You might not know that today is United Nations Day. I didn’t know it either, until my Mixed-Up Files calendar told me so. Now that you know this, you are probably asking, okay, what is United Nations Day?
According to the UN, this day was established to highlight the aims and achievements of the UN and marks the anniversary of the organization’s 1945 charter. But more specifically, the UN Secretary-General said recently that this is a day for everyone to resolve to do more — more to protect those caught in armed conflict, more to fight climate change, avert nuclear catastrophe, expand opportunities for women and girls, and more to combat injustice.
It seems an insurmountable task to fix all that’s broken in our world. And it’s easy to get caught up in how much is bad, especially since much of the news is overly negative and sensational. But the good stories are out there too, like an article I read about five women in their 70s who have been friends since kindergarten, or the man who had his lost wedding band returned by strangers. Those kinds of stories lift my heart, as do these favorite books with young characters who are determined to make this world a better place. We could all learn something from them!
My Life in Pink & Green, by Lisa Greenwald
Twelve-year old Lucy Desberg is a natural problem-solver. She’s started doing makeovers at her family’s struggling pharmacy, but all the makeup tips in the world won’t help save the business. Lucy dreams up a solution that can breathe new life into the business and help the environment too. But will her family stop arguing long enough to listen to a seventh-grader?
I love this sweet book, and Lucy is such an inspiring character. I was happy to hear that we’ll find out how Lucy’s story continues when the sequel comes out this spring — My Summer of Pink & Green.
The Second Life of Abigail Walker, by Frances O’Roark Dowell
Seventeen pounds. That’s the difference between Abigail and Kristen. Between chubby and slim, teased and taunting. Abby is fine with her body and sick of seventeen pounds making her miserable, so she speaks out against Kristen and her groupies — and becomes officially unpopular. Then Abby meets Anders, who is homeschooled and different, plus worried about his dad, an Iraq War vet. Abby unexpectedly discovers that by helping someone else find hope in the world, she’s able to find some too.
Bully, by Patricia Polacco
Lyla makes the cheerleading squad and is suddenly part of the popular group. But when she sees the popular girls viciously teasing classmates on Facebook, including an old friend, she realizes it’s time to get out. But the popular girls aren’t so happy with Lyla’s decision and they’re out for revenge. This is a powerful story of cliques, online bullying, and the choice to stand up for a friend.
Hoot, by Carl Hiaasen
In this Newbery Honor book, Roy Eberhardt is on a quest to save endangered miniature owls when a pancake house is scheduled to be built over their burrows. Full of funny, interesting, quirky characters, as well as inspiration.
Wonder, by RJ Palacio
This best-seller follows the story of Auggie Pullman, a boy with a severe facial deformity who is going to school for the first time. The book has prompted an anti-bullying campaign, choosekind.tumblr.com and its own Twitter feed, #thewonderofwonder. Full of heart and hope, the majority of characters realize that Auggie is someone they can be friends with instead of stare at.
Judy Moody Saves the World, by Megan McDonald
Judy sets out to win a contest for her Band-Aid design but after garnering only an honorable mention, she turns her attention to her family’s crummy recycling habits and an endangered species.
One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate
The story of Ivan, a caged gorilla living inside a circus-themed mall, is based on a true story, and the cool part is that it was heartfelt letters from kids that helped free the real Ivan. Applegate has written a poignant story in Ivan’s voice that has resonated with readers of many ages. The real Ivan was happily moved to the Atlanta Zoo (after 27 years at the mall!) and became a beloved celebrity there, living contentedly with other gorillas until he died at age 50.
Although these characters are fictional, their quests to set things right are very real — saving a small business, helping a war veteran, confronting bullies, rescuing an endangered species, and fighting for freedom. I hope that young readers (and old ones too) are inspired to get out there and change the world!
Talk about this and other issues on the weekly Twitter chat about middle grade fiction and nonfiction — #MGlitchat. This takes place every Thursday night at 9 p.m. EST.
Michele Weber Hurwitz, the author of Calli Be Gold (Wendy Lamb Books/Random House 2011), has way too many inspirational quotes taped up over her desk. Visit her at www.micheleweberhurwitz.com.