Sponsored by Penguin Young Readers
Heroes, it’s important to teach our kids, are ordinary people who one day decided to do something different like take a stand, sit down, protect animals, make people laugh, or create art that inspired people to dream big and take action. Make no mistake, we’re living in uncertain times and need a bit of inspiration and hope wherever we can find it. As much as we try to protect our kids from a world that seems to be growing darker and angrier by the day, we can’t control what they hear and see in school or on the playground. But we can expose our kids to people who have done great things in order to make the world a better place.
One way to inspire our kids to be helpers is to read books together with them, like the Ordinary People Change the World series by Brad Meltzer. The series features American heroes who model compassion, kindness, and the power of being different to make the world a better place. And given how much the world sucks right now, you may catch me reading every single one of these by myself when I just can’t even with the news of the day.
“Never interrupt someone doing what you said couldn’t be done.” –Amelia Earhart
Heroes don’t need superpowers to fly, just a sense of adventure and a dream. Amelia Earhart flew high and fast even when many, many people told her she couldn’t do it. Earhart would go on to break flying records and become the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, proving women can soar just as high as men.
“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” –Jackie Robinson
Growing up, many heroes didn’t get a chance to see someone who looked like them doing what they loved. When Jackie Robinson was growing up, major league baseball was a segregated sport. But that didn’t stop Robinson. In 1947 he became the first African-American Major League Baseball player to sign with a professional club as a second baseman with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Believing that baseball was at its best when everyone, of every color, played, Robinson became a hero to millions by breaking through bigotry and leading the way to integrated American sports.
“I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong.” –Abraham Lincoln
Standing up for what’s right makes all the difference. Abraham Lincoln lost five elections before he became president. By standing up to bullies as a child, Lincoln knew sometimes you must lose in order to win. As president during one of the most contentious times in American history, Lincoln deeply believed that all people are created equal, and the fight for freedom was worth the costs in order to bring all of us together.
“I’ve got a dream too, but it’s about singing and dancing and making people happy. That’s the kind of dream that gets better the more people you share it with.” –Kermit the Frog
Never underestimate the power of imagination to change the world. Jim Henson, the creative mind behind The Muppet Show and Sesame Street used his imagination, creativity, and humor to produce beloved TV programming for children. What would childhood be without Big Bird and kindness, letters of the day, and a blue monster who eats cookies? Heroes don’t necessarily have to wear capes, but they must inspire the best in us, which is exactly what Jim Henson did through monsters who like to share and a vampire who loves to count.
“I hope I shall always possess…virtue enough to maintain…the character of an honest man.” –George Washington
Never be afraid to be the first. George Washington was the first president of the United States, but it wasn’t the only time he had to be brave. From exploring the woods near his home as a boy, to leading soldiers across an icy river on Christmas day to do battle, and bringing a new democracy together after war, George Washington became one of the greatest leaders in history by raising his hand and saying, “I can do that.”
“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” –Jane Goodall
No one can ever be sure what will ignite the spark that leads to a lifelong love of a cause greater than yourself. For Jane Goodall, it was the gift of a stuffed chimpanzee from her father when she was a girl. For more than 50 years, Goodall has studied, protected, and explored chimpanzees in their natural habitat, and paved the way for other women scientists, conservationists, and anthropologists to do the work they love.
“The only tired I was, was tired of giving in.” –Rosa Parks
Heroes don’t need big muscles, in fact they can take a seat and still change the world like Rosa Parks. It was Parks who kicked off the civil rights movement in Montgomery, Alabama, by refusing to sit at the back of a public bus. Her small action, coordinated with other activists, had a profound impact on the racially segregated Deep South that we still feel today.
With 11 books in the Ordinary People Change the World series, there’s always a hero to share with your children so they know regular people do great things like help animals, lead nations, believe everyone is equal, and stand up to bullies — so they can too.