Looking for the best children’s books about courage? These fun bravery picture books and novels for elementary students are engaging for primary and upper elementary kids. Fiction and nonfiction books with lesson plans and activities linked. Novels and picture books about being brave for kids that feature brave characters or characters who learn to be brave for your kindergarten, first, second, third, fourth or fifth grade students. Your students will delight in these classic and brand new books!
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Children’s Books About Courage
This list of children’s books about courage is divided between short picture books and middle grade novels or chapter books. The novels are best read aloud to little ones or read independently by older kids. The picture books are really ideal for any age level. Even adults can get something out of these books!
Picture Books About Courage:
It’s John’s big day at school today—a performance for Sharing Gifts time. His bag is carefully packed and prepared, his classmates are ready, and the curtain is waiting to open. John is nervous, looking out at all the other children staring back at him. But he takes a big breath and begins. Mac Barnett’s compassionate text and Kate Berube’s understated and expressive art tell the story of a kid who finds the courage to show others his talent for dancing.
Dave the bear lives in the shadow of his brother, Clarence. Clarence is tall, handsome, bold, and brave. Dave… isn’t. Dave wonders if he’ll ever live up to his brother’s example, until he finds a special talent that’s all his own.
“To know that you’re different, but be who you are…Have the courage to say it out loud, To go out and find what can make your heart sing…Oh Dave, nothing could make me more proud!”
Brave Dave is the empowering story of bear named Dave, who discovers the importance of simply being himself!
I Talk Like a River by Jordan Scott
I wake up each morning with the sounds of words all around me.
And I can’t say them all . . .
When a boy who stutters feels isolated, alone, and incapable of communicating in the way he’d like, it takes a kindly father and a walk by the river to help him find his voice. Compassionate parents everywhere will instantly recognize a father’s ability to reconnect a child with the world around him.
Mel Fell by Corey R. Tabor
Mel Fell is a hilarious book that kids are sure to love. A baby bird decides one day that she is going to fly! Despite her siblings’ misgivings and her neighbors’ attempts to stop her, Mel falls…straight down. She falls and falls until she hits the water and catches her first fish. Then, she flies! Mel, it turns out, is a kingfisher. She’s supposed to fall… into the water! Corey R. Tabor’s story is a joy, and his illustrations add a layer of comedy that Caldecott committees eat up. An excellent story about bravery and confidence and discovering your true purpose in life!
Wishes by Mượn Thị Văn
An arresting, poetic journey and a moving reflection on immigration, family, and home, from an acclaimed creative team.
Wishes tells the powerful, honest story about one Vietnamese family’s search for a new home on the other side of the world, and the long-lasting and powerful impact that makes on one of the youngest members of the family. Inspired by actual events in the author’s life, this is a narrative that is both timely and timeless. Told through the eyes of a young girl, the story chronicles a family’s difficult and powerful journey to pack up what they can carry and to leave their world behind, traveling to a new and unknown place in a crowded boat.
For the Right to Learn by Rebecca Langston-George
She grew up in a world where women were supposed to be quiet. But Malala Yousafzai refused to be silent. Discover Malala’s story through this powerful narrative telling, and come to see how one brave girl named Malala changed the world.
I Dissent by Debbie Levy
Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg spent a lifetime disagreeing: disagreeing with inequality, arguing against unfair treatment, and standing up for what’s right for people everywhere. This biographical picture book about the Notorious RBG, tells the justice’s story through the lens of her many famous dissents, or disagreements.
Elizabeth Leads the Way by Tanya Lee Stone
Elizabeth Cady Stanton stood up and fought for what she believed in. From an early age, she knew that women were not given rights equal to men. But rather than accept her lesser status, Elizabeth went to college and later gathered other like-minded women to challenge the right to vote.Here is the inspiring story of an extraordinary woman who changed America forever because she wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.
Brave Irene is Irene Bobbin, the dressmaker’s daughter. Her mother, Mrs. Bobbin, isn’t feeling so well and can’t possibly deliver the beautiful ball gown she’s made for the duchess to wear that very evening. So plucky Irene volunteers to get the gown to the palace on time, in spite of the fierce snowstorm that’s brewing– quite an errand for a little girl.
But where there’s a will, there’s a way, as Irene proves in the danger-fraught adventure that follows. She must defy the wiles of the wicked wind, her most formidable opponent, and overcome many obstacles before she completes her mission.
The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander
Originally performed for ESPN’s The Undefeated, this poem is a love letter to black life in the United States. It highlights the unspeakable trauma of slavery, the faith and fire of the civil rights movement, and the grit, passion, and perseverance of some of the world’s greatest heroes. The text is also peppered with references to the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, and others, offering deeper insights into the accomplishments of the past, while bringing stark attention to the endurance and spirit of those surviving and thriving in the present. Robust back matter at the end provides valuable historical context and additional detail for those wishing to learn more.
