Remembrance Day stirs our hearts to themes of courage and compassion. In honor of our fallen heroes and the openness of children to inspiring role models, I’ve chosen three picture books with human and animal heroes.
Gracie the Lighthouse Cat by Ruth Brown
On September 7, 1838, a raging storm sends the SS Forfarshire crashing into Big Harcar rock in Northumberland, North East England. Grace Darling and her father, the lighthouse keeper, brave the howling wind, freezing spray and towering waves to rescue the survivors.
But how many young children can empathize with a 22-year-old heroine? Then again, what little child can not be taken up with the story of a kitten hurled into the storm, and his mother’s climb down the slippery rocks to save him?
I don’t remember ever seeing a book quite like this one. The kitten rescue tale is told in words and pictures, while the true story of Grace Darling’s heroism is told as backdrop—pictures only. This book will be an inspiration to children from four to nine years old, and their grown-ups.
A Storm Called Katrina by Myron Uhlberg. Illustrated by Colin Bootman.
Uhlberg also uses an animal to highlight human compassion. A playful little black and white dog with a red ball never loses hope as Katrina’s other victims pass him by. Fear and courage, selfishness and compassion, and 10-year-old Daniel’s ingenuity all have their role in this realistic tale of triumph. Colin Bootman’s dark, watery paintings draw us into the family’s struggles until the end. There the sun shines brightly on the receding water and Daniel’s face lights up at the sight of the ever hopeful pup. “Come on, boy,” he says. “We’re going home.”
Balto’s Story by Kevin Blake
This true story opens with a blinding blizzard, -50oF (-46 oC) temperatures, winds roaring at 70 mph (113 kph)—and children in grave danger.
In response to an urgent telegram pleading for diphtheria antitoxin to save dozens of sick children in Nome, Alaska, the governor decides to opt for sled dogs rather than risk a plane flight from Anchorage to Nome. Musher Gunnar Kaasen and his team, led by Balto, race the last 50 miles.
For me, the most compelling moment is when Balto says “No” to crossing a frozen river and the wise musher heeds the warning—the ice is too weak to cross.
The book features actual photographs from 1925, including one of the telegram from Dr. Welch, and one of Balto, head drooping with exhaustion, in Nome. There are also modern-day photos of sled dog teams in Alaska, the statue of Balto in New York City’s Central Park, and Mrs. Jirdes Winther Baxter, whose life was saved by the medicine delivered by Balto’s team. Factoids (“A Siberian husky’s sense of smell is 600 to 700 times better than a human’s”), maps, a glossary and sources of further information make this inspiring book invaluable as an elementary school teacher’s resource as well as for home reading.
For more children’s book reviews, please check out my Top Picks. There you’ll also meet Tommy, Tina and Katie Kat, heroes of Scissortown and stars of Margaret Welwood’s picture book for children. While you’re there, please sign up for occasional e-mails about future books with child and animal heroes.