The best children's picture books about ordinary people who change the world

The Books I Picked & Why

Digging for Words: José Alberto Gutiérrez and the Library He Built

By Angela Burke Kunkel, Paola Escobar

Digging for Words: José Alberto Gutiérrez and the Library He Built

Why this book?

When José Alberto Gutiérrez, a garbage collector in Bogotá, Colombia, found a discarded copy of Anna Karenina on his route, he got hooked on books. For years afterward, he scanned sidewalks and dug through household trash to rescue more books, creating a home library that he opened to his neighborhood. Readers will be inspired not only by the hunt for treasure during everyday life, but how sharing one's passion can change a community.


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One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia

By Miranda Paul, Elizabeth Zunon

One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia

Why this book?

In Njau, Gambia, Isatou Ceesay was concerned by the way plastic bags accumulated in ugly heaps alongside roads. The bags created odor and disease, and also strangled gardens and animals. Isatou found a way to recycle the bags and transform her community. Readers will be inspired by her imagination and dedication, proving that a single person's actions really can make a difference in our world.


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Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table

By Jacqueline Briggs Martin, Eric-Shabazz Larkin

Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table

Why this book?

Former basketball player Will Allen is equally as comfortable palming a head of cabbage as a basketball. He's also an innovator and problem solver who doesn't let a little thing like lack of garden space prevent him from creating his dream of a city garden to feed hungry people in Milwaukee and beyond. I love how this book highlights a can-do spirit, uses cutting-edge technology, and shows that the only limits to achieving goals are the ones we put on ourselves. If Farmer Will can do it, then so can any reader!


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The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever

By H. Joseph Hopkins, Jill McElmurry

The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever

Why this book?

The city of San Diego, California, is lush and leafy now in large part due to the efforts of tree-loving Kate Sessions, who in the early 1900s missed the redwood forests of her childhood when she relocated to dry, dusty San Diego. A scientist and naturalist, she procured seeds from experts far and wide to find species that might thrive in San Diego—and she started planting. She used the 1915 Panama-California Exposition in Balboa Park as a reason to plant thousands more trees that residents, wildlife, and visitors enjoy to this day. No one told Kate to plant all those trees; she did it because she wanted to make the world a brighter, more beautiful place.


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The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Picture Book Edition

By William Kamkwamba, Bryan Mealer, Elizabeth Zunon

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Picture Book Edition

Why this book?

Imagine a drought so terrible that everyone's crops fail, and the entire village falls into poverty. That's what happened to fourteen-year-old William Kamkwamba in Malawi. With no money for food or for attending school, it would be easy to give up. But William was determined to find a way. He read, researched, and built a functioning windmill out of junkyard scraps to generate electricity to transfer water to the crops. Everything was against him, but William didn't stop trying. He persevered until he found a way to “harness the wind,” and the whole village benefitted. (Readers can also watch the 2019 film written, directed by, and starring Chiwetel Ejiofor.)


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