Ruby’s Wish by Bao Phi
Ruby is unlike most little girls in old China. Instead of aspiring to get married, Ruby is determined to attend university when she grows up, just like the boys in her family. Based upon the inspirational story of the author’s grandmother and accompanied by richly detailed illustrations, Ruby’s Wish is an engaging portrait of a young girl who’s full of ambition and the family who rewards her hard work and courage.
The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles
The inspirational true story of Ruby Bridges. The year is 1960, and six-year-old Ruby Bridges and her family have recently moved from Mississippi to New Orleans in search of a better life. When a judge orders Ruby to attend first grade at William Frantz Elementary, an all-white school, Ruby must face angry mobs of parents who refuse to send their children to school with her.
Oliver Button Is A Sissy by Tomie DePaola
Oliver Button is a sissy. At least that’s what the other boys call him. But here’s what Oliver Button really is: a reader, and an artist, and a singer, and a dancer, and more. What will his classmates say when he steps into the spotlight? A great anti bullying book.
Brothers In Hope by Mary Williams
Eight-year-old Garang is tending cattle far from his family’s home in southern Sudan when war comes to his village. Frightened but unharmed, he returns to find everything has been destroyed. Soon Garang meets other boys whose villages have been attacked. Before long they become a moving band of thousands, walking hundreds of miles seeking safety — first in Ethiopia and then in Kenya. The boys face numerous hardships and dangers along the way, but their faith and mutual support help keep the hope of finding a new home alive in their hearts. One the best picture books about refugees!
Malala, a Brave Girl from Pakistan/Iqbal, a Brave Boy from Pakistan: Two Stories of Bravery
One country: Pakistan. Two children: Iqbal Masih and Malala Yousafzai. Each was unafraid to speak out. He, against inhumane child slavery in the carpet trade. She, for the right of girls to attend school. Both were shot by those who disagreed with them—he in 1995, she in 2012. Iqbal was killed instantly; Malala miraculously survived and continues to speak out around the world. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 for her work.
Passage to Freedom by Ken Mochizuki
Against the order of his government, a Japanese diplomat in Lithuania issued thousands of visas to Jewish refugees to help them flee the Nazis during World War II.
The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad
With her new backpack and light-up shoes, Faizah knows the first day of school is going to be special. It’s the start of a brand new year and, best of all, it’s her older sister Asiya’s first day of hijab–a hijab of beautiful blue fabric, like the ocean waving to the sky. But not everyone sees hijab as beautiful, and in the face of the hurtful, confusing words of bullies, Faizah will find new ways to be strong.
Mary Wears What She Wants by Keith Negley
Once upon a time (but not that long ago), girls only wore dresses. And only boys wore pants.
Until one day, a young girl named Mary had an idea: She would wear whatever she wanted. And she wanted to wear pants! This bold, original picture book encourages readers to think for themselves while gently challenging gender and societal norms.
The Girl Who Ran by Frances Poletti
When Bobbi Gibb saw the Boston Marathon her mind was set-she had to be a part of it. But when the time came to apply for the marathon, she was refused entry. They told her girls don’t run, girls can’t run. That didn’t stop Bobbi. This picture book tells the true story of how she broke the rules in 1966 and how, one step at a time, her grit and determination changed the world. A really heroic part of women’s history.
Blizzard is based on John Rocco’s childhood experience during the now infamous Blizzard of 1978, which brought fifty-three inches of snow to his town in Rhode Island. Told with a brief text and dynamic illustrations, the bookopens with a boy’s excitement upon seeing the first snowflake fall outside his classroom window. It ends with the neighborhood’s immense relief upon seeing the first snowplow break through on their street. In between the boy watches his familiar landscape transform into something alien, and readers watch him transform into a hero who puts the needs of others first. John uses an increasing amount of white space in his playful images, which include a gatefold spread of the boy’s expedition to the store. This book about the wonder of a winter storm is as delicious as a mug of hot cocoa by the fire on a snowy day.
After the Fall by Dan Santat
Everyone knows that when Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall fairytale and nursery rhyme. But what happened after? Caldecott Medalist Dan Santat’s poignant tale follows Humpty Dumpty, an avid bird watcher whose favorite place to be is high up on the city wall―that is, until after his famous fall. Now terrified of heights, Humpty can longer do many of the things he loves most. Will he summon the courage to face his fear?
Laszlo is afraid of the dark.
The dark lives in the same house as Laszlo. Mostly, though, the dark stays in the basement and doesn’t come into Lazslo’s room. But one night, it does.
