Sep 252023
5 KidLit Characters Who Are Better Leaders Than Mike Pence

Would you rather learn about leadership from a former Vice President of the United States or from a beloved KidLit character? I vote for KidLit every time. In the first Republican presidential candidate debate, former Vice President Mike Pence excoriated Nikki Haley when she suggested consensus as a way of moving forward in the abortion debate exclaiming, “Consensus is the opposite of leadership!” Listening to a news story on the debates, that statement stopped me in my tracks.

Consensus is foundational to our system of government. Sure, majority rule is our standard, but we arrive at the majority through consensus. And if we ever hope to overcome the extreme partisan divide we are living through, consensus leadership has to take a front seat.

Let’s dive right in and see what some of our favorite middle grade novel heroes have to teach us about the art of leadership.

Arturo Zamora – The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya

Arturo is caught in between many milestones as he lives into his leadership skills. His beloved grandmother is very ill and dying. She is the anchor for their family and their family’s restaurant business. The possibility of losing her is terrifying to Arturo. He also gets reacquainted with an old family friend who is now suddenly beautiful and awakening different feelings in Arturo. Finally, a slick developer has arrived in their Miami-area town and has his sights set on the Zamora family’s restaurant.

Leadership lesson: Make the focus of your leadership how to serve others and not yourself

Resa, Harriet, Amelia and Didi – The Startup Squad by Brian Weisfeld and Nicole C. Kear

These four sixth graders have been thrown together in a class project to create the highest-grossing lemonade stand. Resa sees herself as the leader but not everyone is on board. None of the girls know anything about making lemonade OR money and their nascent friendship is also at risk. Communication and consensus are right recipe for business and friendship success.

Leadership lesson: Consensus is the key to success. When you’re stuck with people, like I don’t know, in Congress, you’ve got to learn to dance with the one which brung ya.

Wes Henderson – Take Back the Block by Chrystal D. Giles

Wes is a 6th grader living in Kensington Oaks, an older subdivision. He’s been there his entire life and he loves his home. But things are changing. A gentrifying developer is sniffing around the neighborhood, some neighbors are considering moving and he and his friends are becoming young men who draw unwanted attention from the police. In the midst of all the turmoil, Wes finds his footing as a leader who might be able to save his neighborhood after all.

Leadership lesson: Listen to everyone. Stay true to your values. Think (way) outside of the box.

Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel Jose Older

Magdalys and her friends in the Colored Orphans Asylum (a real place) in Civil War era New York City are focused on finding lost relatives and avoiding capture by Magistrate Richard Riker and his Kidnapping Club which aims to sell free New Yorkers of color into slavery in the South (also real). There is general chaos amongst the Draft Riots (real), the Civil War (real), and the many species of dinosaurs that roam New York City (not real). Magdalys has to decide whether she will trust her fellow orphans and fight with them or slip off to find her brother in Louisiana. She eventually chooses to stay with the orphan and renegade family that came together in the wake of the riots. This piece of imaginative historical fiction is lively on every page.

Leadership lesson: Even when you ache to run away and chase your destiny alone, we achieve more together.

Gabby Garcia – Gabby Garcia’s Ultimate Playbook by Iva-Marie Palmer

Gabby Garcia is a superstar baseball player who, during an epic 7th grade year, has to change schools because her home school has asbestos. Gabby fully expects the new school’s baseball team to fall all over themselves trying to get her to join, but things don’t turn out quite the way she envisions them. Gabby joins the field hockey team in an effort to reinstate her winning streak and be the leader she knows herself to be. Gabby soon learns that while her efforts are solely focused on herself, she will always keep slipping. Winning comes from being other-focused.

Leadership Lesson: Honesty and humility are key to harmony.

Don’t just take my word for it. Pick up these leadership guides and use them to spark great conversations with your kids or other adults about how leaders grow into their greatness. Are there other great KidLit heroes that you’d like to see added to this list? They don’t have to be only from middle grade novels, tell us some of your faves!

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