Community Heroes: Picture Books about Neighborhood Peacekeepers

by Helen Foster James

Preschool through early elementary school

"A person who is thoughtful of others keeps the peace” is the opening sentence of Pam Scheunemann’s
Being a Peacekeeper. This small book presents a grand idea—that each of us can make a difference. Young people can make

a difference in their communities by cleaning a vacant lot, scrubbing graffiti from a wall, serving food to homeless people, or simply by sharing a kind word. In these small ways children, as well as adults, can improve their environs and become community heroes. The children in the following books demonstrate spunk and creativity as they contribute to the welfare of their neighborhoods through acts of kindness. Their generosity will inspire young and old

to follow their examples.


Brimner, Larry Dane.
The Sidewalk Patrol. Illus. by Christine Tripp. 2002. 32p. Children’s Press, $19.50 (0-516-22537-5); paper, $5.95 (0-516-27387-6).

Preschool–Gr. 1. Abby and her friends call themselves the Corner Kids and help in their neighborhood by moving bicycles so their blind neighbor can walk safely on the sidewalk. This easy-to-read story from the Rookie Choices series is designed to foster character development and promote respect for others and is accompanied by lighthearted cartoon-style art. Also see Brimner’s
The Messy Lot (Children’s Press, 2001), in which the Corner Kids clean up a vacant lot.

DiSalvo, DyAnne.
A Castle on Viola Street. 2001. 32p. HarperCollins, $16.99 (0-688-17690-9).

K–Gr. 3. For Andy’s family, owning a home seems just a dream—until Andy learns of a project where volunteers

rehabilitate old houses for others, who eventually do the same for them. The whole family pitches in, a challenging

but rewarding experience, and joyfully learns that they, too, are slated for a new home. Andy also stars in

Uncle Willie and the Soup Kitchen (Morrow, 1991).

DiSalvo, DyAnne.
Spaghetti Park. 2002. 32p. Holiday, $16.95 (0-8234-1682-8).

K–Gr. 2. In this story of community spirit, Angelo organizes the restoration of a seedy neighborhood park that is a

hangout for “troublemakers.” Centering the action on the park’s bocce court, DiSalvo shows the tough kids looking on with increasing interest as the young narrator learns the game from his grandpa and local residents work to rejuvenate the small park. A page of bocce rules is included.

DiSalvo-Ryan, DyAnne.
City Green. 1994. 32p. HarperCollins, $16.99 (0-688-12786-X).

K–Gr. 3. Marcy is motivated to act when the city condemns and demolishes a building in her neighborhood. She and Miss Rosa, her neighbor, clean up the lot and plant seeds. Soon everyone is joining in to donate time and energy. Instructions for starting a community garden are included. Soft pencil-and-watercolor illustrations depict a diverse community drawn together by the project.

DiSalvo-Ryan, DyAnne.
Grandpa’s Corner Store. 2000. 40p. HarperCollins, $15.99 (0-688-16716-0).

K–Gr. 3. When construction begins on a giant supermarket around the corner from Lucy’s grandpa’s corner grocery, she rallies the community on Grandpa’s behalf in this story pairing family love and neighborhood spirit. The bright illustrations reflect the mood of the story and convey Lucy’s gutsy determination to succeed.

Fleming, Candace.
Boxes for Katje. Illus. by Stacey Dressen-McQueen. 2003. 40p. Farrar/Melanie Kroupa, $16 (0-374-30922-1).

K–Gr. 3. After World War II, Rosie, an American girl, sends a goodwill package to Katje, a girl in Holland, and Katje in turn becomes inspired to share the gifts she receives with others in her Dutch town. Based on an experience from the author’s mother’s childhood, this fictionalized account includes an author’s note. Dressen-McQueen’s lively illustrations pack lots of color, pattern, and historical detail into the pages.

Guthrie, Donna.
A Rose for Abby. Illus. by Dennis Hockerman. 1997. 32p. Abingdon, o.p.

K–Gr. 3. Abby, an African American girl, watches a homeless woman digging in the trash cans in her neighborhood and enlists her father and neighbors to join together and prepare a meal for the local street people.

Joosse, Barbara.
Stars in the Darkness. Illus. by R. Gregory Christie. 2001. 36p. Chronicle, $14.95 (0-8118-2168-4).

K–Gr. 3. When a young boy’s brother enters the world of “gang bangers,” the boy and his mother take action to gather neighborhood support and walk the streets at night, advocating peace. An author’s note and a list of

gang prevention resources are included, and Christie’s expressive portraits of the family will appeal to readers.

McGovern, Ann.
The Lady in the Box. Illus. by Marni Backer. 1997. 40p. Turtle, $16.95 (1-890515-01-9); paper, $8.95 (1-890515-15-9).

K–Gr. 3. Ben and Lizzie discover that they can make a positive difference by helping a homeless woman who sleeps in a box on their city street. Also see Eve Bunting’s
December (Harcourt, 1997), in which a family living in a cardboard box helps another homeless person.

McPhail, David.
The Teddy Bear. 2002. 32p. Holt, $16.95 (0-8050-6414-1).

Preschool–Gr. 2. When a young boy spots his lost bear in the park and realizes that a homeless man has adopted

it, he demonstrates his compassion by sharing his beloved teddy with the man. McPhail’s soft-toned watercolors

will draw readers to this heartfelt story.

