Characters Performing Community Service

Alison Morris - October 15, 2008

This morning a customer came in with a request we had a hard time filling, so I’m putting it out here for you all to ponder AND for you publishers and writers to put in your bag of tricks. The customer in question is the mother of a fifth grade boy, and the two of them are about to start participating in a community service group, doing volunteer work in shelters, etc. She wanted a book they could read together in which a character (or characters) did such work.

Color us stumped. We could think of lots of books in which kids did good deeds or fell into the position of offering their time to help someone, but few books that were about kids engaged in organized community service projects, in spite of the fact that this is a pretty common activity.

In the end we wound up selling her a copy of The Hero’s Trail by T.A. Barron, which talks about the different ways we define heroes and heroic deeds and includes examples of kids who volunteer service work has made a difference in the world. I think it was a good choice, in part too because there’s so much other material available to support the book, including an actual prize awarded by Tom Barron every year, plus the documentary Dream Big: The Inspiring Young Heroes of the Barron Prize. This customer left feeling like we’d more than fulfilled her wish, but I can’t help feeling we must have missed out on a few additional recommendations — either because we didn’t know about existing books or because these books should exist but don’t!

Anyone have any thoughts as to what else we could have tossed her way? If not, it’s clearly time for you writers out there to take up this cause, and at least MENTION such work as a part of a character’s life. (Much as I encouraged you to mention the existence of a wider range of sports a couple months ago, too.) 

15 thoughts on “Characters Performing Community Service

  1. Jeannine Atkins

    Alison, Ellen Wittlinger’s Gracie’s Girl is about a sixth grader who works in a soup kitchen. And I think Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wild at Heart series at least touch on theme with kids doing a lot of caring for animals in need. Oh those animal shelters. That’s where my daughter did her first community service, where the parents got to/had to tag along for those under 16. Many many kitty litter boxes cleaned, (though we’re dog people.)

  2. Paula

    It’s a bit younger than your customer’s fifth grader, but for kids in the 2nd-3rd grade range, Barbara Seuling’s Robert and the Back-to-School Special has a subplot revolving around volunteering at a “senior home.” Robert is paired up with a Mrs. Santini, who is in a wheelchair; he visits her, runs errands, etc. Mrs. Santini shows up again later in the Robert series, in Robert and the Practical Jokes. The Robert books are quiet and kind.

  3. Laurie

    There’s a picture book — so probably a bit young for the intendended audience — about a boy who helps in a soup kitchen: DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan’s _Uncle Willie and the Soup Kitchen_.

  4. Monica Edinger

    Definitely too old for this particular situation and the initial set-up isn’t virtuous at all (as the protagonist is doing community service because of a legal infraction), but all that said there is Jordan Sonnenblick’s Note from the Midnight Driver.

  5. Julianne Daggett

    I’m also stumped about volunteering books. There are, of course, plenty of non-fiction books (most seeming a bit preachy) and some picture books, but I can’t think of any MG or YA books with characters that volunteer besides some out of print Babysitters Club books. And that’s a bit strange considering young people are enthusiastic about volunteering, and parents and teachers are constantly encouraging kids to volunteer. I think kids, parents, and teachers would enjoy books where kids volunteered and did work to better their community or some other community, especially if the books didn’t preach to kids, and told a good, well-written story.

  6. hm

    It’s nonfiction, but It’s Our World, Too! by Phillip Hoose, in paperback from FSG, is a really readable and inspiring set of portraits of kids taking on various public service projects.

  7. Sam

    Apparently Sonnenblick is the go-to guy for this: his Zen and the Art of Faking It involves kids working in a soup kitchen (though there’s more going on, as well). And it’s for middle schoolers, unlike Midnight Driver.

  8. ShelfTalker

    Thanks for all these great suggestions! I think it’s telling, though, that ShelfTalker readers so far haven’t come up with more. Again I suggest that this may be a hole in the market that’s worth filling.

  9. Stone Arch Books

    Check out “We Are Heroes,” our series of six books about everyday heroes, kids helping others…we’ve got what you’re looking for! See for more information.

  10. Miriam Newman

    OK, I’ll be a publishing person throwing in suggestions… here are some titles from Lee & Low Books that I think fit the bill: Christmas Makes Me Think, Sam and the Lucky Money, Armando and the Blue Tarp School, and Rent Party Jazz. You can read summaries and see previews at And, of course, you should check out the rest of our books, too!

  11. Bobbie

    Several of the Beacon Street Girls books involve community service and, in fact, we have lots of examples of them inspiring kids to perform community service. In Bad News/Good News (book 2), Maeve starts Project Thread where she creates blankets for kids in homeless shelters. (A group of girls in PA were written up in their local newspaper for emulating Maeve’s project in their community.) In Letters from the Heart (book 3), the project is also mentioned as Maeve gets an award for her community service. The BSG website includes a community service club and has directions for Maeve’s blankets as well as a place for girls to share their own projects.

  12. Nick Eliopulos

    Also a bit younger than what you were looking for, but definitely worth mentioning: the Pee Wee Scouts series by Judy Delton. It was very popular a couple of decades ago, and many of the books are still (or recently back) in print. The kids are always looking to perform good deeds, and plots include finding homes or raising money for needy pets, throwing a Halloween party at a nursing home, etc. Good stuff!

  13. akk

    A few more… Best enemies forever / Kathleen Leverich ; illustrated by Walter Lorraine. Buying time / Stephanie Doyon. Chicken soup for little souls : the Braids Girl / story by Lisa McCourt ; illustrated by Tim Ladwig. Exploits of a reluctant (but extremely goodlooking) hero / Maureen Fergus. Freaky Tuesday / by Melissa J. Morgan. How to build a house / Dana Reinhardt. Keisha leads the way / by Teresa Reed ; illustrations by Eric Velasquez ; spot illustrations by Rich Grote. Kids against hunger / by Jon Mikkelsen ; illustrated by Nathan Lueth. “Sunday best” : includes 2 stories / [created by Realbuzz Studios ; Min Kwon, primary artist]. Ty’s triple trouble / by Eleanor May ; illustrated by Amy Wummer. The light in the cellar : a Molly mystery / by Sarah Masters Buckey ; [illustrations by Jean-Paul Tibbles]. Truth without the trimmings / by Diane Muldrow ; illustrated by Barbara Pollak. The case of the sweaty bank robber / by George E. Stanley ; illustrated by Salvatore Murdocca. Notes from a liar and her dog / Gennifer Choldenko. Straydog / Kathe Koja. Bad girl blues / by Sally Warner. Rocked out : a Summer X Games special / Laban Hill. Almost a hero / John Neufeld. Not just party girls / Jeanne Betancourt.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *