03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Books That Can Help Our Children Find a Path Through a Scary World (And Maybe Make Things a Little Better)

It won't come as a surprise to any of you grownups out there, but we're living in a pretty scary world. From H1N1, global terrorism, our soldiers posted around the world, droughts, obesity, hurricanes and global warming, we're in kind of a pickle.

If you've got children, you're probably thinking about the best ways to teach them and help them navigate the rough patches.  When they're young, all our efforts are bent towards getting them to a place where they are ready to go to school and thrive there, to learn and grow.

But as our kids get older, they may start to pay attention to more than just the latest releases for Xbox 360 and Wii and whether they can ethically choose Team Edward or Team Jacob.  The downside to their burgeoning awareness of the world around them is that their curiosity and desire to get involved and, you know, Do Something, may also be accompanied by impatience. Their need to find some answers and get involved in the solutions may outstrip your own ability to answer their questions and confidently provide guidance.

Whether they get exposed to the news online, on CNN, or from schoolyard talk, there will be questions about the messy parts of our world.  There may even be questions that you're not prepared to handle in an impromptu seminar over your first cup of coffee.

Luckily, there are plenty of great resources that you can bring to bear.  Because I'm a sales rep for publishers, and my wife is a children's librarian, our first resource for questions like these is a trip to the bookstore or library.  (Okay, it's our second resource after Google and Wikipedia provide a stopgap answer.)  And there are some great books out there now that are specifically designed to help bring our kids up to speed on these tough questions.  The best ones also provide resources for further action when they've finished the book.

Publishers have recently begun to adapt books that were originally published for adults about our world's sticky bits into new editions for younger readers.  I've chosen just a few topics (and books) to get started, and a few accompanying resources online.  I'll track down more resources for future posts.

"What can I do to stop climate change?"

This is probably the biggest dilemma that the planet faces, and the science is complicated.  Of course, for a complicated issue, there's an easy answer: Al Gore.  He's a one man band of history, context, scientific explication and possible solutions.  Tons of solutions.

The former Vice President's best-selling An Inconvenient Truth was adapted for young readers, and of course, the DVD is a fascinating journey through the same material.

His new book, Our Choice, continues where An Inconvenient Truth left off and comes out on November 3.  The adult and young readers' adaptation are being published simultaneously.

I should also suggest a new book from Candlewick Press (one of the publishers that I represent).  They have just published a young readers' adaptation of Tim Flannery's The Weather Makers (originally published for adults in 2006 by Grove Press).  Flannery is an Australian paleontologist and activist who sought to establish the scientific proof of climate change by examining the fossil record.  The new edition for kids adds tips on ways that readers can get involved in their community.

Web Resources:

Check out Al Gore's sites, and, for suggestions on concrete steps that individuals, families, classrooms, and schools can take to make a difference.

"What the heck is going on in Pakistan and Afghanistan?"

After climate change, this seems like the thorniest problem facing us as Americans right now, and any breakfast table attempt to explain it all is doomed to failure.  But one linear approach to the issue is to look at the question of education.  The lack of widespread, reliable educational resources across the region is certainly contributing to the continuing flow of madrassa-educated radicalized combatants.  

If you belong to a book group, you've probably already know where I'm heading.  Yes, it's Three Cups of Tea time.  Greg Mortenson wrote Three Cups of Tea after a little navigational error on K2 led him away from his party and into an impoverished, remote village in Pakistan.  The book tells of his quest to build one school for this village's children, and how he expanded that effort into a foundation whose sole purpose is to redress this utter lack of educational resources for an entire region of the planet.

Greg's new book picks up the tale where Three Cups of Tea left off, and provides an update on his foundation's efforts: Stones Into Schools.  It comes out December 1.

Web Resources:

The main foundation for Greg's work is the Central Asia Institute.  Their Pennies For Peace program has been a very successful effort to do grassroots fundraising through educating and inspiring Western schoolchildren.

"Meat is murder! I'm a vegan now."

This question seems likely to come up over a platter of really delicious bacon, which will only make the ensuing discussion more uncomfortable for those enjoying said bacon.  Nevertheless, there are some smartly written books that will help all involved have a more nuanced discussion of meat-eating, vegetarianism and our off-balance food production system.

Michael Pollan's best-seller, The Omnivore's Dilemma, was recently adapted into a young readers' edition.

And the original food expose book, Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, was also adapted for young readers a couple of years ago.

Web Resources:

PETA's sub-site,, is full of pro-vegetarian information, muck-raking facts, and recipes. is the web home of a fun and informative vegetarian magazine, with news, blogs, and recipes.


I welcome your comments and suggestions for further topics, or more ideas for discussion on today's topics.  You can read more from me about books and publishing at my3books or follow me on Twitter – I'd love to hear from you there, as well.