This delightful 288 page handbook pulled me in, inspired me, enlightened me, and allowed me to reminisce about incredible fictional characters from iconic books, tv shows, and movies. Concepts such as kindness, empathy, friendship, deflecting negativity, seeing beyond labels, and asking for help, are framed around the fictional character’s strengths to introduce famous real life people from the past and present, as well as not so famous people the author personally knows and works with. Written with the author speaking directly to the reader, there are also calls to actions, questions, prompts, and resources to help mature middle grade readers and up.
The book starts with an introduction about who the author is and her getting to know the reader, before introducing the concepts the book will cover and how it will go about doing so. It establishes the super power of kindness and five golden rules. The 10 chapters of the book then follow a loose format of introducing a fictional character and why the author admires them: Charlie Bucket from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Tintin, She-Ra, Superman, Samwise Gamgee, etc., her connection to them and to a theme: hope, being a ripple starter, never giving up. to name a few. The book then highlights how the character and theme tie in to a cause that the author is passionate about, refugees, education, feeding the hungry, foster care, etc., then spotlights exceptional people the author has gotten to know personally in her activism that have made an incredible difference in the world, before offering a checklist of how you too can take action. And finally a famous person is celebrated as being the culmination of all the strengths, characteristics, and super powers mentioned. People such as Greta Thunberg, Albert Einstein, aerospace engineer Mary Jackson, footballer activist Marcus Rashford and more. Often there are reflections, and the easy banter and conversation between the author and the young reader never leaves the text. The reader and the connection to the reader is always prioritized and included in the sharing of information, motivation to action, and celebration of individuals real and pretend that have made a positive difference.
WHY I LIKE IT:
There is nothing overtly Islamic in the book, but there are Muslims featured as both famous real life examples and the author’s personal acquaintances. Most importantly the author is unapologetically Muslim and offers glimpses of her own childhood growing up Muslim in the UK. And as a hijab wearing Muslim, the illustrations also proudly show her smiling, eating chocolate and being an activist making the world a better place for all.
I love that the tone of the book is optimistic even when discussing difficult themes and heartbreaking realities of society. The playfulness of the banter keeps the reader engaged and the text light. Even if you don’t know the characters referenced, the urge to read their stories is a secondary benefit, and one that I think will further young world changers’ critical thinking skills. Finding the good in people, even if they aren’t real, is such a lens that needs to be used more often, and the book does a tremendous job of stressing this.
Talk of refugees, homelessness, food insecurities, abuse, poverty. Nothing is overly detailed, but the concepts are touched upon and explained as needed which could possibly be triggering or difficult to fully grasp to younger readers.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
The book can be read straight through or referenced, you can even thumb through and read sections that appeal to you. I don’t know exactly who the book will resonate strongest with, but I’ve got my own children reading it, so I will happily report back. I think it deserves a place on every book shelf and even if only portions are shared with a class, the discussion and foundation that it could provide would be incredibly powerful. I could see an English teacher encouraging essays about fictional character traits in the “real” world being assigned after reading, or History teachers spending time on some of the characters highlighted, it really is a great tool, a handbook, for young and old alike.