. Bursting with history and featuring vibrant illustrations, this book highlights a little-known part of California history. Recommended for ages 7+.

Fun fact: Interested readers can find an interview with Roberto Alvarez himself by searching for “Lemon Grove Incident” in Gale In Context (Middle School), which can be accessed from KidsPath.