The best books about courage

13 authors have picked their favorite books about courage and why they recommend each book.

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The Flight Girls

By Noelle Salazar,

Book cover of The Flight Girls

The Flight Girls captivated me from the first page and never let go. Salazar’s writing is lively and fresh, as we ride shotgun with a cast of memorable characters, an epic love story, and a powerful tale of courage and sacrifice by the Women Airforce Service Pilots during WWII. This book is on the lighter side, but still packs an emotional punch. A spectacular first novel!


Who am I?

Raised in Hawai’i on her grandparents’ first-hand accounts of the war, Sara was deeply affected by the scars left behind. She believes that the best way to honor the past is by bringing these stories to light and making sure the sacrifice of those who came before us is never forgotten. She is the USA Today bestselling author of four WWII Hawai’i historical novels with a fifth on the way.


I wrote...

The Lieutenant's Nurse

By Sara Ackerman,

Book cover of The Lieutenant's Nurse

What is my book about?

November 1941. She’s never even seen the ocean before, but Eva Cassidy has her reasons for making the crossing to Hawaii, and they run a lot deeper than escaping a harsh Michigan winter. Newly enlisted as an Army Corps nurse, Eva is stunned by the splendor she experiences aboard the steamship SS Lurline; even more so by Lt. Clark Spencer, a man she is drawn to but who clearly has secrets of his own. But Eva’s past—and the future she’s trying to create—means that she’s not free to follow her heart. Clark is a navy intelligence officer, and he warns her that the United States won’t be able to hold off joining the war for long, but nothing can prepare them for the surprise attack that will change the world they know.

Embattled Courage

By Gerald Linderman,

Book cover of Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War

This book, first published in 1987, was (and is) harshly attacked by some scholars including James McPherson who blasted the book for its overreliance on postwar, published sources. Yet Linderman’s central thesis, that war negatively affected Civil War soldiers and for some, alienated them from families and communities at home, remains valid. It is not true that all Civil War soldiers were negatively affected by war, but many were, and Linderman was one of the first to challenge the mythology of the all-heroic and stoic Civil War soldier. For a book that makes you think differently about the war and the mythologies that continue to linger about it, I’d still go back to Linderman.

Who am I?

I have been reading, researching, writing, and teaching Civil War military history for nearly thirty years. I first became interested in soldiers and their experiences as a teen, and went on to earn a PhD in American History at the University of Georgia. I’ve always been fascinated by the anti-hero, and the ways in which everyday people coped (or failed to cope) with this violent conflict. I am currently writing a book about regiments accused of cowardice and how those searing allegations cast a shadow over their military record. From 2010-2015, I served as editor of the scholarly journal Civil War History, and I was recently elected President of the Society for Civil War Historians (2022-2024).


I wrote...

A Broken Regiment: The 16th Connecticut's Civil War

By Lesley J. Gordon,

Book cover of A Broken Regiment: The 16th Connecticut's Civil War

What is my book about?

A Broken Regiment recounts the tragic history of one of the Civil War's most ill-fated Union military units. Organized in the late summer of 1862, the 16th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry was unprepared for battle a month later, when it entered the fight at Antietam. The results were catastrophic: nearly a quarter of the men were killed or wounded, and Connecticut's 16th panicked and fled the field. In the years that followed, the regiment participated in minor skirmishes before surrendering en masse in North Carolina in 1864. 

The struggles of the 16th led survivors to reflect on the true nature of their military experience during and after the war, and questions of cowardice and courage, patriotism and purpose, were often foremost in their thoughts.

Brave in the Water

By Stephanie Wildman, Jenni Feidler-Aguilar (illustrator),

Book cover of Brave in the Water

This book has one of my favorite covers which only accentuates the story of Diante overcoming his fears of swimming. With the help of his wise grandmother, Diante learns breathing techniques to help settle his mind in order to put his face in the water and learn to swim.

Who am I?

Over the past several months, I have had the pleasure to work with amazing authors who, like me, have debut children's books that were released in 2021. These books range in topics, from overcoming your fears to transgender to history, to cute rats that will let your imagination run wild. Being a kid myself, my parents read every night to me. These are books that like mine, are filled with representation that was lacking in those books that were read to me.


I wrote...

I Am Odd, I Am New

By Benjamin Giroux, Roz MacLean (illustrator),

Book cover of I Am Odd, I Am New

What is my book about?

