The best picture books about ordinary helpers in extraordinary times

Meeg Pincus Author Of Miep and the Most Famous Diary: The Woman Who Rescued Anne Frank's Diary
By Meeg Pincus

The Books I Picked & Why

The Cat Man of Aleppo

By Irene Latham, Karim Shamsi-Basha, Yuko Shimizu

The Cat Man of Aleppo

Why this book?

I love this story of an ambulance driver who chose to help helpless animals when humans were destroying his beloved Syrian city with war. Full of love, loss, innovation, and collaboration, this book is a perfect “solutionary story.” And as Muhammad Alaa Aljaleel, the Cat Man himself, says in a note at the beginning of the book, it reminds readers that “both people and animals suffer pain, and all of them deserve compassion.” This story breaks and mends the heart, all at once, and highlights the extraordinary difference an “ordinary” person has made for many living beings amidst unfathomable loss.


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Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku Ando

By Andrea Wang, Kana Urbanowicz

Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku Ando

Why this book?

This is one of my favorite “solutionary stories.” It’s about an ordinary man who saw poverty all around him in the aftermath of World War II in Japan and wanted to do something to help his hungry, suffering neighbors. So, he got to work, using his own unique skills, persevering through many failures, to invent an inexpensive, convenient food that could feed many people: dried ramen noodles. This book is about so much more than the origin of this now ubiquitous food; it’s about caring for others in need by tapping into our own special talents and finding a way.


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The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq

By Jeanette Winter

The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq

Why this book?

This is one of the first “solutionary stories” I fell in love with as a humane educator and mom. A classic and beautiful true story of an Iraqi librarian in war-torn Basra who, with the help of her neighbors, hides and saves the books in her city’s library, this one never fails to touch my heart. Jeanette Winter has a simple, powerful way of evoking emotions in her books—in this one, about war, and about one woman’s mission amidst it. This story speaks to the power of books, the power of community, and the power of one person’s passion to save something precious when everything else may be lost.


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William Still and His Freedom Stories: The Father of the Underground Railroad

By Don Tate

William Still and His Freedom Stories: The Father of the Underground Railroad

Why this book?

I love how author/illustrator Don Tate re-discovered and brought to life this true story of an office clerk who risked everything to become a conductor, and took it upon himself to be the record keeper, of the Underground Railroad. With his painstaking records, he reunited countless families torn apart by slavery and preserved an important piece of history. “It wasn’t his job to do,” the book says, “but William thought these written records might help someday.” This message—that we often have to step beyond what may be our “job” to help others and make a difference—will linger in the hearts and minds of kids who experience this powerful story.


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Yusra Swims

By Julie Abery, Sally Deng

Yusra Swims

Why this book?

I was bowled over by Yusra Mardini’s powerful story when I heard it during the 2016 Olympics, when she was a swimmer on the global Refugee team. As Yusra and her sister were fleeing war-torn Syria and their boat began to sink, the 17-year-old did what she knew how to do best—swim—to help save the lives of everyone aboard. In sparse but powerful words and art, this book shows American children so much about the refugee experience, through a teenager whose life probably looked very much like their own before war struck her country, and who stepped up and saved others with her skill while at risk herself.


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