From The Guide: Be an Everyday Un-Hero

Sometimes it feels like the average person can’t make much of an impact on the world. But in her Writer’s Page column, “The Un-Hero’s Journey”, Kekla Magoon says, “The key to making a difference is to be someone who participates, someone who tries hard to do the right thing. It is about effort, not magic. Heroism is built, not born.” Here are recommended titles from the Horn Book Guide that support this activist mission for elementary-age readers.

—Cynthia K. Ritter
Associate Editor, The Horn Book Guide

Atkins, Laura and Yogi, Stan  Fred Korematsu Speaks Up
103 pp.     Heyday     2017     ISBN 978-1-59714-368-4

Gr. 4–6  Illustrated by Yutaka Houlette. Fighting for Justice series. Alternating stirring free verse with informational segments (each including a relevant timeline), this book powerfully reveals the story of the young Japanese American man who protested U.S. internment camps during WWII and continued fighting for civil liberties throughout his life. Stylized illustrations accompany the verse; archival images appear throughout. Ideas for young activists and a note from Korematsu’s daughter are appended. Bib., ind.

Braun, Eric  Taking Action for Civil and Political Rights
48 pp.     Lerner     2016     Library binding ISBN 978-1-4677-9394-0
ebook ISBN 978-1-4677-9665-1

Lawson, Sabina  Taking Action to Improve Schools
48 pp.     Lerner     2016     Library binding ISBN 978-1-4677-9393-3
ebook ISBN 978-1-4677-9666-8

Gr. 4–6  Who’s Changing the World? series. These books spotlight (mostly) ordinary people, many of them kids, who saw a human-rights or education-system problem — such as unfair working conditions or issues faced by transgender students — and worked to effect change to improve the situation. Relevant photos illustrate the engaging texts, which are meant to inspire and encourage young people to be activists in their own right. Reading list, websites. Bib., glos., ind.

Cerone, Lulu  PhilanthroParties!: A Party-Planning Guide for Kids Who Want to Give Back
194 pp.     Simon/Aladdin/Beyond Words      2017      ISBN 978-1-58270-587-3

Gr. 4–6  Eighteen-year-old Cerone, already a veteran in the philanthropic world, describes her inspiration in selecting causes and suggests thirty-six “PhilanthroParty” (fundraising and community-building event) ideas in a breezy and inspiring first-person voice; thematic recipes, activities, and anecdotes are included with each. Lively layouts with tons of color photos on thick, glossy pages reflect the spirit of excitement in the text and activities.

Clinton, Chelsea  She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World
32 pp.     Philomel      2017      ISBN 978-1-5247-4172-3

Gr. K–3  Illustrated by Alexandra Boiger. Clinton directly addresses young girls, seeking to inspire them with the achievements of thirteen notable women in U.S. history. From familiar subjects (Harriet Tubman) to relatively unknown individuals (Virginia Apgar), each woman — despite discouragement — made a major contribution because “she persisted.” Watercolor and ink illustrations denote time and place; a quote by each woman is included.

Clinton, Hillary Rodham  It Takes a Village
40 pp.     Simon     2017     ISBN 978-1-4814-3087-6
ebook ISBN 978-1-4814-3088-3

Gr. K–3  Illustrated by Marla Frazee. A group of children sees the potential of a hill with a lone tree; the kids discuss their idea with parents, who in turn bring it to others. After the community pitches in on construction, a beautiful playground — with the pink-blossomed tree at its center — is the result. Frazee’s vignette-style pencil and watercolor art shapes Clinton’s spare text into an inspirational full story.

Goldstyn, Jacques  Letters to a Prisoner
48 pp.     Owlkids     2017     ISBN 978-1-77147-251-7

Gr. K–3  A peaceful protestor is jailed. When the guard burns the letters the man receives by bird, the traveling smoke becomes an international call to action. All this is relayed without words in poignant, sketchlike line and wash illustrations that appear to have been executed with fervor; an appended note cites inspiration from Amnesty International’s letter-writing campaign for the wrongly imprisoned.

