Recommended Reading: Everyday Heroes
Get ready to read! Here is a list of recommended books that address our Action Book Club theme: Everyday Heroes. These books celebrate acts of bravery, character, and kindness that transform our world in ways big and small.
Everyone can take part in the Action Book Club program. That’s why this list of suggested books—recommended by Little Free Library stewards, communities, and advisers—includes options for young readers, middle readers, and adults. Many of the titles for young people have literacy resources available through our friends at Reading Is Fundamental (RIF).
Do you know of another great book that fits this theme? Your club is welcome to read that instead; we’d love to hear your book ideas.
Brave by Stacy McAnulty, illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff (32 pp, Running Press, 2017). Superheroes seek adventure, never give up, and stay calm when others are afraid. Superheroes are brave. But they aren’t the only ones. Kids are brave every day. When they are told they are too little, but accomplish something big. When they check for monsters under the bed, just in case. When they face something uncertain, whether a thunderstorm or a hospital visit. When they stand up for what’s right, even when it means facing consequences. Like superheroes, brave kids can save the world, just by being brave. Ages 4-7.
Bravo! Poems About Amazing Hispanics by Margarita Engle, illus. by Rafael López (48 pp, Henry Holt, 2017). Nonfiction. Musician, botanist, baseball player, pilot―the Latinos featured in this collection, Bravo!, come from many different countries and from many different backgrounds. Celebrate their accomplishments and their contributions to a collective history and a community that continues to evolve and thrive today! Ages 8-12.
Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Sean Qualls (40 pp, Schwartz & Wade, 2015). Nonfiction. This book tells the amazing true story of Emmanuel’s 400-mile journey on his bicycle and his campaign to help other people with disabilities. Born in Ghana, West Africa, with one deformed leg, he was dismissed by most people—but not by his mother, who taught him to reach for his dreams. As a boy, Emmanuel hopped to school more than two miles each way, learned to play soccer, left home at age thirteen to provide for his family, and, eventually, became a cyclist. He rode an astonishing four hundred miles across Ghana in 2001, spreading his powerful message: disability is not inability. Today, Emmanuel continues to work on behalf of the disabled. Ages 4-8. RIF resources available here.
Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrated by Eric-Shabazz Larkin (32 pp, Readers to Eaters, 2016). Nonfiction. Will Allen is no ordinary farmer. A former basketball star, he’s as tall as his truck, and he can hold a cabbage—or a basketball—in one hand. But what is most special about Farmer Will is that he can see what others can’t see. When he looked at an abandoned city lot in Milwaukee he saw a huge table, big enough to feed the whole world. No space, no problem. Poor soil, there’s a solution. Need help, found it. Farmer Will is a genius in solving problems. In 2008, the MacArthur Foundation named him one for his innovative urban farming methods, including aquaponics and hydroponics. Ages 6 and up. RIF resources available here.
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley (40 pages, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016). Nonfiction. Get to know celebrated Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg—in the first picture book about her life—as she proves that disagreeing does not make you disagreeable! Ruth Bader Ginsburg has spent a lifetime disagreeing: disagreeing with inequality, arguing against unfair treatment, and standing up for what’s right for people everywhere. This biographical picture book about the Notorious RBG, tells the justice’s story through the lens of her many famous dissents, or disagreements. Ages 4-8. Reading guide available here.
The Infamous Ratsos by Kara LaReau, illustrated by Matt Myers (64 pages, Candlewick, 2017). Fiction. Louie and Ralphie Ratso’s dad, Big Lou, always says that there are two kinds of people: those who are tough and those who are soft. Louie and Ralphie are tough, tough, tough, just like Big Lou, and they’re going to prove it. But every time they try to show just how tough they are, the Ratso brothers end up accidentally doing good deeds instead. What’ll Big Lou do when he finds out they’ve been acting like softies all over the Big City? Perfect for emerging and reluctant readers, this clever and surprisingly warmhearted chapter book shows that being tough all the time can be really tough. Ages 5-8.
Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai, illustrated by Kerascoët (48 pp, Little, Brown, 2017). Nonfiction. As a child in Pakistan, Malala made a wish for a magic pencil. She would use it to make everyone happy, to erase the smell of garbage from her city, to sleep an extra hour in the morning. But as she grew older, Malala saw that there were more important things to wish for. She saw a world that needed fixing. And even if she never found a magic pencil, Malala realized that she could still work hard every day to make her wishes come true. This beautifully illustrated volume tells Malala’s story for a younger audience and shows them the worldview that allowed Malala to hold on to hope even in the most difficult of times. Ages 5-8.
Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis by Jabari Asim, illustrated by E. B. Lewis (32 pp, Nancy Paulsen Books, 2016). Nonfiction. John wants to be a preacher when he grows up—a leader whose words stir hearts to change, minds to think, and bodies to take action. But why wait? When John is put in charge of the family farm’s flock of chickens, he discovers that they make a wonderful congregation! So he preaches to his flock, and they listen, content under his watchful care, riveted by the rhythm of his voice. Celebrating ingenuity and dreaming big, this inspirational story includes an author’s note about John Lewis, who grew up to be a member of the Freedom Riders, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and demonstrator on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. John Lewis is now a Georgia congressman, who is still an activist today. Ages 5-8. RIF resources available here.
The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin (48 pp, Scholastic Press, 2017). Fiction. La Paz is a happy, but noisy village. A little peace and quiet would make it just right. So the villagers elect the bossy Don Pepe as their mayor. Before long, singing of any kind is outlawed. Even the teakettle is afraid to whistle! But there is one noisy rooster who doesn’t give two mangos about this mayor’s silly rules. Instead, he does what roosters were born to do. He sings: “Kee-kee-ree-KEE!” Carmen Deedy’s masterfully crafted allegory and Eugene Yelchin’s bright, whimsical mixed-media paintings celebrate the spirit of freedom—and the courage of those who are born to sing at any cost. Ages 4-8. RIF resources available here.
Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh (40 pp, Harry N. Abrams, 2014). Nonfiction. Almost 10 years before Brown vs. Board of Education, Sylvia Mendez and her parents helped end school segregation in California. An American citizen of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage who spoke and wrote perfect English, Mendez was denied enrollment to a “Whites only” school. Her parents took action by organizing the Hispanic community and filing a lawsuit in federal district court. Their success eventually brought an end to the era of segregated education in California. Ages 6-9. RIF resources available here.
She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World by Chelsea Clinton, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger (32 pp, Philomel Books, 2017). Nonfiction. Throughout American history, there have always been women who have spoken out for what’s right, even when they have to fight to be heard. This book celebrates thirteen American women who helped shape our country through their tenacity, sometimes through speaking out, sometimes by staying seated, sometimes by captivating an audience. It features: Harriet Tubman, Helen Keller, Clara Lemlich, Nellie Bly, Virginia Apgar, Maria Tallchief, Claudette Colvin, Ruby Bridges, Margaret Chase Smith, Sally Ride, Florence Griffith Joyner, Oprah Winfrey, Sonia Sotomayor—and one special cameo. Ages 4-8.
Waiting for the Biblioburro by Monica Brown, illustrated by John Parra (32 pp, Tricycle Press, 2016). Nonfiction. On most days, teacher and librarian Luis Soriano Bohórquez packs his two burros, Alfa and Beto, with books and makes his way over mountains and through valleys to visit children in far-flung villages in rural Colombia—all for the sake of literacy and culture. Based on the work of a remarkable man and his intrepid burros, this bilingual English and Spanish edition celebrates the impact that a special mobile library—called the “biblioburro”—has had on the lives of real children. Ages 5-8. RIF resources available here.
