Finding helpers and mentors in young adult literature

by Alyssa Yenzer

Finding helpers and mentors in young adult literature

by Jan Johnson, Teen Librarian

We’ve all heard the often-quoted inspirational words of the beloved Mister Rogers “’When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping. ‘” When I’m feeling disheartened by the negativity that seems to be everywhere, it really does help to “look for the helpers”, in this case, read about them.

When we started the ReadMHK program, while we were deciding what to do for January, I remember typing “what month is January” into google and National Mentoring Month popped up. Yes! Perfect! What has always amazed me about Manhattan is that we have an incredible amount of people who are always willing and eager to offer help to those who might benefit from their support. Helping comes in so many different forms. Whether it’s a group of friends who rally around each other to drop off animal crackers or soup to one of them who is not having the greatest day, to a kind stranger buying someone’s groceries at Dillons, to an individual giving their time to help foster kids and their families. Helping others doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, as you’ll see in the books below, simply offer a kind word, inspiration, or just a listening ear. Young adult books are plentiful when it comes to looking for the helpers.

The Other Side of Lost by Jessi Kirby is a story about Mari, an Instagram star, who posts about her perfect life and boyfriend, and is an inspiration to her thousands of followers. We find Mari on her 18th birthday starting the day with a picture-perfect healthy smoothie, inspirational yoga session and surprise perfect present from her boyfriend. We end the day with her breaking down on her feed admitting that her life is not perfect and that feels like a fake. Mari shares a birthday with her cousin Bri. But Bri isn’t turning 18 this year. Bri died in a hiking accident while she was training for her dream trip of hiking the 221-mile John Muir Trail, which was supposed to start a few days after her 18th birthday. Mari gets a huge package from her aunt containing Bri’s backpack, hiking boots, and notebook with the information that she had put Mari on the hiking permit with her. Mari misses the closeness the two cousins had shared and sees this as a sign that she should go pick up the permit and hike to the first leg of the journey that Bri had planned. Along the trail Mari meets a girl who Bri helped overcome her self-doubt by offering the simple words “every day is a chance to be better than you were the day before”. Mari takes these words to continue hiking, meeting others along the way who help her. A simple “you got this” from a passing stranger fuels her desire to push on. As she navigates the challenging trail, she discovers that help comes when you least expect it from the people you meet along the trail and is the catalyst for how to find she finds her way back to herself.

Channel Kindness: Stories of Kindness and Community by Born This Way Foundation and Lady Gaga is a collection of inspirational stories from young people who turn everyday acts of kindness into encouragement for us all to do more where we can.  Listening to the audiobook of this was an added treat of hearing some of the stories read by the changemakers who wrote the stories themselves. Within this book you will find stories that tell of everyday acts of kindness that show the priority of helping others reminding us what’s important offering a kind word to a stranger experiencing an anxiety episode, starting a mentorship program at schools to connect kids of differing abilities to encourage friendships, a transgender youth describing their transition online and in doing so helping others going through similar situations, and simple acts of everyday kindness.

You will find many more stories of inspiration, mentorship, helpers and kindness in our booklists on our site as well as displays in our young adult and children’s sections. If you would like to participate in our ReadMHK nine month long reading program, you can register on our website or come into the library.