Mills, Claudia.
Gus and Grandpa and the Christmas Cookies. Illus. by Catherine Stock. 1997. 48p. Farrar/Sunburst, paper, $4.95 (0-374-42815-8).

Gr. 1–2. In this easy reader, Gus is shopping when he notices a man in a Santa suit collecting money for the poor. Later, when three neighbors stop by with cookies, Gus and Grandpa realize they have too many and decide to take the extras to the Santa, who will share them at a Christmas party at the nearby homeless shelter.

Nunes, Susan Miho.
The Last Dragon. Illus. by Chris K. Soentpiet. 1995. 32p. Clarion, $16 (0-395-67020-9); paper, $6.95 (0-395-84517-3).

Preschool–Gr. 3. A young boy motivates his neighbors to work together after he spots a 10-man dragon costume in a shop window and decides to refurbish it. Mr. Pong, the tailor, repairs holes; Miss Chiao, the kitemaker, fixes the tail; and so on. Warm, colorful illustrations are full of details unique to Chinatown.

Pearson, Emily.
Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed. Illus. by Fumi Kosaka. 2002. 32p. Gibbs-Smith, $15.95 (0-87905-978-8).

K–Gr. 3. Ordinary Mary decides to pick blueberries for her neighbor, Mrs. Bishop, and sets off a chain reaction of kind acts around the world. This story showcases the value of kindness and how it has an impact throughout a community. Also see Sarah Marwil Lamstein’s I Like Your Buttons! (Albert Whitman, 1999), which tells how Cassandra’s compliment to her teacher sparks a positive chain reaction.

Saltzberg, Barney.
Crazy Hair Day. 2003. 32p. Candlewick, $15.99 (0-7636-1954-X).

K–Gr. 2. On school picture day, Stanley Birdbaum arrives at school thinking it’s Crazy Hair Day. After his friend Larry teases Stanley about his ridiculous do, Stanley hides in the bathroom. The teacher asks Larry “to be a peacemaker instead of a troublemaker,” and Larry finally coaxes Stanley back to the class, where Stanley discovers everyone modeling sympathy dos for their group picture.

Wahl, Jan.
Candy Shop. Illus. by Nicole Wong. 2004. 32p. Charlesbridge, $15.95 (1-57091-508-3).

K–Gr. 3. Daniel, an African American boy, and his aunt visit his favorite place, the candy shop. But, when he arrives, he finds hateful words on the sidewalk outside the store, and the owner, Miz Chu, in tears, with a crowd gathered around her. Daniel wants to help, so he takes a bucket and brush to scrub away the “dumb words.”

Wyeth, Sharon Dennis.
Something Beautiful. Illus. by Chris K. Soentpiet. 1998. 32p. Doubleday, $16.95 (0-385-32239-9); Dragonfly, paper, $6.99 (0-440-41210-2).

Preschool–Gr. 3. A little girl searches for “something beautiful” in her inner-city neighborhood and manages to find beauty in many places. She then identifies a way she herself can contribute to the beauty surrounding her. Soentpiet’s stunning illustrations catch the neighborhood close-up from different perspectives. For a photo-essay with a similar theme, see No Bad News by Kenneth Cole (Albert Whitman, 2001).

Informational Books

Press, Judy.
All around Town: Exploring Your Community through Craft Fun. 2002. 128p. Williamson, paper, $12.95 (1-885593-68-6).

Preschool–Gr. 3. This presentation from the Little Hands series offers many ideas designed to introduce young children to aspects of their communities, including the school, fire station, library, senior citizens’ center, and

more. “Be a Good Neighbor!” activity ideas reinforce the theme of helping.

Scheunemann, Pam.
Being a Peacekeeper. 2004. 32p. ABDO/SandCastle, $19.93 (1-59197-558-1).

K–Gr. 2. This title from the Keeping the Peace series describes everyday acts, such as being polite, following rules, nd being fair, that can help keep the peace. Color photos show children carrying out these actions.

Thomas, Shelley Moore.
Somewhere Today: A Book of Peace. Photos by Eric Futran. 1998. 24p. Albert Whitman, $15.95 (0-8075-7545-3); paper, $6.95 (0-8075-7544-5).

Preschool–Gr. 3. This book showcases examples of ways in which people bring about peace by doing things to help and caring for one another, such as teaching a younger child how to ride a bike, and choosing friendship over fighting. Color photos enhance the text.

Video Connections

The following titles in this bibliography are also available on video.

The Lady in the Box. 2004. 11min. Nutmeg Media. $49.95. Also available in Spanish. To order, call 877-262-3690.

A Rose for Abby. 2004. 10 min. Chip Taylor. $39.99. To order, call 800-876-2447.

Helen Foster James is coordinator of library media services for the San Diego County Office of Education.

Listed below are articles from past issues of Book Links about community issues. For information on how to obtain back issues, see p.3.

• “Bullies and Bullying,” February/March 2002, p.41

• “Creating Good Neighbors,” February/March 2002, p.45

• “Awakening Social Consciousness: Homelessness in Children’s Literature,” March 2004, p.6

• “Helping Children Cope with World Discord: Books That Promote Peace,” March 2004, p.23

• “Making a Difference in the Community: The Trudi Birger Prize,” March 2004, p.31