Through the eyes of 10-year-old Benjamin Giroux, I Am Odd I Am New is his view of his life as a child on the autism spectrum, living in a neurotypical world. Benjamin was diagnosed with ASD at the age of 8. He was bullied, by his peers, some unknowingly. As a writing assignment in fifth grade, Benjamin poured his heart out in a heartbreaking, yet encouraging poem. From feeling odd to understanding that everyone is odd, or different in their own way.

The book takes the reader on a journey of self-reflection. The illustrations by award-winning illustrator, Roz MacLean, beautifully bring Benjamin’s words to life right in front of your eyes.

Do Not Go in There

By Ariel Horn, Izzy Burton (illustrator),

Book cover of Do Not Go in There

I was friends with the author in high school, and we co-edited the comedy section of the school paper together. Reading her book as an adult is such a joy. Her irreverent sense of humor really shines through. It's a very simple story about two (monster) friends who find a red door. One imagines all the worst things that could be behind it, while another imagines all the best. It's a great example of how different points of view make for the best teams. Also, the illustrations by Burton are both playful and breathtaking, with colors and characters that really pop!


Who am I?

I feel passionate about the topic of friendship because I haven’t been a great friend to all the people that have mattered to me. I’ve learned the value of friendship by making a lot of mistakes. I’m very lucky to be in my 40’s, have an amazing family, and still have a few individuals that I’ve known my entire adult life, who I still talk to on a regular basis. These people are really good friends, because, to be honest, they’ve seen me at my worst, and still love me. I consider myself a wealthy man, in no small part because of my friends. 


I wrote...

A Friend for Yoga Bunny

By Brian Russo,

Book cover of A Friend for Yoga Bunny

What is my book about?

In his second outing, Yoga Bunny finds a new friend... Bear! Bear is nervous about her birthday party and Bunny shows her how he uses yoga to feel more relaxed. He then invites her to do yoga with him and some other animals the next day. When she doesn’t show up, Yoga Bunny is sad at first, but then let's go and wishes her the best. I hope this will show young readers an important aspect of friendship: we can’t always fix our friend’s problems, and they won’t always do what we want. But if we stay open and respect what they’re going through, everything will turn out for the best.

Animal Dreams

By Barbara Kingsolver,

Book cover of Animal Dreams

I’ve read Animal Dreams eight times, and each time I connect with the protagonist, Codi, as strongly as I did the first time. Codi is returning home to Grace, Arizona, partly because she has no idea what to do with her life, partly because her father isn’t well, and partly because she has unfinished business to tend to, though she doesn’t let herself acknowledge that. She’s an expert at running away from the truths she’s buried and the people who could expose them, but her façade shatters when she returns to Grace, a world barren and fertile and unforgettable. Why did I read this book eight times? Because I love Codi’s vulnerability and strength, her quirkiness and intelligence, her complexity and confusion, all conveyed through Kingsolver’s gorgeously poetic prose.


Who am I?

As a second-generation Italian American, I’ve always had one foot in the past, fascinated by the way a family history can shape who we are and deepen our understanding of our place in the world. The characters I love are searching for that kind of connection. As a writer, I’ve always thought nothing deepens a story more than a glance into the past, and now, living and writing in a medieval hill town in Italy, surrounded by the remnants of history, I believe it more than ever. I step outside and the past roars in, reminding me how it shapes the present—and each one of us.


I wrote...

The Wild Impossibility

By Cheryl A. Ossola,

Book cover of The Wild Impossibility

What is my book about?

Can a person live someone else’s memories? That’s what Kira, a neonatal ICU nurse, is asking herself. Wracked by grief, she’s having what she thinks are vivid, disturbing dreams—until they start happening while she’s awake. Not dreams but memories, she decides. And not hers. Questioning her mental state, driven to discover what these fragments of someone’s life mean, Kira digs obsessively into the past, putting her marriage at risk.

Meanwhile, her grandmother Maddalena’s tale unfurls, a tragic love story set at Manzanar, a World War II Japanese American internment camp. As Kira discovers that her life is intertwined with Maddalena’s in ways she could never have imagined, she comes face-to-face with her grief and her self-doubt—and her future.

Chirp

By Kate Messner,

Book cover of Chirp

This pick has the distinguished honor of convincing me to try cricket flour. It also manages to present a layered storyline, one that combines an almost classic mystery plot with a traumatized character’s journey of self-healing. This book serves as a powerful reminder that we are more than the incidents that victimized us. And yes, even an insect hater like me enjoyed learning so much about the many uses of crickets! 


Who am I?

