by Margaret Welwood
As parents and grandparents, we rightly worry about violence on TV and in movies and games, and its effect on children.
As children’s book authors, can we offer another kind of example—men and women, boys and girls, and even animals—that model courage and compassion to an eager audience?
Below I’ve chosen two stories based on real events and a non-fiction book, all of which draw young readers into a place where kindness and courage make winners out of the rescuers and the rescued.
Gracie the Lighthouse Cat by Ruth Brown
On September 7, 1838, a raging storm sends the SS Forfarshire crashing into Big Harcar rock in North East England. Grace Darling and her father, the lighthouse keeper, brave the howling wind, freezing spray and towering waves to rescue the survivors.
But how many young children can empathize with a 22-year-old heroine? Then again, what little child can not be taken up with the story of a kitten hurled into the storm, and his mother’s climb down the slippery rocks to save him?
I don’t remember ever seeing a book quite like this one. The kitten rescue tale is told in words and pictures, while the true story of Grace Darling’s heroism is told as backdrop—pictures only. This book will be an inspiration to children from four to nine years old, and their grown-ups.
Firefighters’ Busy Day by Maria Bostian.
Ms. Bostian’s teaching experience, understanding of how young children learn, compassion, and devotion to the cause of safety shine like the bright red fire engine in her story. The rhyme, bright pictures, actions and activities will make the story memorable to children and help them to internalize the lifesaving lessons.
Balto’s Story by Kevin Blake
This true story opens with a blinding blizzard, -50oF (-46 oC) temperatures, winds roaring at 70 mph (113 kph)—and children in grave danger.
In response to an urgent telegram pleading for diphtheria antitoxin to save dozens of sick children in Nome, Alaska, the governor decides to opt for sled dogs rather than risk a plane flight from Anchorage to Nome. Musher Gunnar Kaasen and his team, led by Balto, race the last 50 miles.
For me, the most compelling moment is when Balto says “No” to crossing a frozen river and the wise musher heeds the warning—the ice is too weak to cross.
The book features actual photographs from 1925, including one of the telegram from Dr. Welch, and one of Balto, head drooping with exhaustion, in Nome. There are also modern-day photos of sled dog teams in Alaska, the statue of Balto in New York City’s Central Park, and Mrs. Jirdes Winther Baxter, whose life was saved by the medicine delivered by Balto’s team. Factoids (“A Siberian husky’s sense of smell is 600 to 700 times better than a human’s”), maps, a glossary and sources of further information make this inspiring book invaluable as an elementary school teacher’s resource as well as for home reading.
Who are your real-life heroes? Perhaps there is someone you could interview and photograph for your story. A veteran, maybe, or a foster parent. When our infant granddaughter failed to thrive in the hospital just after birth, her surgeon asked a social services agency to provide someone who would visit the child frequently. They responded with Tricia, a foster mom who spent hour after hour, day after day, visiting and singing to the little girl until it was time for her to leave the hospital. And now, in the home provided by her adoptive parents (our daughter and son-in-law), this child continues to thrive. Perhaps you know a “Tricia,” an unassuming person who quietly teaches us that kindness rules.
Or could you write about a rescue animal, or a service dog, or a search and rescue dog? You might try telling the story from the animal’s point of view!
But a story need not be true to teach a deep truth. After all, surely the most famous kindness story of all is The Good Samaritan, told by the King of storytellers!
As many other fine picture books for children do, Leave Me Alone by Kes Gray offers hope. Through the compassion, courage and initiative of the rabbit, the fly, the cow, the frog, the pig and others who inhabit his world, our young hero finds peace and safety. And this coterie of unlikely heroes reminds us that that even the smallest of us has important work to do.
Abigail, Queen of Natronia: A Fairy Tale is Darrel Case’s spin on “The Ugly Duckling.” This tale swims through showing kindness to those who look different, and not judging people by their appearance, into the transformational power of kindness to both the giver and the receiver.
Can you and I help make the world a kinder, gentler place by writing about heroes that show us how it’s done?
And, if you’re looking for help and companionship in your writing journey, check out the Authors Community, for which I edit children’s picture books. There you’ll get to know a group of people who share their joys and struggles, and who give and receive advice freely.
Margaret Welwood loved teaching English as a Second Language, writing magazine articles, and editing a business magazine and adult non-fiction books (one an Amazon #1 best seller, the other a Writer’s Digest award winner). However, with the arrival of grandchildren and their welcome request—“Grandma, can you tell me a story?”—she began writing and editing picture books for children. This is now her favorite genre.
She was particularly pleased to work with AC author Terri Martin on Luckie’s Boat Ride, a tale of adventure and compassion on the high seas. Now that the editing has been completed, other members of the AC team will guide Terri down the path to final publication with the venue of her choice.