Good Works Make Great Reading

We should do everything we can to build strong communities. How? By helping those in need, making the effort to understand each other, pitching in to do what needs to be done.

Introducing your kids to books about cooperation, compassion, and service, particularly in this season of goodwill, will teach them that when we take care of each other, problems take care of themselves.

These children's books applaud individual initiative and highlight the amazing feats a group of dedicated workers can accomplish. Some use humor for emphasis, others tug at the heart. Whether they offer a slice of life or pure fiction, each of the following titles proves that good works make great reading.



Raising Yoder's Barn

Jane Yolen

Little Brown, 1998, $15.95

Ages 4 to 8


When lightning ignites a devastating fire, a young boy's neighbors try valiantly, though unsuccessfully, to douse the blaze. Understanding the importance of a barn to the Amish family farm, the entire community helps the Yoders rebuild, raising a massive new structure in only one day.

This personal account chronicles a week that encompasses both total destruction and a miraculous rebirth. Lyrical prose describes a culture in which simplicity and selflessness weave a web of support so strong that tragedy cannot threaten families. Glorious oil paintings capture one family's loss and their community's unequivocal response.



Something Beautiful

Sharon Dennis Wyeth

Doubleday, 1998, $16.95

Ages 4 to 8


When a teacher explains the connection between beauty and happiness, a young girl is determined to find something beautiful in her bleak inner-city neighborhood. After visiting friends and neighbors for advice, she begins to see that "the beauty of friendship and the power of hope" do strengthen her own community. Recognizing that she has the power to make a difference, to create beauty, she embarks on a course to clean up the courtyard of her apartment building.

Luminous, realistic watercolors expose what happens when people don't care and what blossoms when they do.

Fishing for Methuselah

Roger Roth

HarperCollins, 1998, $14.95

Ages 4 to 8


Ivan and Olaf are boisterous buddies whose friendship is based on fierce one-upmanship. Their squabbling peaks during the annual winter carnival when an ice-fishing competition hones their criticism of one another to unbearable sharpness. This year, they have challenged each other to catch the legendary Methuselah, the largest, craftiest fish in nearby Moosehead Lake. Their constant bickering is on the verge of causing their demise, however: Unbeknownst to Ivan and Olaf, it appears that even fish have their limits.

This zany tale's cartoon-style drawings show unmistakably why cooperation, not competition, is the foundation of enduring friendships.



Slow Train to Oxmox

Kurt Cyrus

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998, $16.00

Ages 5 to 8


Edwin Blink is in such a hurry to catch his train that he inadvertently gets on the local instead of the express. Now this busy businessman's pace has slowed from fast-forward to imperceptible and there is not a thing he can do about it. The slow train constantly derails, and uses the commuters to get back on track. Finally, when the locomotive lunges off a trestle, Edwin sees how he can contribute and, after a burst of extraordinary cooperation, the train continues on.

This cautionary fable uses tongue-in-cheek humor to illustrate that busy people who assume they aren't missing much are people who don't know what they're missing.



Mrs. Mack

Patricia Polacco

Philomel, 1998, $16.99

Ages 5 to 9


Ten-year-old Patricia is finally getting the horseback-riding lessons she has dreamed about. But the shabby stable on the wrong side of town with the tough-looking kids out front and the crabby old man next door were not what she had in mind. Then she meets Mrs. Mack, whose infectious warmth and patience convince her to stay.

Pat spends the entire summer learning how much work and how much fun having a horse of her own can be. Then tragedy strikes her beloved mare, and Pat, in the midst of despair, discovers that the seeds of compassion bring miraculous results.

Mary On Horseback

Rosemary Wells

Dial, 1998, $16.99

Ages 7 to 11


Newly independent readers rarely get to feast on topnotch drama or biography. This thin volume offers both. Its three well-wrought stories not only bring history to life; they reveal that when ordinary people accomplish the seemingly impossible, they make history.

Mary Breckinridge faced enormous challenges in bringing modern medicine to the Appalachians in the 1920s. Her Frontier Nursing Service is the model for the delivery of rural health care to this day and is a tribute to her generous heart, hard work, and invincible spirit.




Ben Mikaelsen

Hyperion, 1998, $15.95

Ages 11 and up

When Petey was born in 1920, the cerebral palsy that disfigured his body was assumed to have disabled his mind as well. Misdiagnosed as an idiot, he spends most of his life in a mental institution. The deadening monotony of his life is unimaginable. Starving for love, he develops friendships with the few souls who detect the intelligent soul trapped within his misshapen form, but the relationships don't last--at least not long enough for Petey.

By the time he is seventy, he is mistrustful. Caregivers come and go. Promises are broken. His life has taught him that it's best not to expect much; that way, you're never disappointed. But then Trevor, a teenager struggling to discover where he fits in the world, finds Petey. Together they embark on an adventure fraught with possibility: They become friends. After that, everything changes for Petey. And Trevor. And readers, too.

This touching story underscores the indomitability of the human spirit. It reveals that what we see with our eyes is not necessarily what's real; reality is sometimes buried, hidden, or disguised--it can only be seen with the heart.



Worth the Risk

Arlene Erlbach

Free Spirit, 1999, $12.95

Ages 10 to 15


In order to grow, you have to take risks. Each time you succeed or fail, you learn something about yourself, developing confidence in your ability to cope and eventually prevail. But some risks aren't worth venturing, the chance of negative results far outweighing the possibility of a positive outcome. How can kids figure out which risks to take and which to reject?

This handy book explains the process and gives profiles of twenty young people who took positive risks, detailing the problems they faced and what they gained from their success or in spite of their failure. It lists books, organizations, and Web sites to explore, and offers user-friendly advice on how to set goals, take action, and deal with the consequences.




Paul Fleischman

Henry Holt, 1998, $16.95

Ages 12 and up


When Brent gets behind the wheel, he's drunk and upset. His judgment clouded, he decides that suicide would solve all of his problems. But ending it all turns out to be only the beginning. Now to repent for his fatal mistake he is on a cross-country mission to erect a whirligig in each of the four corners of the country to memorialize his victim.

Though he doesn't know it, he is building a community--a group of people all touched by the wind machines he crafts. He is making a difference, making connections.

The power of this unforgettable novel is undeniable. Readers will follow Brent's trail only to find that they end up at the beginning. Rescued from the brink of despair, he is challenged to push himself to the limit, where he finds himself humbler, wiser and willing to begin again.

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