My novel choices were part of the Afterschool Literacy & Building Modules for an organization called LitShop. It encourages growth in literacy, making, building, and leadership in girls ages 10-15 in St. Louis, Missouri. I’m honored to lead the writing classes. All of the LitShop books feature strong girls who believe they can make and build their way to a better world, and I aim to include similar characters in my stories. Stories can provide us with motivation, inspiration, and companionship, and all of these books have done just that… for the girls of LitShop as well as myself.


I wrote...

The Ghost and the Wolf

By Shelly X. Leonn,

Book cover of The Ghost and the Wolf

What is my book about?

Penelope, a student reporter, struggles to find her identity after a childhood of tragedy. Desperate to prove herself to her peers, she chases a story tip on a secret organization of teen urban explorers called “The Broken.” The group demands she complete a test before they let her write the story. While following the clues of their twisted scavenger hunt, she encounters Lex, a young paranormal investigator with a knack for computer hacking, and together they work to uncover the organization’s darkest secrets. As they tag along, they become entangled in the group’s inner fighting and their leader’s plans that turn out to be much more nefarious…and deadly…than they’d believed. Realizing her mistakes too late, Penelope will have to fight for her own life and the lives of her friends.

Three Ways to Be Brave

By Karla Clark, Jeff Östberg (illustrator),

Book cover of Three Ways to Be Brave: A Trio of Stories

This engaging book presents three young children being brave in three scary situations—a thunderstorm, the first day of school, and getting a shot at the doctor’s office. Using very simple rhyming text, Karla Clark captures the fear of these events and shows the children overcoming that fear. This is a great book for parents to use with preschoolers in discussing ways to deal with being frightened. Jeff Őstberg’s artwork effectively portrays the children’s fear, as well as their pride in overcoming it. The cover art is especially striking.


Who am I?

I have written 60 books over the past 20 years. My titles include picture books, poetry books, and dozens of nonfiction books covering a wide range of history and social studies topics. My picture books deal with concepts such as counting and colors. I enjoy rhyming and wordplay and conveying ideas in simple terms. 


I wrote...

Raindrops to Rainbow

By John Micklos Jr., Charlene Chua (illustrator),

Book cover of Raindrops to Rainbow

What is my book about?

Raindrops are falling outside, but there’s still a world of color to experience! Delightful rhymes and brilliant illustrations detail how a gloomy, rainy day actually might not be so gloomy after all when you get to spend time with Mom, Brown Bear, and the colors around you. And when a “beaming rainbow, bold and bright” cuts through the sky, everyone gets to experience the joy of all the colors that can only come after the rain.

The Thing Lou Couldn't Do

By Ashley Spires,

Book cover of The Thing Lou Couldn't Do

One of the reasons that I love this book is because it doesn’t end with success. It ends with a “not yet” and maybe I will be back tomorrow to try again. That is what life is about-we don’t always have success, but we can persevere and try new things without always succeeding. Lou and her friends have great imaginations when they are playing and they decide to climb a tree and pretend it is a pirate ship. The challenge is that Lou has never climbed a tree before. Her excuses are funny: “The cat needs a walk,” “I stepped on a slug and his funeral is in 5 minutes,” and the one many of us recognize, “My tummy hurts.” She thinks of lots of ways to get up the tree without climbing - but they don’t work. She finally tries, gets a few feet up, and falls. She decides…


Who am I?

I am a mom and life-long educator who has often scratched my head and wondered why kids give up so easily when things become a little challenging. I learned about fixed and growth mindset principles and decided to apply them to an education setting. What I realized during this time is that both adults and kids give up too easily and demonstrate fixed mindset thinking way too often! As a result, I wrote a few books for teachers, parents, and kids about ways to develop a growth mindset! I am sharing some of my favorite books that can be a catalyst for discussing resiliency and perseverance with the kids in our life!


I wrote...

Nothing You Can't Do!: The Secret Power of Growth Mindsets

By Mary Cay Ricci,

Book cover of Nothing You Can't Do!: The Secret Power of Growth Mindsets

What is my book about?

Nothing You Can’t Do! The Secret Power of a Growth Mindset is an engaging, funny, and interactive book for kids who need some support sticking with stuff. Things like sports, school, music, art...just about anything that a kid faces! The book is divided into “secrets.” Here are a few: (Shhhhh don’t tell anyone that I am sharing some secrets) Secret #9: Your Brain Can Get Smarter and Stronger! Secret #10: Bounce Back from Setbacks. Secret #14: Don’t Be Afraid of Mistakes. Secret #25: Have Some Strategies in Your Back Pocket.

