The Great Rebel Booklist!

Many (if not most) of literature's best characters are rebels. From Jane Eyre to James and the Giant Peach, stories of people railing against the status quo both quietly and loudly have kept readers gripped for centuries. Sometimes they're struggling to change the world, and sometimes they're just trying to be recognised for who they are, but their strength and resolve in the face of overwhelming odds make us want to keep reading their stories again and again. What's more, they teach us important lessons about the healthy questioning of authority and always sticking to your principles. Here, then, is a list of some of the best books about being a rebel:

A is for Activist front cover

A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara

A wonderful ABC board book about fighting for what you believe in, A is for Activist is a perfect way to introduce young children to the struggle for justice and equality. The illustrations are beautiful and the sentiments profound.

The Boy Who Grew Flowers front cover

The Boy Who Grew Flowers by Jen Wojtowicz & Steve Adams

This picture book for 3-6 year-olds is the story of an unusual boy who grows flowers all over his body whenever the moon is full. The Boy Who Grew Flowers celebrates difference and the strength of friendship, as well as being a moving portrayal of disability which calls for everyone to be recognised for who they really are.

Dogs Don't Do Ballet front cover

Dogs Don't do Ballet by Anna Kemp & Sara Ogilvie

For a similar age range, this wonderfully funny picture book is about a dog who wants to be a ballerina. But beneath the eye-catching illustrations and wacky tales of the dog's behaviour, it's really a book about following your dreams and being who you want to be, even if society tells you otherwise.

Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls front cover

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli & Francesca Cavallo 

A must for both adults and children, this is a beautiful collection of true stories about some of history's most influential women, from Ada Lovelace to Malala Yousafzai, via the Bronte sisters and Rosa Parks. As well as being a diverse celebration of women from all different places and backgrounds, it's a startling reminder of what we can achieve when we refuse to be bound by what is expected of us. 

The Story of Antigone front cover

The Story of Antigone by Ali Smith & Laura Paoletti

Celebrated Scottish author Ali Smith spins a tale of rebellion and heartbreak in her retelling of this classic Greek tragedy aimed at older children. Antigone is a princess who defies the king of Thebes in a story which highlights both the importance and the dangers of striking back against authority.

Princess, Princess front cover

Princess Princess Ever After by Katie O'Neill

The princesses are the heroes in this gorgeous graphic novel, a subversive and empowering fairy tale with messages about gender roles, self-worth and choosing your own destiny. If Amira and Sadie can survive ogres, sword fights and a jealous sorceress, might they find their happy-ever-after together?

The Other Side of Truth front cover

The Other Side of Truth by Beverley Naidoo

A novel about different kinds of rebellion - and their consequences – The Other Side of Truth follows 12-year-old Sade and her brother Femi as they flee to London following their father's criticism of the military in Nigeria. Naidoo's gripping and thought-provoking story tackles the reality of being a refugee, and the importance of breaking rules if they're based on prejudice.

Children of Blood and Bone front cover

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

An epic fantasy adventure about a young rebel girl and her battle against a ruthless monarch, Children of Blood and Bone is a thrilling story for older readers about the struggle to return magic to a desolate land. Drawing inspiration from West African folklore and the Black Lives Matter movement, it also asks tough questions about race, class and authority. 

The Wall front cover


The Wall by William Sutcliffe

Joshua lives in a city divided by a great wall, surrounded by the wreckage of conflict. One day he discovers a tunnel which leads to the other side of the wall, and a chain of events is set in motion which could lead to catastrophe. Inspired by the experience of Palestinians living in the West Bank, The Wall illustrates how small acts of defiance can end up having world-changing consequences.

We love stories of rebels, both real and fictional, because they make for exciting adventures and compelling drama. But the most valuable thing about these tales of struggle and defiance is not how much they entertain us, but how they give us a roadmap to making a better world. They show us that it is possible to make a positive change in society through even the smallest act of resistance, and in this way they both inspire us and give us hope. That is why these stories endure, and why it is important to keep reading them.

As part of our annual campaign to get Scotland writing, we are asking people to write their pieces on what Rebel means to them. The public campaign is open for entries until 6 June 2018, and the schools campaign accepts entries up until 6 October 2018.

Check out our book lists section for more great recommendations!

Jim Taylor

Jim works for Lighthouse, Edinburgh's Radical Bookshop, located on West Nicholson Street. Lighthouse serves as 'a shelter for bibliophiles, an oasis for curious minds and a platform for open discourse.' Learn more at