As the new year begins this month, these books of inspiration and courage may guide readers towards reaching their own goals for the year.

“Pay It Forward” by Catherine Ryan Hyde, 2014, 261 pages, ages 8-12.

Sixth grader Trevor McKinney takes on his social studies teacher’s extra credit assignment to think of an idea to change the world and put it into action. Trevor selects three people and does something big to help each one. His idea entails each of these people helping three more people, who help three more people, and over time the world becomes a better place. Although Trevor’s plan is met with challenges and successes, he serves as an inspiration to many. The original novel, “Pay if Forward” was published in 1999 and written for adults. The 2014 young readers edition, presented with minor changes, gives young people a chance to see the difference one person can make.

“The Tortoise and the Soldier: A Story of Courage and Friendship in World War I” by Michael Foreman, 2013, Henry Holt, ages 8-12.

The loneliness and ravages of World War I are lessened for two creatures when a tortoise escapes the battle in the foxhole of a British sailor. A bond forms, and the sailor, Henry Friston, sneaks the tortoise onto the battleship, with his bunkmates promising secrecy. The tortoise becomes a symbol of luck as the company successfully moves from battle to battle, and then home to England. Based on a true story, the thread that binds Henry and the tortoise inspires all to value the life of creatures great and small.

“The Girl Who Buried Her Dreams in a Can” by Dr. Tererai Trent, Illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist, 2015, Viking, ages 7-11.

In a small village in Rhodesia, a young girl, Tererai, dreams of learning to read, but this goes again the cultural tradition. With the support of her mother and grandmother, Tererai’s brother teaches her the ways letters are sewn together to make words, much like the creation of a patchwork quilt. But simply reading is not enough, Terarai grows up and dreams of college in America and returning to educate the people of her village. She writes her dreams on paper, places these in a can, and buries it in the ground, where Mother Earth can help the dreams grow. This biographical story serves as an inspiration of the ways hopes and dreams can guide our life.

“Stella by Starlight” by Sharon M. Draper, 2015, Atheneum Books, 320 pages, ages 9-13.

During a nighttime trip to the outhouse, Stella and her brother hear noises and smell smoke. Their exploring leads to the discovery of the Ku Klux Klan spreading evil in their small southern town. Stella has words inside her head to describe this scary scene, but she struggles with writing her thoughts about this and the other injustices she and her family experience. But Stella is inspired to write when a tragedy in the community brings together families of all races. Sharon Draper dedicates this book to her father and grandmother who both faced the injustices and realities of life as African Americans during the early and mid 1900’s.

“Some Kind of Courage” by Dan Gemeinart, 2016, Scholastic Press, 234 pages, ages 10-13.

What does a person do when the only family member he has left, his horse, is stolen from him? Joseph Johnson summoned all of his strength and courage to go after the horse thief. His love for Sarah, the horse, and the friend he meets on his journey, inspire him to continue through the adversities of weather, hunger, and hostility. Although Joseph’s parents are no longer living, their words inspire him and guide his moral decisions along the way and provide him with the courage needed to continue his search.

Reviewed and image by Elizabeth Dobler