I don’t know about you, but lately my heart feels as though someone has been scouring it with steel wool.
Raw. Abraded. Grieving over violence and suffering, abuse of power and abuse of Earth, caustic tongues and acrimony, overwhelmingly loud day after day.
As we move towards a series of holidays celebrating gratitude, light, and love, I want to share some powerful titles that console me with their messages of generosity, kindness, and working to alleviate suffering.
These books suit ages 2 through teens. Pick one or two, read them together, and dream of ways you can help mend the brokenness in our world.
At the end of the post, I have links to a couple of non-profits where your gifts can make a difference to people in extreme need.
You Hold Me Up, written by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Danielle Daniel
published in 2017 by Orca Books
Page through this gem and feel your heart glow with the warmth, strength, and richness of community, family, togetherness.
You hold me up. I hold you up. That’s the bottom line, isn’t it? Monique Gray Smith quietly illuminates humanity’s best self with her minimal, just-right words.
Daniel’s striking palette and touching scenes mean each page delivers a wallop of goodness, all with that beautiful First Nation’s flavor. A total delight from our good neighbors in Canada that’ll woo readers of all ages toward being holder-uppers.
Love the World, written and illustrated by Todd Parr
published in 2017 by Little, Brown and Company
Todd Parr’s jubilant colors and relentless optimism radiate from every page in this simple call to love for the very young.
Love yourself! Love the world! Mix and repeat. What a great recipe! A warm-as-a-hug book for ages 18 months and up that fills minds and imaginations with smiles, welcome, and kindness.
Can We Help? Kids Volunteering to Help Their Communities, by George Ancona
published in 2015 by Candlewick Press
Children engaged in knitting hats for homeless families, harvesting vegetables for soup kitchens, delivering meals to the elderly, training assistance dogs, skiing down mountains with physically-disabled kids, picking up trash along highways, and more, briefly describe their activities…
…all accompanied by copious color photographs. No glitz. Just ordinary kids pitching in to help their neighbors. Heartening and inspiring. Ages 3 and up. What can you think of to do together?
It Takes a Village, written by Hillary Rodham Clinton, illustrated by Marla Frazee
published in 2017 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
In her Author’s Note, Clinton says “this book is meant to spark a conversation with our youngest about what children can do to help make the world what they hope it will be.”
Short phrases comprise the text, some more meaningful than others. The main theme is almost completely borne out by Frazee’s ever-tender, inclusive illustrations…
… a sequence of vignettes showing folks banding together to build a prime playground. A neighborhood gathering place. You can’t miss the vibe of hope, collaboration, and warm community shining through here, a lovely antidote to weariness and cynicism. Ages 3 and up.
Letters to a Prisoner, by Jacques Goldstyn
published in Canada in 2015 as Le prisonnier sans frontiéres; English edition 2017 by Owlkids Books
A powerful, wordless story unfolds when one man and his young daughter (could be a son) set off to protest a powerful regime. Soldiers attack and the father is thrown into prison.
As his hope dwindles, a little bird flies through the prison window and delivers a letter. So cheering! But it’s confiscated by an angry guard. More letters come, only to be burned. The plight of this prisoner becomes known around the world, however, and all manner of individuals write letters — fortress-loads of letters. What is the result?
It’s a wordless story, vibrant, poignant, triumphant, taking its inspiration from Amnesty International’s letter-writing marathon and seeking to inspire participation in this annual event. What a wonderful movement to take part in! Ages 4 and up.
The Happy Prince: A Tale by Oscar Wilde, illustrated and adapted by Maisie Paradise Shearring
original edition 2016; published in 2017 by Thames & Hudson
Shearring retells Oscar Wilde’s famous short story featuring the ornate, bejewelled statue of a happy prince and a swallow who alights on it.
The prince, so oblivious of others’ needs throughout his life of opulent wealth, sorrows now from his heights as a statue, for he can see the ugliness and misery of the world from this new vantage point. Both the prince and the swallow are thus moved to sacrifice themselves for the good of the destitute in this fairy tale-esque story.
Shearring’s masterful artwork won the prestigious Bologna International Award for Illustration and you will easily understand why. Her emotive color palette and stunning compositions are utterly captivating. Wherein does true happiness lie — in hoarding or in laying down one’s life for others? Compelling ideas for ages 5 and up.
Manjhi Moves a Mountain, written by Nancy Churnin, illustrated by Danny Popovici
published in 2017 by Creston Books
As I read this story, I found myself thinking the author might have toned down the preposterously-inhuman task she relates — that of one poor Indian man digging, spadeful by spadeful, a gap through an actual mountain — if she wanted it to be at all believable.
Then, I turned to the back of the book and discovered that the story is true! Oh!
Dashrath Manjhi lived in a small, impoverished village in India, separated by a mountain from a village equipped with “running water, doctors, a school, and jobs.” Manjhi keenly felt that if only a roadway could be opened up between these two communities, his own neighbors would be so much better off. Thus, with chisel and hammer, he spent 22 years (!) cutting a road through the mountain.
Read this astonishing story of perseverance with children ages 4 or 5 and up, then ask as Churnin does in her Author’s Note: What kind of “mountain” can you move to make things better in your community?
Twenty-two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank, written by Paula Yoo, illustrated by Jamel Akib
published in 2014 by Lee & Low Books
In 2006, Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for demonstrating that “even the poorest of the poor can work to bring about their own development.”
This is the story of Yunus’ life, from his childhood in India when he was awakened to the distress of poverty, to his encounter with a woman named Sufiya who needed just twenty-two cents for bamboo to build the stools she sold for a living. Forced to borrow these small sums from lenders who took unfair advantage, Sufiya and thousands of women like her could never escape grinding poverty.
Yunus dedicated his life to re-thinking money, banking, and lending, and in 1977 launched the first of his village banks which give microcredit to groups of women. His story and the fruits of his work for millions of women around the world are encouraging and inspiring to say the least. This bio is accessible to children ages 9 and up.
Philanthroparites!: A Party-Planning Guide for Kids Who Want to Give Back, by Lulu Cerone
published in 2017 by Aladdin and Beyond Words, Simon & Schuster
I believe there are tens of thousands of middle-grade and high-school kids whose heartbeat is to make a positive difference in the world. Sometimes, though, it’s really hard to figure out just how to do that.
Then, there are the born organizers of the world, God bless them. Lulu Cerone is one of them. As a ten year old, hearing the news of the 2010 Haitian earthquake, she organized lemonade stand wars with kids from her school who wound up raising thousands of dollars for charity.
This book is a solid collection of 36 great party ideas whose purpose is to raise money for charity or directly infuse kindness into communities. Organized by month to correlate with nationally observed days, Lulu’s creative, fun party plans include tips for success, decorations, themed food ideas, and more. She also includes planning-ahead checklists for a smooth, successful philanthroparty, and lists of organizations she supports in case you need a place to start.
I can easily see how this book would have inspired and instigated my kids to host philanthroparties. Do you know anyone ages 10 and up who would love to be a changemaker? Check out this book!
Inspired to help but don’t know where to start? I have two funds I’d love to see Orange Marmalade readers support:
To help provide fresh fruits and vegetables to malnourished Syrian and Iraqi refugees sheltering in a neighboring country, click here.
Just $25 provides enough fresh produce for one family for one month. This is a faith-based program in great need of donations to continue this feeding program, and I can vouch for the integrity of those administering it.
For those who prefer to donate to a non faith-based fund, I suggest Save the Children’s fund for Rohingya refugees, which you can access here. These children have fled horrific violence and need water, food, shelter, and protection in Bangladesh.