As we listen and watch the news, we rarely hear about everyday heroes and heroines of yesterday and today. Our children need to know that ordinary people (and animals) can do extraordinary things. Try some of these books with your children instead of turning on the news! Let us know if there is change in your home or school as a result of this experiment. Empowerment begins with inspiration.
Most of these books are available for loan at the Peace Study Center.
Goliath: Hero of the Great Baltimore Fire by Claudia Friddell. Goliath was a huge horse with a huge job. He pulled the wagon that carried water and firefighters to fires. This true story engages young readers in history and love as they see Goliath bravely helping to save lives in the 1904 fire that destroyed much of the city. Troy Howell’s large, detailed paintings express emotion and historical detail for readers of all ages. The author lives in Baltimore and visits schools and libraries.
The Chimpanzees I Love by Jane Goodall. Jane Goodall grew up with the dream of living with African wild animals. As a young woman, she amazed the world with her new discoveries about chimpanzees, which later were shown via National Geographic television specials. Now, Dr. Goodall has a foundation to help protect endangered chimpanzees. This personal account may inspire children in your world to join in Goodall’s astounding work.
For younger readers and listeners, try The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with Chimps by Jeanette Winter.
Wangari’s Trees of Peace by Jeanette Winter. When Wangari Maathai was growing up in Kenya, the land was covered with trees. But on returning from school in America, she discovered a hot, barren land and few trees. ”Starting in her own backyard, Maathai planted trees and encouraged other women to do the same. More than 30 million trees have since been planted by the members of her Green Belt Movement. Maathai was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2004 in recognition of her work. The acrylic illustrations have a warm folk-art influence. The pictures are both literal and symbolic, and framed in complementary lines of color. An author’s note and a quote from Maathai are included.” School Library Journal starred review. This book was printed on 100% recycled paper with 50% post-consumer waste.
Rosa by Nikki Giovanni. This award-winning picture-book biography (for older readers and listeners) introduces Rosa Parks as a strong woman, happy at home and at work, and politically aware (“not tired from work, but tired of . . . eating at separate lunch counters and learning at separate schools”). “Her refusal to give up her seat on a bus inspires her friend Jo Ann Robinson, president of the Women’s Political Council, and the 25 council members to make posters calling for the bus boycott, and they organize a mass meeting where the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. speaks for them. Paired very effectively with Giovanni’s passionate, direct words, Collier’s large watercolor-and-collage illustrations depict Parks as an inspiring force that radiates golden light, and also as part of a dynamic activist community. In the unforgettable close-up that was used for the cover, Parks sits quietly waiting for the police as a white bus driver demands that she give up her seat. In contrast, the final picture opens out to four pages showing women, men, and children marching for equal rights at the bus boycott and in the years of struggle yet to come. The history comes clear in the astonishing combination of the personal and the political.”
Wilma Unlimited by Kathleen Krull. As a young child, Wilma Rudolph was struck with polio. Everyone said she would never walk again. Wilma refused to accept that fact. Not only would she walk again, she was determined to run. And she did run–all the way to the Olympic Games, where she became the first American woman to earn three gold medals in these Games. This dramatic and inspiring true story is told simply for young listeners and illustrated in bold watercolor and acrylic paintings by Caldecott Medal-winning artist David Diaz. Your listeners will remember Wilma when they feel like giving up.
Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau by Jennifer Berne. This book is an example of the beautiful picture book biographies available to younger audiences. It is about a boy who grew up to be one of the world’s most dedicated conservationists. An important message about ecology and water conservation is shared in a simple text for young listeners and readers. The unusual perspective of the illustrations and the surprise foldout plunge you even deeper into an ocean world. This is only an introduction to a famous French explorer who is now a legend in the world of oceanography. Try pairing this book with:
Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle by Claire Nivola. Then take a trip to an aquarium or do a virtual tour to see this world with new eyes.
Mary Walker Wears the Pants by Cheryl Harness. Travel back in time to meet Mary Edwards Walker, one of the first female doctors and a strong supporter of women’s rights. She is also was the only woman to earn the Medal of Honor for her role as a battlefield doctor during the Civil War. The fact that she wore pants suits in a time when it was unacceptable is only one of her courageous traits. See the author’s note and quotes for more bits of history.
People You Gotta Meet Before You Grow Up by Joe Rhatigan. It doesn’t have to be a celebrity; it doesn’t have to be a famous athlete. Some of the most important and exciting people we meet live in our own towns and neighborhoods. These are the folks who quietly help keep us safe, grow our food, and inspire us. This engaging book explains who these world-changers are, what they do, why they’re important, and how to make contact with them.
Using a notebook-style format filled with lighthearted illustrations, it identifies individuals who might be cool to meet—from farmers and travelers to local entrepreneurs, politicians, and artists. Plus, it gives inquisitive strategies, interview questions, and research ideas, along with plenty of interesting tidbits, great quotes, intriguing profiles, blogs to check out, and more. Who knows how a book like this one will inspire a young person be a hero or heroine in their town?
Cindy Woodruff is the co-founder of the Center with a 35 year career in school and public libraries. She currently works at Mercy High School in Baltimore, MD. Previously, Cindy was the director of Libraries and Archives at the Gilman School in Baltimore for many years and she currently lives and works in Delaware. Cindy has a B.A. in English from SUNY Geneseo and a MLS from UNC Chapel Hill. She also studied at the University of Nottingham for one year. Cindy supports the goals of IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People) and served on the USBBY Bridges to Understanding Award Committee in 2011. She served on the Caldecott Award Committee and the Geisel Award Committee of the American Library Association.