Books about bravery and standing up for what you believe in are more important now than ever before. These thoughtful books celebrate girls, one in space and another fighting for educational justice; a bevy of kids of all kinds being brave; and a war horse with two Purple Hearts.

Free as a Bird: The Story of Malala

By Lina Maslo; Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins; 32 pages; $17.99

With gentle colors and free-flowing art, Free as a Bird: The Story of Malala, author Lina Maslo’s empowering true tale of an activist Pakistani girl is clearly penned and succinctly inspiring.

Free As a Bird

Like all girls in Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai was considered unlucky when she was born, but her father had faith in her and knew she could do whatever she chose. Malala secretly went to school, and she and her father eventually traveled her country to speak up for the right of every child to be educated.

With a breezy, free-flying bird theme as backdrop, lyrical quotes, extra information and facts, and a timeline at the end of this tale, Free as a Bird is an inspiring picture-book look at the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and the father who helped her soar.

Sergeant Reckless: The Story of the Little Horse Who Became a Hero

By Patricia McCormick; illustrated by Iacopo Bruno; Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins; 32 pages; $17.99

Award-winning author Patricia McCormick’s picture book, Sergeant Reckless: The Story of the Little Horse Who Became a Hero, proves how selfless and full of honor animals can be.

Reckless was a hungry little horse when a Marine in the Korean War had the idea that she could carry heavy ammunition uphill. The Marines only had bread and oatmeal to feed her, but they had faith the forgotten little racehorse could be trained to help.

Iacopo Bruno’s personality-filled illustrations show a hungry horse (that drinks Coca-Cola) with tons of spitfire and determination, and young soldiers who clearly care for her as they do one another.

Infused with humor (Reckless ate $30 worth of poker chips while playing cards with the guys), McCormick’s tale has the makings of a classic. During Reckless’ most heroic battle, she made 51 trips over 35 miles up and down steep terrain, hauling nearly 9,000 pounds of ammunition, and was hit by shrapnel. Thankfully, she was recognized with two Purple Hearts and retired with full military honors, which proves the mysterious bond between humans and animals.

Reckless is a lovely, beautiful must-read about a little horse with a huge heart.


By Stacy McAnulty; illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff; Running Press; 32 pages; $16.99

What does a brave kid do? “A brave kid has a courageous heart” (while a boy checks under a bed for his little brother); “A brave kids speaks for truth and stands for justice” (a little boy stands up to an older girl bully); and “A brave kid leads the team” (a girl leads a row of ducks across a stream).

A vividly colored, bold picture that’s easy to read, Brave introduces boys and girls of different races, as well as disabilities, cleaning up the Earth, apologizing when wrong and comforting sick siblings.

It’s a perfect inclusion for the We Need Diverse Books movement, a fantastic teaching tool for preschools and younger grades, and a smart book for any brave child’s shelf.

Mae Among the Stars

By Roda Ahmed; illustrated by Stasia Burrington; HarperCollins; 32 pages; $17.99

“You will find your way, Mae. Because if you dream it, believe in it, and work hard for it, anything is possible.” This is the advice young Mae Jemison got from her dad when she asked how to become an astronaut.

As the first African-American woman in space, in 1992, Jemison did achieve her dreams. But Mae Among the Stars is the story of her extraordinary drive as a child, and it should inspire other kids, especially girls, to study and work hard and follow their dreams.

I couldn’t help but think of the brave African-American women who invaluably helped our space program, as we learned in the movie Hidden Figures. Jemison certainly deserves her own movie role, and she actually appeared as a real astronaut on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Roda Ahmed’s picture book is super-fun and empowering.

— Lee Littlewood writes the Kids’ Home Library column for Creators. The San Diego wife and mom’s pure love of children’s literature helps her stay interested in words and pictures meant for tots to teens. Click here to contact her, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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