about exemplary women and men

by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Sean Addy - publisher Scholastic US, 2009
ages 4 to 12 years / coffee table, powerful lives, s.o.s.e.


I confess that I'm not a big fan of the whole hero culture that we seem to have going. Too often the ‘heroes’ aren’t heroic and are anything but role model material. 

But Peaceful Heroes is a collection of super-short biographies of people who have impacted the world positively and peacefully. 

You'll have heard of most of them but there are probably some new names in the list too. For the most part, they are people born without special privilege who worked at great risk to bring a bit more good into the world.


The first peaceful hero in the book is my personal hero and ultimate role model - Jesus of NazarethPeaceful Heroes is careful to note that different people have different beliefs about Jesus and it does a really nice job of respecting all beliefs (including atheists and agnostics).

Others on the list include Sojourner Truth, Corrie Ten Boom (another personal favourite), Martin Luther King Jr, and William Feehan (a New York City firefighter who died rescuing people on 9/11). 

There are 14 peaceful heroes in all and their biographies stand alone, so one biography can be read at a time, as the mood or need strikes. It’s a great selection of heroes in varying circumstances and times.

I also like that the selections are not without controversy – as the book itself says in the biography of Clara Barton:

"Most heroes, peaceful or non-peaceful, have both fans and enemies. What their fans call heroism, their enemies might call troublemaking."

This is great starting point to talk about what makes a hero and to try to understand how any of the Peaceful Heroes might also be considered a trouble-maker by someone else – and then to think about which way we personally lean.

The book doesn’t assume prior knowledge, making it great for younger people who may not have heard of the historical circumstances that surround the various heroes.  For example, in Corrie Ten Boom’s biography there’s a very short and simple explanation of Nazi Germany and who Hitler was. 

All of which is not to suggest that the book doesn’t take a moral stance – it is absolutely aligned with peaceful actions and solutions and it calls an evil act an evil act. There is a clear delineation between the Peaceful Heroes and the evil they are fighting against – which is great, especially for children in the 6 -12 age group who often search for black and white constructions.

Some of the values and lessons available from the Peaceful Heroes include:

Jesus of Nazareth – pick a value, any value – but the biography in the book focuses on kindness to enemies

Mahatma Gandhi - peace, equality and independence

Ginetta Sagan – courage and fairness

Abdul Ghaffar Khan – justice and non-violence

Paul Rusesabagina – standing against authority and ignoring racial vilification

While this is a brilliant book for children from say, 6 years upwards, it makes a very nice coffee table book for an adult household too. The art is striking and lends a wonderful connectivity to the varied stories. It’s also a book that will lead to many interesting thoughts and discussions and hopefully some new and worthy heroes. 

And perhaps most importantly, it may lead to thoughts about the personal peaceful heroes in our lives: parents, friends, neighbours, community and church leaders and countless others who through small peaceful acts earn the title ‘hero’ from someone.

Amazon - Book Depository - Booktopia

Book Depository has free postage anywhere in the world and great pricing, but Amazon might be cheaper for North American readers. 

Names in this book: Martin, Jesus, Sojurner, Clara, Corrie, Ginetta, Abdul, Paul, Meena, Maria, William