Heroes and Heroines in Children’s Books

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I began to write an e-mail to a friend this morning and quickly changd my mind.  It occurred to me that the book list I wrote for her might be interesting to other readers, so I decided to respond via my blog.  My friend teaches elementary school, and she plans to open the school year with a discussion of role models. That’s a tough one today, isn’t it?  It seems like every time a public figure is held up as a paragon of virtue, it falls apart. Think Tiger Woods. On the other hand, that’s a great lesson for kids. People are complex, and understanding that every person has both positive and negative attributes enriches their stories.

What I love about school units that focus on heroes and heroines is that they show children what’s possible and how to persevere through challenges.  Kids embark on a creative process every time they open a biography.  While reading about another person, they are feeding their imaginations, and engaged in the work of constructing an identity. Reading is hardly a passive activity.  While a student is reading, they are not only learning something new, they are figuring out who they are, and identifying what’s important to them.  Most of all, through their reading, they are seeing themselves in relation to a bigger world. They are beginning to understand where they fit into their families, their neighborhoods and their world. 

These are the picture books I’m recommending to my friend:

Lou Gehrig: The Luckiest Man by David Adler

Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez by Kathleen Krull

Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World’s Fastest Woman by Kathleen Krull

Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  by Doreen Rappaport

When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan

Moses: When Harriet Tubman Let Her People to Freedom by Carole Weatherford

The Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Winter

The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps by Jeanette Winter

Wangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa by Jeanette Winter

One more thing….it occurred to me when writing this list that it’s time for a children’s biography about Paul Farmer, the American physician and anthropologist.  I hope it’s being written right now.

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Good Books about Being Good

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Can reading books make us “good?”  I think maybe it can. Reading provides a window into people’s lives that makes us more empathetic and certainly more open to the views of others.

I was recently asked for a list of children’s books on the topics of kindness and generosity.  There are many books out there—many of them dull and preachy.  However, there are gems as well.  This list is not complete, but they are a good place to start.

Books for Children ages 3-6

Mama Panya’s Pancakes: A Village Tale from Kenya by Mary and Rich Chamberlin

Giving by Shirley Hughes

The Kindness Quilt by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace

A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams

Wangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa by Jeanette Winter

Books for Children ages 7-10

The Runaway Rice Cake by Ying Chang Compestine

Brother Juniper by Diane Gibfried

Beatrice’s Goat by Page McBrier

One Hen by Katie Smith Milway

Listen to the Wind by Susan Roth

And the best book of all about generosity and friendship:

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White