Heroes for Boys and Girls

By Lee Littlewood

October 21, 2016 6 min read

Kids need worthy role models and heroes. Unfortunately, the famous ones often aren't all they're cracked up to be. Here are new books that chronicle Ansel Adams, animal advocate Henry Bergh and a Tuskegee Airmen father.

"Heroes for My Daughter" and "Heroes for My Son" by Brad Meltzer; Harper/HarperCollins; 125 pages and $17.99 each.

From No. 1 New York Times best-selling author Brad Meltzer comes two thoughtful, all-encompassing depictions of ordinary people who became heroes and heroines. In "Heroes for My Daughter," 77 women and a few men are presented with brief but intensive biographies and photographs in double-page spreads. With a wide array of heroines, from Ella Fitzgerald to Sally Ride to Jane Goodall to Temple Grandin and even Lisa Simpson, the book is not inspiring and funny. Each page spread includes a black-and-white photo with the hero's name, plus a few words to describe them. My favorite hero (who's also a personal relative), is Unstoppable Helen Keller who's "Deaf. Blind. Limitless." The opposing pages describe the hero in greater detail. For Keller, "No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars or sailed an uncharted land or opened a new doorway for the human spirit."

"Heroes for My Son" introduces 53 more inspiring folks, not all men, from Dr. Seuss to Mark Twain to the Wright Brothers. Even Oprah Winfrey and President Barack Obama make this edition (and rightly so), which Meltzer created to help his kids know they have the potential to change the world.

Both books are must-reads for kids ages 4 to 10.

"Mercy: The Incredible Story of Henry Bergh" by Nancy Furstinger; illustrated by Vincent Desjardins; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 192 pages; $16.99.

Animal cruelty seems to be visible everywhere these days, from people ignorantly taking animals out of their natural habitats to take selfies to pollution to infringing on animal territories. This thoughtful biography takes on animal rights hero Henry Bergh, who went from aimless playwright to founder of the first North American humane society in the mid-1800s. Back then, most animals were treated horribly, and Bergh decided to do something about it by founding the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He drew attention to his cause by jumping through a skylight into a dogfighting pit, stopping deliverymen when horses were overburdened and even battling P.T. Barnum for safer quarters for circus animals. The heroic Bergh certainly changed the way Americans thought about and treated their four-legged friends.

Written clearly with lots of action and drama, Nancy Furstinger's lively chapter book includes lots of colorful illustrations and sidebar snippets. A timeline, photographic album and note from the author add more information. A truly inspiring true story for readers about ages 10 to 12 is meant to provoke important discussions and motivate young animal lovers to make a difference in their communities.

"Antsy Ansel: Ansel Adams, a Life in Nature" by Cindy Jenson-Elliott; illustrated by Christy Hale; Henry Holt; 32 pages; $17.99.

Nature photographer Ansel Adams couldn't sit still as a child. He was encouraged to play outdoors much of the time, and at age 13, thanks to his father, began studying at home and in nature. Ansel caught insects and made a museum in his dresser drawer; gathered driftwood and was "on fire for learning" with a season ticket to the San Francisco world fair. At 14, he visited Yosemite National Park and learned the magic of snapping nature photographs. This seemed to be the catalyst for a lifetime of Yosemite visits, where Adams worked around his job as an indoor photographer, snapping school pictures and weddings and catalogs. When Adams married and had children nature called more often, sending the family back to Yosemite, where his pictures soon became famous, and the government and Life magazine began calling.

As one of the most important photographers in American history (his Yosemite photos helped convince President Franklin D. Roosevelt to make it a national park), Adams made a massive impact on peoples' appreciation of nature. Cindy Jenson-Elliot successfully captured Adams' teen foray into his art, and magically concocted a gentle biography of an art legend. Kids who also get antsy in class will relate to this story, and perhaps become motivated to get outside more.

"American Ace" by Marilyn Nelson; Dial Books/Penguin; 124 pages; $17.99.

Penned in prose that's part storytelling and part poetry, Marilyn Nelson's book for ages 7 to 10 is unique and timely. When young Connor's grandmother dies he receives a letter that shakes up their tightknit Italian-American family. Could somebody else be his biological father? The only clues Connor has is a class ring and a pair of pilot's wings. When his dad is hospitalized after a stroke, the two find out much more about Connor's birth father and learn a lot about race, identity and each other.

The first novel in verse by renowned poet Nelson is a quick read that's thoughtful and open-minded, and ends with Connor realizing his biological place with the famed Tuskegee Airmen. With lots of pertinent information about the outward and inward heroism of the airmen, "American Ace" tells a very important story about race and family. Nelson even includes a section at the end titled, "How this book came to be, and why an older African-American woman ended up writing as a young white man." It's simply spectacular.

To find out more about Lee Littlewood, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

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