Bookworm: ‘Kid Trailblazers’ and back-to-school books

Terri Schlichenmeyer

“Kid Trailblazers: True Tales of Childhood from Changemakers and Leaders”

  • By Robin Stevenson, illustrated by Allison Steinfeld
  • c. 2022, Quirk Books
  • $14.99, 224 pages

Almost every problem has a solution. Sometimes, a fix is right in front of your face, and you can make it without anybody’s help. Other times, well, another set of eyes or hands can help you find the right path, or a crisis can lead you to an “AHA!” Just remember: almost every problem has a solution, and as you’ll see in “Kid Trailblazers” by Robin Stevenson, illustrated by Allison Steinfeld, you don’t have to be an adult to figure it out.

“Kid Trailblazers: True Tales of Childhood from Changemakers and Leaders” by Robin Stevenson, illustrated by Allison Steinfeld.

Sometimes, being a kid is frustrating. You might feel powerless, like you can’t do anything. So how does it feel to know that some of the world’s biggest changemakers were kids once, just like you?

Take, for instance, Al Gore, a former vice president and leader in the battle against climate change. When Gore was a boy, his parents set a place for him at dinner parties, so that he could talk with and learn from important and influential adult guests during the meal.

Or take Benazir Bhutto, who was the first woman elected to lead a Muslim country. Bhutto’s parents were both activists and changemakers, and she followed in their footsteps. Germany’s Angela Merkel loved to visit the countryside as a girl but when she was seven years old, Germany split in two and so did her family, because of politics. Speaking of politics, Kamala Harris’s parents saw political activism as something worthwhile and good, and Stacey Abrams’ parents kept their daughters busy with plenty of responsibilities.

Civil rights activist John Lewis’s first “good trouble” was applying for a library card at a segregated library. Marley Dias started a book drive for underprivileged kids when she was a ten-year-old. Environmentalist David Suzuki spent much of his childhood in a Canadian-Japanese internment camp during World War II. Greta Thunberg endured bullying because of her autism. Mari Copenny used her Little Miss Flint title to advocate for clean water for her city.  And like most kids, Shonda Rimes watched TV, but what she saw was a need for programming that looked like the real world...

The school year stretches ahead of your child, long and unknown. What is known, though, is that there’ll be a time when your 9-to-12-year-old will scramble for a biography for some sort of class, and “Kid Trailblazers” is a good one to choose.

Not only will this book cover the “biography” part of what your child will need, it’ll be a book they’ll like. Author Robin Stevenson’s chosen a small handful of influential, changemaking adults who were kids once – just like your child, but with a possible twist: your child will clearly see the seeds of activism in each biographical subject’s childhood.

Without the rest of the story – which Stevenson tells and Steinfeld wonderfully illustrates – the inspiration could get lost, but that doesn’t happen here. Instead, this book helps young leaders-to-be get excited about fixing problems they spot, and they may meet some new heroes, too. For your biography-finding this school year, “Kid Trailblazers” is the easy solution.

Back to school books from various publishers.

Back to school books

  • c. 2022, various publishers
  • $17.99 to $34.95, various page counts

There’s something about a new pencil. Its eraser is clean and unsmudged and waiting to help you fix mistakes. On the other end, a nice, sharp point feels like a sign of things to come. A new pencil is all wood and possibilities for a good school year, and so are these great back-to-school books for all ages ...

For 4-to-6-year-olds who love to read, dance, act, and do crafts, a trip to the library with “The Sublime Ms. Stacks” by Robb Pearlman, illustrated by Dani Jones (Bloomsbury, $17.99) may be the thing that makes them smile.

This is the story of Mr. Stephen, who seems to be uncomfortable with his job as librarian. So, when the kids come to the library looking for fun, he asks Ms. Stacks to help (nudge, wink), and she brings glitter, rainbows, exciting stories, and two friends along to make the library the place to be! If your kids have ever been to Drag Storytime, or if a fabulous surprise day at the library sounds perfect, this is a colorful back-to-school book they’ll love.

Though the title might suggest otherwise, “The Art of Teaching Children” by Phillip Done (Avid Reader Press, $30.00) is not just a book for teachers.

From the first day of school to next spring, Done takes readers on a journey that starts every morning before first bell and keeps kids excited to learn all day. But this book isn’t just about life at school: Done also touches upon the night-before-school jitters, parental responsibility, bullying, kids and phones, kids and television, and unique ways to teach children at home. Teachers will also be glad to know that he doesn’t forget their personal lives – pride, long days, and burn-out – are also addressed here.

If you’re a new teacher, a returning teacher, if you want to help the educators in your child’s school, or if you just want an eye-opening book about education today, this is the book to find.

Here’s another eye-opener: “The Real World of College: What Higher Education is and What it Can Be” by Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner (MIT Press, $34.95), a book that’s based on thousands of interviews with college students at ten varied institutions around the U.S., where the authors discovered that students have focuses and concerns that don’t mirror what we’ve been told are their preoccupations. 

The good news is that if these back-to-school books aren’t exactly what you need, your favorite librarian or bookseller can help. 

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books. Read past columns at marconews.com.