Lennon, John  Imagine
32 pp.     Clarion     2017     ISBN 978-1-328-80865-3

Gr. K–3  Foreword by Yoko Ono Lennon. Illustrated by Jean Jullien. As a pigeon travels the world — by subway, boat, and sky — it distributes leafy olive branches that have a salvific effect on fellow birds. The pigeon — a bluntly rendered gray figure set against bold colors — is an inspired stand-in for the “dreamer” in Lennon’s iconic anthem, which harbors the kid-friendly message that achieving peace starts with setting one’s mind to it.

The Little Book of Little Activists
48 pp.     Viking     2017      ISBN 978-0-451-47854-2

Gr. K–3  This book combines photos of boys and girls at the 2017 Women’s March on Washington with children’s quotes on topics such as bullying, equal rights, and activism as well as definitions of the terms feminism, democracy, and more. While perhaps a bit more of a nostalgia-trip for adult activists than a primer for uninitiated youth, the book includes an inspirational afterword by child Selma marcher Lynda Blackmon Lowery.

McCutcheon, John  Flowers for Sarajevo
32 pp.     Peachtree     2017     ISBN 978-1-56145-943-8

Gr. K–3  Illustrated by Kristy Caldwell. In this thought-provoking story, fictional boy Drasko experiences the restorative power of small acts of kindness and hope: real-life cellist Vedran Smailović honors the twenty-two victims of a 1992 Sarajevo mortar attack by playing at the attack site for the following twenty-two days. Gray-toned art using ink, charcoal, pencil, and Photoshop finds beauty in a war-ravaged place. Notes, music, and an audio CD included.

McGhee, Holly M.  Come with Me
40 pp.     Putnam     2017     ISBN 978-1-5247-3905-8

Gr. K–3  Illustrated by Pascal Lemaître. When a dismayed little girl asks her parents what she can do “to make the world a better place,” they each demonstrate acts of kindness and acceptance: being polite on the subway, shopping at a multicultural market, letting her walk the dog with a new friend. Illustrated with emotive ink and watercolor vignettes, this sparely written story should spark meaningful conversation.

Mulder, Michelle  Pocket Change: Pitching In for a Better World
48 pp.     Orca     2016     ISBN 978-1-4598-0966-6

Gr. 4–6  Orca Footprints series. This book examines the history of money; the economic and environmental impacts of consumerism and consumption, including child labor and pollution; and alternative systems such as “sweat equity,” bartering, microlending, and tool and toy libraries. Plenty of well-captioned photos — including some showing kids involved in Habitat for Humanity and growing food for the hungry — illustrate the accessible text. Reading list, websites. Glos., ind.

Nagara, Innosanto  A Is for Activist
32 pp.     Seven Stories     2016     ISBN 978-1-60980-693-4

Gr. K–3  New ed. (2013). Originally a board book, this new version’s larger spreads showcase the colorful digital art. The passionate social justice angle and fairly sophisticated politics make this not-your-average alphabet book. It’s a bit overblown — and the alphabet constraint is overstretched — but with lines like “Y is for You. And Youth. Your planet. Your rights,” children are encouraged to effect change.

Robertson, Joanne  The Water Walker
40 pp.     Second Story     2017     ISBN 978-1-77260-038-4

Gr. K–3  An Ojibwe woman and friends, concerned about human carelessness for Nibi (water), walk around the Great Lakes, the Saint Lawrence River, and more to bring attention to the problem. Illustrated with simple childlike art (the human faces have dots for eyes and no other features) and sprinkled with Ojibwe words, this eco-story is based on the life of Nokomis Josephine Mandamin, who formed the Mother Earth Water Walkers. Glos.

From the May/June 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: Making a Difference. Reviews are from recent or forthcoming issues of The Horn Book Guide. For more information about subscribing to the Guide and The Horn Book Guide Online, please visit
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