This is the story of how Laszlo stops being afraid of the dark.
Proud As A Peacock, Brave As A Lion by Jane Barclay
As questions come from a young grandchild, his grandpa talks about how, as a very young man, he was as proud as a peacock in uniform, busy as a beaver on his Atlantic crossing, and brave as a lion charging into battle. Soon, the old man’s room is filled with an imaginary menagerie as the child thinks about different aspects of wartime. But as he pins medals on his grandpa’s blazer and receives his own red poppy in return, the mood becomes more somber.
Outside, the crowd gathered for the veterans’ parade grows as quiet as a mouse, while men and women — old and young — march past in the rain. A trumpet plays and Grandpa lays a wreath in memory of his lost friend. Just then, the child imagines an elephant in the mist. “Elephants never forget,” he whispers to his grandpa. “Then let’s be elephants,” says the old man, as he wipes water from his eyes and takes his grandson’s hand. A really great book for Memorial Day or Veterans Day.
Novels About Courage:
The Tale of Despereaux
Welcome to the story of Despereaux Tilling, a mouse who is in love with music, stories, and a princess named Pea. It is also the story of a rat called Roscuro, who lives in the darkness and covets a world filled with light. And it is the story of Miggery Sow, a slow-witted serving girl who harbors a simple, impossible wish. These three characters are about to embark on a journey that will lead them down into a horrible dungeon, up into a glittering castle, and, ultimately, into each other’s lives. What happens then?
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Through the eyes of ten-year-old Annemarie, we watch as the Danish Resistance smuggles almost the entire Jewish population of Denmark, nearly seven thousand people, across the sea to Sweden. The heroism of an entire nation reminds us that there was pride and human decency in the world even during a time of terror and war.
Starfish by Lisa Fipps
Ever since Ellie wore a whale swimsuit and made a big splash at her fifth birthday party, she’s been bullied about her weight. To cope, she tries to live by the Fat Girl Rules—like “no making waves,” “avoid eating in public,” and “don’t move so fast that your body jiggles.” And she’s found her safe space—her swimming pool—where she feels weightless in a fat-obsessed world. In the water, she can stretch herself out like a starfish and take up all the room she wants. It’s also where she can get away from her pushy mom, who thinks criticizing Ellie’s weight will motivate her to diet.
Fortunately, Ellie has allies in her dad, her therapist, and her new neighbor, Catalina, who loves Ellie for who she is. With this support buoying her, Ellie might finally be able to cast aside the Fat Girl Rules and starfish in real life–by unapologetically being her own fabulous self.
Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo
Raymie Clarke has come to realize that everything, absolutely everything, depends on her. And she has a plan. If Raymie can win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, then her father, who left town two days ago with a dental hygienist, will see Raymie’s picture in the paper and (maybe) come home. To win, not only does Raymie have to do good deeds and learn how to twirl a baton; she also has to contend with the wispy, frequently fainting Louisiana Elefante, who has a show-business background, and the fiery, stubborn Beverly Tapinski, who’s determined to sabotage the contest.
But as the competition approaches, loneliness, loss, and unanswerable questions draw the three girls into an unlikely friendship — and challenge each of them to come to the rescue in unexpected ways.
Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo
When Louisiana Elefante’s granny wakes her up in the middle of the night to tell her that the day of reckoning has arrived and they have to leave home immediately, Louisiana isn’t overly worried. After all, Granny has many middle-of-the-night ideas. But this time, things are different. This time, Granny intends for them never to return.
Separated from her best friends, Raymie and Beverly, Louisiana struggles to oppose the winds of fate (and Granny) and find a way home. But as Louisiana’s life becomes entwined with the lives of the people of a small Georgia town — including a surly motel owner, a walrus-like minister, and a mysterious boy with a crow on his shoulder — she starts to worry that she is destined only for goodbyes.
The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Ten-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.
Thus begins a new adventure for Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?
A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
A Long Walk to Water begins as two stories, told in alternating sections, about two eleven-year-olds in Sudan, a girl in 2008 and a boy in 1985. The girl, Nya, is fetching water from a pond that is two hours’ walk from her home: she makes two trips to the pond every day. The boy, Salva, becomes one of the “lost boys” of Sudan, refugees who cover the African continent on foot as they search for their families and for a safe place to stay.
Enduring every hardship from loneliness to attack by armed rebels to contact with killer lions and crocodiles, Salva is a survivor, and his story goes on to intersect with Nya’s in an astonishing and moving way. Includes an afterword by author Linda Sue Park and the real-life Salva Dut, on whom the novel is based, and who went on to found Water for South Sudan.
Best Picture Books About Courage
What are some of your favorite picture books about courage? Are there any must read picture books about courage that I left out? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll add it!