As Brave as You by Jason Reynolds (432 pp, Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, 2017). Fiction. Genie’s summer is full of surprises. The first is that he and his big brother, Ernie, are leaving Brooklyn for the very first time to spend the summer with their grandparents all the way in Virginia! The second surprise comes when Genie figures out that their grandfather is blind. Genie thinks Grandpop must be the bravest guy he’s ever known, but he starts to notice that his grandfather never leaves the house, and he begins to wonder if his grandfather is really so brave after all. Then Ernie lets him down in the bravery department. It’s his fourteenth birthday, and, Grandpop says to become a man, you have to learn how to shoot a gun. Genie thinks that is AWESOME until he realizes Ernie has no interest in learning how to shoot. Genie is left to wonder—is bravery and becoming a man only about proving something, or is it just as important to own up to what you won’t do? Ages 10 and up. Reading guide available here.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (Young Reader’s Edition) by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer (304 pp, Puffin Books, 2016). Nonfiction. When a terrible drought struck William Kamkwamba’s tiny village in Malawi, his family lost all of the season’s crops, leaving them with nothing to eat and nothing to sell. William began to explore science books in his village library, looking for a solution. There, he came up with the idea that would change his family’s life forever: he could build a windmill. Made out of scrap metal and old bicycle parts, William’s windmill brought electricity to his home and helped his family pump the water they needed to farm the land. Retold for a younger audience, this exciting memoir shows how, even in a desperate situation, one boy’s brilliant idea can light up the world. Complete with photographs, illustrations, and an epilogue that will bring readers up to date on William’s story, this is the perfect edition to read and share with the whole family. Ages 10-13. RIF resources available here.
The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya (256 pp, Viking Books for Young Readers, 2017). Fiction. For Arturo, summertime in Miami means playing basketball until dark, sipping mango smoothies, and keeping cool under banyan trees. And maybe a few shifts as junior lunchtime dishwasher at Abuela’s restaurant. Maybe. But this summer also includes Carmen, a poetry enthusiast who moves into Arturo’s apartment complex and turns his stomach into a deep fryer. He almost doesn’t notice the smarmy land developer who rolls into town and threatens to change it. Arturo refuses to let his family and community go down without a fight, and as he schemes with Carmen, Arturo discovers the power of poetry and protest through untold family stories and the work of José Martí. Funny and poignant, The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora is the vibrant story of a family, a striking portrait of a town, and one boy’s quest to save both. Ages 10-13.
I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World (Young Readers Edition) by Malala Yousafzai and Patricia McCormick (256 pp, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2016). Malala Yousafzai was only ten years old when the Taliban took control of her region. They said music was a crime. They said women weren’t allowed to go to the market. They said girls couldn’t go to school. Raised in a once-peaceful area of Pakistan transformed by terrorism, Malala was taught to stand up for what she believes. So she fought for her right to be educated. And on October 9, 2012, she nearly lost her life for the cause: She was shot point-blank while riding the bus on her way home from school. No one expected her to survive. Now Malala is an international symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize winner. Malala’s powerful story will open your eyes to another world and will make you believe in hope, truth, miracles and the possibility that one person—one young person—can inspire change in her community and beyond. Ages 10-17. RIF resources available here.
Hidden Figures (Young Readers Edition) by Margot Lee Shetterly (240 pp, HarperCollins, 2016). Nonfiction. Before John Glenn orbited the earth, or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as “human computers” used pencils, slide rules, and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space. This book brings to life the stories of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, who lived through the Civil Rights era, the Space Race, the Cold War, and the movement for gender equality, and whose work forever changed the face of NASA and the country. Ages 8-12.
The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe, translated by Lilit Thwaites (432 pp, Henry Holt, 2017). Based on a true story. Fourteen-year-old Dita is one of the many imprisoned by the Nazis at Auschwitz. Taken, along with her mother and father, from the Terezín ghetto in Prague, Dita is adjusting to the constant terror that is life in the camp. When Jewish leader Freddy Hirsch asks Dita to take charge of the eight precious volumes the prisoners have managed to sneak past the guards, she agrees. And so Dita becomes the librarian of Auschwitz. Out of one of the darkest chapters of human history comes this extraordinary story of courage and hope. Ages 13-16.
Marley Dias Gets It Done: And So Can You! by Marley Dias (208pp, Scholastic, 2018). Nonfiction. In this accessible guide with an introduction by Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Ava DuVernay, Marley Dias (founder of #1000BlackGirlBooks) explores activism, social justice, volunteerism, equity and inclusion, and using social media for good. Drawing from her experience, Marley shows kids how they can galvanize their strengths to make positive changes in their communities, while getting support from parents, teachers, and friends to turn dreams into reality. Focusing on the importance of literacy and diversity, Marley offers suggestions on book selection, and delivers hands-on strategies for becoming a lifelong reader. Ages 10 and up.
