From We Need Diverse Books, the organization behind Flying Lessons & Other Stories, comes another middle-grade short-story collection--this one focused on exploring acts of bravery--featuring some of the best own-voices children's authors, including R. J. Palacio (Wonder), Rita Williams-Garcia (One Crazy Summer), Linda Sue Park (A Long Walk to Water), and many more.
Not all heroes wear capes. Some heroes teach martial arts. Others talk to ghosts. A few are inventors or soccer players. They're also sisters, neighbors, and friends. Because heroes come in many shapes and sizes. But they all have one thing in common: they make the world a better place.
Published in partnership with We Need Diverse Books, this vibrant anthology features thirteen acclaimed authors whose powerful and diverse voices show how small acts of kindness can save the day. So pay attention, because a hero could be right beside you. Or maybe the hero is you.
AUTHORS INCLUDE: William Alexander, Joseph Bruchac, Lamar Giles, Mike Jung, Hena Khan, Juana Medina, Ellen Oh, R. J. Palacio, Linda Sue Park and Anna Dobbin, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Ronald L. Smith, Rita Williams-Garcia, and short-story contest winner Suma Subramaniam
“As with the two previous anthologies from We Need Diverse Books, this collection admirably succeeds in making available to all readers a wider and more representative range of American voices and protagonists.” —The Washington Post
An Excerpt fromThe Hero Next Door
“The New Kid” could have been my superhero name. I had a lot of experience with that title. School after school, classroom after classroom, playground after playground . . . I’d swoop in, hoping to dazzle and impress, save the day somehow. Each time I hoped to get it exactly right; each time I got it so, so wrong.
Maybe that’s why, right before my first day in a new sixth-grade class, my mom went to the school and basically asked the principal to “put my daughter in classes and groups with the other Black nerds.” When I found out, it was a total “MOMMMMMMM!” moment, and I almost cringed myself out of existence. The “other Black nerds” were no less unhappy with the forced friendship. But the parents banded together, as parents often do, and I found myself in study groups and at skating parties with kids who I had much in common with, including a shared determination to have nothing in common with each other. But eventually we got over it. We didn’t have a choice. (You know how parents are.) And then we kind of . . . loved it. We became real friends . . . me, David, Melanie, Shonda, Rob. We laughed and cried and cared about our report cards together. We held each other up; we knew that it was a very bad idea to tell one of us to “calm down.” We weathered the storms of middle school because we had each other. Because our parents gave us each other. We were each other’s heroes. We still are.
Maybe my mom made that mortifying move because she knew the things I hadn’t told her. The secrets that I should have known she’d figure out. Heroes often have special powers—moms especially. Maybe my mom’s were knowing the secret pain that I’d held inside my heart, and working to make sure that I had the community to give me the strength she’d known I’d continue to need. Because a few years earlier, for a part of second and all of third grade, I was in a school where there were no other little Black girls like me. Or Black boys. Or Black anyone, for what felt like an eternity. There were white children who chased me out of school, and some who called me the N word, their faces red and angry as though my very existence meant the end of the world. I would hold my breath and try very hard to hide how much each day shattered a little piece of my heart.
But in my class, there was also Wendy, who looked at me, and saw me, and became my friend. She was not my benefactor, or my champion—she was very quietly, authentically, simply my friend. I had my parents and grandparents and infinite aunties, who made sure through the books they bought, the toys they made, and the stories they told that I knew that I was beautifully Black and precious in a way that could never be taken from me. Each day, just by their love, they knit me back together again. Heroes.
Sure, I saw heroes in books and movies and on TV, wearing capes, saving the world without their families finding out, stamping out evil with style (and tights that never ripped). Sometimes I played out the fantasy at home, safety-pinning a towel to my shirt and running around the backyard with my arms aloft, and bossing around my (clearly evil) little sister in the name of Good. I had a vivid imagination. (Don’t get me started on the time I pretended to be a rhinoceros by sticking two pebbles up my nose.) I thought about heroes a lot—I still do. I mean, we can’t really avoid them. Some have physical powers beyond what seems humanly possible; others can think their way into and out of any situation. They’re in movies with spectacular battle scenes and jaw-dropping special effects. We use the word to describe everyone from firefighters to mysterious masked figures of legend, from warriors to wizards. From fierce and feisty princesses to the “hidden figures” who change the world without anyone even knowing. We tend to celebrate the larger-than-life icons, the ones who attract the headlines and win the awards, from the activists to the artists, the athletes, and the educators.
Those of us on the margins wonder if our stories matter. I know I did.
And there are the celebrities hailed as heroes whose spectacular, glittery rise is often followed by an equally spectacular fall.
They can be very human, our heroes, not perfect. What does that mean?
What do you think of when you hear that word? Impressive physical strength?
An abundance of bravery? Supreme selflessness?
We have a million ideas of what makes a hero. We cheer them on; sometimes, soon after, we wish them gone. We wonder about them, ask why and how. We’re inspired and motivated by their magical stories and dream of being like them one day.
Maybe we already are.
In this collection, you’ll find tales of ordinary people who do extraordinary things, and the individuals who just might be magic. These are the stories of the risk-takers, the friend-makers, the dreamers and doers. You’ll meet a lacrosse player whose mistake might save more than a score, a camp counselor who honors the life in a “zombie’s” eyes, two people whose legacy of ingenuity inspired future generations, a girl who sees behind her neighbor’s grumpiness the loneliness within, a couple of robot-building twin detectives, a trio of neighbors who tackle a ghostly history that threatens to forever haunt the present. You’ll see the power of teamwork with a twist, having a furry friend, knowing oneself, having a special sibling bond; the power of stepping out on faith to offer a second chance, finding joy in a challenge, and the courage to put others first, even when it’s scary and you have no idea what will happen next.
These are the stories of everyday heroes in our midst, the ones in plain sight and those yet to be discovered. In ways big and small, these stories motivate, inspire, make us laugh, and, yes, cry. Do you know all the heroes in your life? How are you a hero to someone else? To your community? To the world? It’s my hope that these stories remind you of the power you have to speak up, sit down, and stand with, to do and be a hero in your own unique way. You don’t need a cape. Or special powers. (Though that would be pretty amazing, right?) Empathy and compassion sound good. A sense of humor can’t hurt. A desire to listen will definitely come in handy.
Most of all, though? You just need . . . you.