Thursday 29 November 2018

Stories for kids who dare to be different

Stories for kids who dare to be different by Ben Brooks, illustrated by Quinton Winter (Quercus) HB RRP $35.00 ISBN 9781787476523

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Sub-titled ‘True tales of boys and girls who stood up and stood out’, this is one of the most interesting, fascinating and absorbing non-fiction books for children I’ve read in years – and I’ve read many. The sub-title is misleading, though, as the accomplishments of many of the heroes featured occurred when they were adults, but the book, equally devoted to the exploits of males and females, tells of childhoods, often deprived and of people who overcame poverty, physical problems and more. However, the design of the book with typeface often on overly-dark pages, does it a disservice. But truly, the stories are wonderful and certainly inspiring, even for adults as well as children aged 9 to 13 for whom the book is marketed.

Bjork, Dr Seuss, Whoopi Goldberg, Andy Warhol, Gertrude Stein, Orville and Wilbur Wright, Lady Godiva, Yvonne Goolagong and Dr Seuss are people most adults are familiar with and whose stories they know. But this book of 100 (or more) people from countries all over the world include amazing achievements in all fields from astro-physics to medicine, ballet to civil disobedience.

It’s difficult to focus on only a few heroes when all here are remarkable… but the Edelweiss Pirates, teenagers who undermined Nazis (by acts such as posting anti-slogans and putting sugar in petrol tanks) during Hitler’s reign of terror, were certainly brave. So too was Witold Pilecki who defended Poland against the Russians and volunteered to be arrested and sent to Auschwitz death camp to expose the horrors there, transmitting messages to the resistance and to the British authorities, becoming the first person to alert the outside world of the Nazis’ atrocities.

Someone who was heroic in 2018 was Emma Gonzalez, a teenager who organised March for our Lives, a peaceful protest in America in support of new gun control laws following a mass killing in her school – she managed to mobilise almost 2 million people! Muslim Loujain Al-Hathloul drove a car and made videos in Saudi Arabia at a time when women weren’t allowed to drive (they couldn’t vote until 2015 and still aren’t allowed to open their own bank accounts). There are dozens more stories. I was inspired to follow the lives of some depicted here, such as the Inuit artist, Kenojuah Ashevak, 18 year old Hannah Herbst who has invented a small machine called BEACON which uses wave action to create electricity and black ballet dancer Eric Underwood who became the star of The Royal London Ballet and had a ballet shoe named after him.

Throughout the world, where there are injustices, strong men and women (and sometimes children) emerge to remedy wrongs. In our evermore hectic and overwhelming world, Stories for Kids Who Dare to be Different is refreshing proof that dreams do come true and that it is okay to be different.

This is an inspiring read for any young person, particularly those struggling to find their place in the world and who want to know about the lives of those heroes who have led the way, changing the world for the better as they go. 

Highly recommended.

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