My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson (160pp, Candlewick, 2017). Fiction. When thirteen-year-old Lora tells her parents that she wants to join Premier Castro’s army of young literacy teachers, her mother screeches to high heaven, and her father roars like a lion. Nora has barely been outside of Havana—why would she throw away her life in a remote shack with no electricity, sleeping on a hammock in somebody’s kitchen? But Nora is stubborn: didn’t her parents teach her to share what she has with someone in need? Shining light on a little-known moment in history, Katherine Paterson traces a young teen’s coming-of-age journey from a sheltered life to a singular mission: teaching fellow Cubans of all ages to read and write, while helping with the work of their daily lives and sharing the dangers posed by counterrevolutionaries hiding in the hills nearby. Inspired by true accounts, the novel includes an author’s note and a timeline of Cuban history. Ages 10-14. Related reading for discussion available here.
The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering (272 pp, Candlewick, 2015). Fiction. Welcome to the story of Despereaux Tilling, a mouse who is in love with music, stories, and a princess named Pea. It is also the story of a rat called Roscuro, who lives in the darkness and covets a world filled with light. And it is the story of Miggery Sow, a slow-witted serving girl who harbors a simple, impossible wish. These three characters are about to embark on a journey that will lead them down into a horrible dungeon, up into a glittering castle, and, ultimately, into each other’s lives. What happens then? As Kate DiCamillo would say: Reader, it is your destiny to find out. Ages 7-10. RIF resources available here.
Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team by Steve Sheinkin (288pp, Roaring Brook Press, 2017). Nonfiction. This book is an astonishing underdog sports story―and more. It’s an unflinching look at the U.S. government’s violent persecution of Native Americans and the school that was designed to erase Indian cultures. Expertly told by three-time National Book Award finalist Steve Sheinkin, it’s the story of a group of young men who came together at that school, the overwhelming obstacles they faced both on and off the field, and their absolute refusal to accept defeat. Ages 10-14.
The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser (304pp, HMH Books for Young Readers, 2017). Fiction. In this delightful and heartwarming throwback to the big-family novels of yesteryear, a large biracial family might lose their beloved brownstone home, but win it back with an all-out charm offensive. The Vanderbeekers have always lived in the brownstone on 141st Street. It’s practically another member of the family. So when their reclusive, curmudgeonly landlord decides not to renew their lease, the five siblings have eleven days to do whatever it takes to stay in their beloved home and convince the dreaded Beiderman just how wonderful they are. And all is fair in love and war when it comes to keeping their home. Ages 7-10.
Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk (304 pp, Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2016). Fiction. Growing up in the shadows cast by two world wars, Annabelle has lived a mostly quiet, steady life in her small Pennsylvania town. Until the day new student Betty Glengarry walks into her class. Betty quickly reveals herself to be cruel and manipulative, and while her bullying seems isolated at first, things quickly escalate, and reclusive World War I veteran Toby becomes a target of her attacks. While others have always seen Toby’s strangeness, Annabelle knows only kindness. She will soon need to find the courage to stand as a lone voice of justice as tensions mount. Brilliantly crafted, Wolf Hollow is a haunting tale of America at a crossroads and a time when one girl’s resilience, strength, and compassion help to illuminate the darkest corners of our history. Ages 10 and up.
Wonder by R. J. Palacio (320 pp, Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2012). Fiction. August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. WONDER, now a major motion picture, begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance. Ages 8-12. RIF resources available here.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (256 pp, Square Fish, 2017 movie tie-in edition). Fiction. In 1962, Madeleine L’Engle introduced the world to A Wrinkle in Time and the wonderful and unforgettable characters Meg and Charles Wallace Murry, and their friend Calvin O’Keefe. They are in search of Meg’s father, a scientist who disappeared while engaged in secret work for the government. Now Disney is taking this beloved fantasy to the silver screen! With an all-star cast that includes Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Chris Pine, and newcomer Storm Reid, the major motion picture bring the world of Wrinkle to life for a new generation of fans. Ages 10-14.
