Titles to Inspire Tweens and Teens to "Build a Better World" This Summer

Nonfiction Notions columnist Jennifer Wharton highlights a few titles perfect for this year's Collaborative Summer Learning Program theme, "Build a Better World."
Many states will be using the Collaborative Summer Library Program’s (CSLP) summer reading theme this year: Build a Better World. Many librarians are going the literal route, planning lots of engineering programs and Lego events. Others, however, are finding inspiration by focusing on a social justice angle, developing programs that tap into ways kids can change the world around them for the better. But where does one begin? How do you put lofty ideas into practical form? How can librarians help kids become community-minded volunteers, get involved, and help others? It’s time to explore the oft-neglected 300s of your nonfiction section! First, start with the groundwork. There are two titles I recommend for kids to think about the whys and wherefores before they jump in and start with hands-on work. Laurie Ann Thompson’s Be a Changemaker: How To Start Something That Matters (Simon Pulse/Beyond Words, Sept. 2014) is a contemporary guide for today’s tweens and teens. The author offers step-by-step instructions for getting involved and making a difference in small and large ways, covering everything from choosing your passion to fundraising and understanding the legal aspects of a nonprofit. For a more general approach, especially for younger kids who are just figuring out what they want to do, try the latest in the “Be What You Want” series, Patricia Wooster’s So You Want to be a Leader?: An Awesome Guide to Becoming a Head Honcho (Aladdin/Beyond Words, Aug. 2016). This is primarily career advice, but it includes lots of information on important skills and qualities to develop and features interviews with teen entrepreneurs and real-life leaders. Once readers have gotten an idea of where their passions lie and what kind of work they'd like to do, it’s time to look at the practical aspects of volunteering. Sandy Donovan’s Volunteering Smarts: How to Find Opportunities, Create a Positive Experience, and More (Twenty-First Century Bks., Aug. 2012) is a good, up-to-date introduction for teens wanting to volunteer or intern. It includes advice on professional behavior, finding an organization, and the benefits of being a volunteer. However, one thing that many “how to volunteer” titles don’t address is the reality that many kids can’t afford to volunteer their time for free. Many tweens and teens have responsibilities at home or must work to support themselves or their family. They may be unable to travel to volunteer sites. Some kids live in towns with limited venues and opportunities. I like to recommend Ryan Jacobson’s Get a Job Helping Others, part of Lerner’s “You’re in Business!” series, to show kids that there are ways they can make a difference and be involved that aren’t typical (unpaid) volunteer gigs. This book addresses how kids can organize a business with various services, from the traditional yard work and babysitting to tutoring or using social media and computer skills. Another way kids can “build a better world” this summer is by participating in—or even spearheading—a community-based project. One multigenerational project that can be easily adapted based upon the number of participants, space available, and resources, is community gardening. George Ancona’s It’s Our Garden: From Seeds to Harvest in a School Garden(Candlewick, Jan. 2013) follows a small school through a year of building a garden from preparing the dirt, planting seeds, maintenance, and finally to harvest and a community celebration. Gardening doesn’t require extensive expertise or a lot of money and there are often fairly rapid results (especially if you plant beans). It’s also a project that can be expanded in many directions to support other initiatives and community activities, such as healthy eating and nutrition and donations to food banks. Take some time to delve into the 300s this summer and see what your library offers in the way of advice for budding entrepreneurs and humanitarians. These books are a great starting point for kids looking to make an impact. Titles referenced: Be a Changemaker: How to Start Something That Matters by Laurie Ann Thompson. ISBN 9781582704647. So You Want to Be a Leader: An Awesome Guide to Becoming a Head Honcho by Patricia Wooster. ISBN 9781582705477. Volunteering Smarts: How to Find Opportunities, Create a Positive Experience, and More by Sandy Donovan. ISBN 9780761370215. Get a Job Helping Others by Ryan Jacobson. ISBN 9781467738361. It’s Our Garden: From Seeds to Harvest in a School Garden by George Ancona. ISBN 9780763676919.
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Excellent list of references. Will definitely refer to it. Thank you.

Posted : Sep 08, 2017 03:40


I have written a book that could also help teens or anyone who might be looking for insight of themselves or adopted kids (Reflections - Thoughts from a Social Transplant (available at AuthorHouse.com)). I originally written the book for my family to give them insight on what I have gone through as an adopted Asian child. With everything going on in the past few years other parts of the book fit in. Kids need to understand social impact ones behavior.

Posted : Aug 31, 2017 07:44


Sorry, I would be more than happy to send a copy of the short story (digital copy or paper) if anyone is interested.

Posted : Aug 31, 2017 07:52

patricia wooster

Thanks Jennifer Wharton for adding "So, You Want to Be a Leader" to your list. Writing this book is what inspired me to write my next book for youth "Ignite Your Spark: Discovering Who You are From the Inside Out" to give youth tips/tricks to become their own personal change maker.

Posted : May 27, 2017 05:20

Laurie Ann Thompson

Thanks, Jennifer! This is a great list, and I so hope librarians embrace the social justice angle of this year's CSLP theme in addition to the maker interpretation. I also wanted to add a few quick notes related to Be a Changemaker: 1) Be a Changemaker isn't limited to volunteering and nonprofit activities. You can absolutely start a for-profit business venture that makes the world a better place, too! =D 2) There's a free, downloadable, ready-to-go "Be a Changemaker" Workshop Kit for anyone who wants to help teens get started on building their own ventures to Build a Better World. It has printable posters and worksheets as well as a week-by-week leader's guide. It's available for download here: http://www.curiouscitydpw.com/curiouscitydpw/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Be-a-Changemaker-Workshops.pdf 3) If anyone is working with a group and using the book, I'm happy to do a free Q&A via Skype. Just reach out through my web page. :)

Posted : May 18, 2017 03:48

Jennifer Wharton

That's awesome, thanks!

Posted : May 23, 2017 08:40



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