Readers can learn to observe life through an optimistic lens, handle mistakes in a positive way and reflect on the potential that we all have when we learn the secrets of a growth mindset. 

Daring Greatly

By Brené Brown,

Book cover of Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

A few years ago, I had just come off stage after delivering a keynote and was grabbing my luggage to rush to the airport to catch my flight. Well, I missed my flight, and it was worth it. The moment I heard the speaker after me, I was riveted. I’d never heard of her, but I had to stay. I had to listen. I had to meet her backstage in the greenroom. The speaker? Brené Brown. 

Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly perfectly defines the shift we have seen in recent generations. Where vulnerability was once perceived as weakness, Brown portrays how she and others have transformed their own shame and guilt into strength. Daring Greatly reaffirms my own experience of stepping into discomfort and owning my story. By embracing fear, discomfort, and vulnerability, I discovered how self-acceptance can lead to helping others do the same.


Who am I?

I’ve been in the digital space for 30 years and my breakthrough book was Socialnomics. In this book, I encouraged individuals and organizations to lean into social media and digital, both personally and professionally; emphasizing that this shift wasn’t just for teenagers, that it would change the world more than anything in our lifetime. That it would become a powerful force around business, politics, gaming, and beyond. And, unfortunately, it did. It was even more powerful than I could have imagined. What I didn’t comprehend was that we would lean in too much. I realized I needed to give the anti-venom to Socialnomics. We needed as a society to return to focusing on what matters most.


I wrote...

The Focus Project: The Not So Simple Art of Doing Less

By Erik Qualman,

Book cover of The Focus Project: The Not So Simple Art of Doing Less

What is my book about?

Whether you’re a programmer, mother, executive, teacher, or entrepreneur, this book is for you if… 1. You feel like you need 5 more hours in your day. 2. You are being pulled in a million directions with no end in sight. 3. Your life is busy instead of big.

Welcome to The Focus Project, a book designed to provide answers and solutions to the challenges of focusing in an unfocused world. Combining street science and institutional research alongside his own personal focus project, Qualman delivers practical advice on thinking big versus busy. The following is a guide to doing less, better. This enables us to achieve more–both personally and professionally.

Heroes

By Lucy Hughes-Hallett,

Book cover of Heroes: Saviors, Traitors, and Supermen: A History of Hero Worship

This book does several things. First, it offers fascinating bios of eight heroes from history and mythology. Two legendary Homeric characters—Achilles and Odysseus—are joined by six giant figures from history: Alcibiades, Cato, El Cid, Wallenstein, Francis Drake, and Garibaldi. Morally, these men are often a mix of good and bad—but their stories are always robustly colorful. Hughes-Hallett draws a fascinating distinction between Achilles and Odysseus—one hero chose death and glory, the other lied, cheated, and stole to retain life. 

Hughes-Hallett points out the dangers of hero worshiping giants whose prowess might outstrip their character; the dangers of seeking guidance from “great men” that we would be better off providing ourselves.


Who am I?

I am a kid from Brooklyn who is, and always has been, an inveterate hero worshiper. In a world that is generally mad and too often violent, I have weaned myself on the lives of heroes. I may lack their prowess, but I have striven for their dedication to excellence. I have published numerous books, including The Capitalist Manifesto: The Historic, Economic, and Philosophic Case for Laissez-Faire. But it is my recent book that crowns a lifetime of thinking about heroes. What is their nature? What factors in the world give rise to the possibility—and the necessity—of heroes? How do we rationally define the concept “hero”? These are the questions my book addresses and seeks to answer.


I wrote...

Heroes, Legends, Champions: Why Heroism Matters

By Andrew Bernstein,

Book cover of Heroes, Legends, Champions: Why Heroism Matters

What is my book about?

The book starts with a broad range of examples of differing kinds of persons, distinguishing those who perform life-enhancing deeds, especially on an epic scale, from those of more prosaic attainments. Some are dauntless in the face of impediments and/or dangers that would dismay a lesser person. Some possess prowess, whether intellectual, bodily, or both, exceeding that of Everyman. Some pursue substantial life-promoting goals and never surrender their vision. Individuals who combine these traits tower over those who do not and show us what it means to be a hero.

Further, heroes are necessary for two reasons. First, the curing of disease, the defense of liberty, the identification of new truths, and so forth, often takes ability and courage beyond that of Everyman. It is the work of heroes. Second, a hero’s unswerving dedication to life-enhancing goals serves as inspiration to all honest persons to be the best versions of ourselves.

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