Advanced and Adult Readers
The Badass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua Hammer (288 pp, Simon & Schuster, 2017). Nonfiction. To save ancient Arabic texts from Al Qaeda, a band of librarians pulls off a brazen heist worthy of Ocean’s Eleven. In the 1980s, a young adventurer and collector for a government library, Abdel Kader Haidara, journeyed across the Sahara Desert and along the Niger River, tracking down and salvaging tens of thousands of ancient Islamic and secular manuscripts that were crumbling in the trunks of desert shepherds. His goal: to preserve this crucial part of the world’s patrimony in a gorgeous library. But then Al Qaeda showed up at the door. His heroic heist is a reminder that ordinary citizens often do the most to protect the beauty of their culture. His story is one of a man who, through extreme circumstances, discovered his higher calling and was changed forever by it.
Beartown by Fredrik Backman (432 pp, Atria Books, 2017). Fiction. People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, and in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys. Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected. Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain.
Forged in Crisis: The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times by Nancy Koehn (528 pp, Scribner, 2017). Nonfiction. An enthralling historical narrative filled with critical leadership insights that will be of interest to a wide range of readers—including those in government, business, education, and the arts—Forged in Crisis, by celebrated Harvard Business School historian Nancy Koehn, spotlights five masters of crisis: polar explorer Ernest Shackleton; President Abraham Lincoln; legendary abolitionist Frederick Douglass; Nazi-resisting clergyman Dietrich Bonhoeffer; and environmental crusader Rachel Carson.
Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich (432 pp, HarperLuxe, 2017). Fiction. Evolution stops as mysteriously as it began. Pregnancy and child-bearing quickly become issues of state security. Twenty-six-year-old Cedar, the adopted daughter of idealistic Minneapolis liberals, is as disturbed and uncertain as the rest of America. But for Cedar, this change is profound and deeply personal. She is four months pregnant. As Cedar travels north to find her Ojibwe family, ordinary life begins to disintegrate. Swelling panic creates warring government, corporate, and religious factions. In a mall parking lot, Cedar witnesses a pregnant woman wrenched from her family under a new law. As she evades capture, Cedar also experiences a fraught love with her baby’s father, who tries to hide her. A dystopian thriller from a writer of startling originality, Future Home of the Living God is also a moving meditation on female agency, love, self-determination, biology, and natural rights.
Heroes of the Frontier by Dave Eggers (448 pp, Vintage, 2017). Fiction. Josie and her children’s father have split up, she’s been sued by a former patient and lost her dental practice, and she’s grieving the death of a young man senselessly killed shortly after enlisting. When her ex asks to take the children to meet his new fiancée’s family, Josie makes a run for it to Alaska with her kids, Paul and Ana. At first their trip feels like a vacation: they see bears and bison, they eat hot dogs cooked on a bonfire, and they spend nights parked along icy cold rivers in dark forests. But as they drive in their rattling old RV, pushed north by the ubiquitous wildfires, Josie is chased by enemies both real and imagined, and past mistakes pursue her tiny family, even to the very edge of civilization. A captivating, often hilarious novel of family, loss, wilderness, and the curse of a violent America, Heroes of the Frontier is a powerful examination of our contemporary life and a rousing story of adventure.
Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly (368 pp, William Morrow, 2016). Nonfiction. Before John Glenn orbited the earth, or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as “human computers” used pencils, slide rules, and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space. Starting in World War II and moving through to the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement and the Space Race, Hidden Figures follows the interwoven accounts of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden, four African American women who participated in some of NASA’s greatest successes. It chronicles their careers over nearly three decades they faced challenges, forged alliances and used their intellect to change their own lives, and their country’s future.
I Was Told to Come Alone: My Journey Behind the Lines of Jihad by Souad Mekhennet (368 pp, Henry Holt, 2017). Nonfiction. For her whole life, Souad Mekhennet, a reporter for The Washington Post who was born and educated in Germany, has had to balance the two sides of her upbringing—Muslim and Western. She has also sought to provide a mediating voice between these cultures, which too often misunderstand each other. In this compelling and evocative memoir, we accompany Mekhennet as she journeys behind the lines of jihad, starting in the German neighborhoods where the 9/11 plotters were radicalized and the Iraqi neighborhoods where Sunnis and Shia turned against one another, and culminating on the Turkish/Syrian border region where ISIS is a daily presence. Souad Mekhennet is an ideal guide to introduce us to the human beings behind the ominous headlines, as she shares her transformative journey with us.
