Eight books to inspire hope, chosen by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Published on: 23 June 2021

Bestselling author of Black Brother, Black Brother, Jewell Parker Rhodes shares eight of her favourite books for older children about strength, hope, and resilience in dark times.

Author Jewell Parker Rhodes and the cover of Black Brother, Black Brother 

In spring 2021, I taught Children’s Literature: Adventure and Survival to undergraduates. The course had special resonance as COVID spread and we dealt with being physically isolated from one another during online teaching. We explored different and multiple aspects of survival which called upon resilience and physical, mental, and/or spiritual strength. Below are seven of my students’ (and mine!) favorite picks. 

The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag

Boys are shapeshifters and girls are witches.  Crossing gender lines is strictly forbidden.  But one boy, Aster, with courage and magic, dares to aid his community and family, by being himself!  A terrific graphic novel about identity.

The cover of The Witch Boy by Molly Knox OstertagThe cover of The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag

 Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina

A delightful and thought-provoking novel about a young Latina girl challenged by middle school realities and the declining memory of her beloved grandfather. 

Fever, 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

In America, summer 1793 was a season of a deadly and contagious yellow fever.  Heroine Mattie, like many during our worldwide pandemic, struggles with family illness and a world filled with inequities in terms of race, class, and health.  She survives determined to make her life and her family’s better.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

How do you survive when you discover the war games you’ve been playing are real?  In this science fiction tale, Ender grapples with xenophobia, genocide, and moral responsibility.  The boy becomes a young man. 

The cover of Ender's Game by Orson Scott CardThe cover of Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

In Darkness by Nick Lake

A survival tale that interweaves Touissant L’Overture and the Haitian Revolution (1791-1802) with Shorty, a young boy trapped beneath rubble of the Haitian Earthquake (2010).  This story explores the African diaspore struggle to survive poverty and oppression.  It also affirms “On the Other Side of Darkness is Light.”

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

Based on the the war in Southern Sudan, this story fictionalizes the story of Nya who walks eight hours every day for water and Salva whose survival as a refugee, inspires his commitment to raise funds and build wells to provide clean water for African communities.  A tale of survival that celebrates survival and how empathy can help those in need and make a better world.

Mexican White Boy by Matt De La Pena

Brown, half-Mexican and white, Danny struggles with his heritage and cultural identity.  Prejudice and stereotyping torments him across racial lines.  Self-discovery and sports lead him toward self-acceptance and friendship.

The cover of Mexican White Boy by Matt De La PenaThe cover of Mexican White Boy by Matt De La Pena 

Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes

My first children’s book!  And the first time I’d assigned a book I’d written. Able to see ghosts, Lanesha uses street smarts and intuition to survive Hurricane Katrina and flood waters destroying her community. Surviving the hard times, means remembering, “Always, eventually, the universe shines down with love.”

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