School Library Journal: Pitch In to Help Others and the World

Helping is not hard work! Helping is how children first learn that interacting with others can improve life for all. Whether it’s washing carrots for an abuela to chop up for stew, or comforting a parent, or standing up as a citizen against global warming, children love to help. Helping is also the beginning of learning about community, which only thrives when everyone pitches in. As these titles show, being useful grows a child’s sense of self-worth and their compassion for others. This list was curated by Kimberly Olson Fakih, Senior Editor, Picture Books.


This Little Environmentalist

These are true helpers. This book used detailed, kid-friendly tidbits to honor 10 diverse, groundbreaking figures whose work helped the environment. More friendly portraits of individuals appear in the back, with a final cheer to encourage personal care for the Earth.
Age Groups: Little Kids, Toddlers
Skills: Empathy, Helping
Author: Written by Joan Holub and illustrated by Daniel Roode

Discussion Questions

  • What is an environmentalist?
  • How do environmentalists help?
  • The book contains little biographies of environmentalists. What did Edgar J. Helm, Wangari Maathai, and Vandana Shiva do to help the Earth? Describe your other favorite stories from the book!
  • What lessons did you learn from the examples in "This Little Environmentalist"?

Salma the Syrian Chef

When Salma  and her mother are forced to live in a refugee camp away from her father after leaving Syria and they are sad. Determined to hear her mother laugh again, Salma tries to cheer her up with silly drawings and jokes, then decides to surprise her by making foul shami, a Syrian dish. Seeking the help of many other people in the refugee camp to find a recipe, translate the foods, shop, and prepare the meal, not everything goes to plan. Despite all the help, Salma doesn’t have the right spices to finish her dish, but the meal, of course, delights her mother and brings the entire community together.
Age Groups: Big Kids, Little Kids
Skills: family, Helping
Author: Written by Danny Ramadan and illustrated by Anna Bron

Discussion Questions

  • Cooking for others can be a good way to help them! What does Salma decide to cook for her mother to cheer her up?
  • Who helps Salma as she prepares the Syrian dish?
  • What happens in the end? Is Salma's mom upset that the foul shami isn't perfect?
  • What do you think you could cook or serve to people you love to cheer them up?
my two border towns

My Two Border Towns

In this bilingual title, a message of helping out community is tied to a serious lesson of borders. A father and his sleepy son awaken for an errand they have done together many times. They are going to the “Other Side,” or “Otro Lado.” They will cross into Mexico and visit relatives, get medication, shop: “Before I know it, we reach the broad river, a watery serpent that glints with the dawn. Dad reminds me: Coahuiltecans once lived here, before all this was Mexico — both riverbanks.” Spanish and English phrases run like separate currents of the same stream, understandable in context. And then, they buy and parcel out gifts for their friends, the gente, a reminder that not everyone is free to travel on both sides
Age Groups: Big Kids
Skills: family, Helping
Author: Written by David Bowles and illustrated by Erika Meza

Discussion Questions

  • Who do the boy and his father help on the United States side of the border?
  • Who do the boy and his father help on the Mexico side of the border?
  • What are some similarities and differences you notice in the two border towns in the story?
  • Did you notice that the words in the book are in both English and Spanish? Why do you think the author made this choice?
  • What surprised you about the story?

A Gift for Amma: Market Day in India

How do you help your amma know she is loved? You find something to give her that has meaning! This heartwarming story invites preschoolers to an open air market, to learn of the colors, scents, and sounds, but mostly, to learn the loving power of the right gift for the right person, set against a rich backdrop of traditional Indian culture.
Age Groups: Big Kids, Little Kids
Skills: family, Helping
Author: Written by Meera Sriram and illustrated by Mariona Cabassa

Discussion Questions

  • Giving a gift is a way to help someone else! What gifts does the narrator consider giving her Amma in the story?
  • What does she decide to give Amma in the end — and why?
  • What gifts (that you make or buy) do you think you could give to people you love to help cheer them up or make them feel better?
Stand up! Speak up!

Stand Up! Speak Up!: A Story Inspired by the Climate Change Revolution

An outwardly simple introduction to activism and helping heal the earth, Joyner captures the enthusiasm, anxiety, and action of children of all ages and abilities. From sign-making to marching, this title answers the age-old question, “How can I help?” with bright, effective answers.
Age Groups: Big Kids, Little Kids
Skills: Helping
Author: Written and illustrated by Andrew Joyner


  • What is climate change?
  • What's a revolution?
  • What are some ways kids can help the Earth and prevent climate change?
  • Did you notice anything interesting about the illustrations in the book?

Tomatoes for Neela

Part informational, part family story, this attractive book will speak to young kitchen helpers and those with loved ones in far-off places. This is a true celebration of the ways food binds families, and not just in the eating of it. The preparation is everything. Working together, Neela and her mother create a family sauce, with one jar squirreled away for her paati’s winter visit. Joyful illustrations and quiet cooperation show that by helping others, we help ourselves.
Age Groups: Big Kids, Little Kids
Skills: family, Helping
Author: Written by Padma Lakshmi and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal

Discussion Questions

  • One way to help others is by cooking food for them! What do Neela and her mother cook together?
  • By helping others, we can help ourselves, too! What does that mean to you and how do you think the story is related to this idea?
  • What do you want to cook together? Why?
School Library Journal

School Library Journal is the premiere publication for librarians and information specialists who work with children and teens. A source of quality journalism and reviews for more than 60 years, SLJ produces award-winning features and news coverage on literacy, technology, education policy, and other issues of interest to the school library and greater educator community. SLJ evaluates a broad range of resources, from books and digital content to databases, in 6000-plus reviews published annually. This list was curated by Kimberly Olson Fakih, Senior Editor, Picture Books.