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan (448 pp, Scribner, 2017). Fiction. Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to visit Dexter Styles, a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her father and her family. She is mesmerized by the sea beyond the house and by some charged mystery between the two men. Years later, her father has disappeared and the country is at war. Anna works at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, where women are allowed to hold jobs that once belonged to men, now soldiers abroad. She becomes the first female diver, the most dangerous and exclusive of occupations, repairing the ships that will help America win the war. One evening at a nightclub, she meets Dexter Styles again, and begins to understand the complexity of her father’s life, the reasons he might have vanished. With the atmosphere of a noir thriller, Egan’s first historical novel follows Anna and Styles into a world populated by gangsters, sailors, divers, bankers, and union men. Manhattan Beach is a deft, dazzling, propulsive exploration of a transformative moment in the lives and identities of women and men, of America and the world.
My Life, My Love, My Legacy by Coretta Scott King and Rev. Dr. Barbara Reynolds (368 pp, Henry Holt, 2017). Nonfiction. Born in 1927 to daringly enterprising parents in the Deep South, Coretta Scott had always felt called to a special purpose. While enrolled as one of the first black scholarship students recruited to Antioch College, she became politically and socially active and committed to the peace movement. As a graduate student at the New England Conservatory of Music, determined to pursue her own career as a concert singer, she met Martin Luther King Jr., a Baptist minister insistent that his wife stay home with the children. But in love and devoted to shared Christian beliefs as well as shared racial and economic justice goals, she married Dr. King, and events promptly thrust her into a maelstrom of history throughout which she was a strategic partner, a standard bearer, and so much more. As a widow and single mother of four, she worked tirelessly to found and develop The King Center as a citadel for world peace, lobbied for fifteen years for the US national holiday in honor of her husband, championed for women’s, workers’ and gay rights and was a powerful international voice for nonviolence, freedom and human dignity.
The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve (256 pp, Knopf, 2017). Fiction. In October 1947, after a summer long drought, fires break out all along the Maine coast from Bar Harbor to Kittery and are soon racing out of control from town to village. Five months pregnant, Grace Holland is left alone to protect her two toddlers when her husband, Gene, joins the volunteer firefighters. Along with her best friend, Rosie, and Rosie’s two young children, Grace watches helplessly as their houses burn to the ground, the flames finally forcing them all into the ocean as a last resort. The women spend the night frantically protecting their children, and in the morning find their lives forever changed: homeless, penniless, awaiting news of their husbands’ fate, and left to face an uncertain future in a town that no longer exists. In the midst of this devastating loss, Grace discovers glorious new freedoms—joys and triumphs she could never have expected her narrow life with Gene could contain—and her spirit soars. And then the unthinkable happens—and Grace’s bravery is tested as never before.
Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Gregory Boyle (240 pp, Free Press, 2011). Nonfiction. For twenty years, Gregory Boyle has run Homeboy Industries, a gang-intervention program located in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, the gang capital of the world. In Tattoos on the Heart, he distills his experience working in the ghetto into a breathtaking series of parables inspired by faith. Arranged by theme and filled with sparkling humor and glowing generosity, these essays offer a stirring look at how full our lives could be if we could find the joy in loving others and in being loved unconditionally. Gorgeous and uplifting, Tattoos on the Heart reminds us that no life is less valuable than another.
The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America’s Enemies by Jason Fagone (464 pp, Dey Street Books, 2017). Nonfiction. This book tells the incredible true story of the greatest codebreaking duo that ever lived: an American woman and her husband who invented the modern science of cryptology together and used it to confront the evils of their time, solving puzzles that unmasked Nazi spies and helped win World War II. Jason Fagone unveils America’s code-breaking history through the prism of code-breaker Elizebeth Smith’s life, bringing into focus the unforgettable events and colorful personalities that would help shape modern intelligence. Blending the lively pace and compelling detail that are the hallmarks of Erik Larson’s bestsellers with the atmosphere and intensity of The Imitation Game, The Woman Who Smashed Codes is page-turning popular history at its finest.