‘All the Light We Cannot See’ by Anthony Doerr – how to be kind to one another against all odds

This post is the next installment of our initiative to showcase some of the beautifully written or illustrated books for children.

We strive to highlight books on our website that will help create the next generation of global citizens by exploring these themes:

  • Generosity
  • Caring for others
  • Multiculturalism
  • Empowerment and perseverance

Although I see all four of these themes in Anthony Doerr’s award-winning novel All The Light We Cannot See, the importance of caring for others rings loudest. That the author can connect a young blind French girl with a young orphaned German boy growing up under Hitler’s influence, speaks to the power and possibilities of communication across geographic and political divides.

Doerr underscores this notion when he describes what his book is really about:

“Radio, propaganda, a cursed diamond, children in Nazi Germany, puzzles, snails, the Natural History Museum in Paris, courage, fear, bombs, the magical seaside town of Saint-Malo in France, and the ways in which people, against all odds, try to be kind to one another.”


Take a moment to watch the following video, in which Anthony Doerr talks in depth about the genesis of his book:


I find the book’s title very intriguing.  In an excerpt from his website, Anthony Doerr explains its meaning:


It’s a reference first and foremost to all the light we literally cannot see: that is, the wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum that are beyond the ability of human eyes to detect (radio waves, of course, being the most relevant). It’s also a metaphorical suggestion that there are countless invisible stories still buried within World War II — that stories of ordinary children, for example, are a kind of light we do not typically see. Ultimately, the title is intended as a suggestion that we spend too much time focused on only a small slice of the spectrum of possibility.


Is there a specific event that triggered the writing of this book?

In an interview with Scribner Magazine, Doerr explains that he was initially motivated to write the story by a visit to Saint-Malo, France (where a large part of the story takes place) and by a growing interest in the power of radio. He then goes on to say:


Ultimately, the novel became a project of humanism. I longed to tell a war story that felt new and to do that I needed the reader to invest as completely in Werner (the German orphan boy) as she does in Marie-Laure (the blind French heroine). In the war stories I read growing up, French resistance heroes were dashing, sinewy types who constructed machine guns from paper clips. And German soldiers were evil blond torturers, marching in coal scuttle helmets alongside barbed wire. I wondered if things might have been more nuanced than that. Could I tell a story about how a promising boy got sucked into the Hitler Youth and made bad decisions that led to terrible, unforgivable consequences, yet still render him an empathetic character? And could I braid his story with the narrative of a disabled girl who in so many ways was more capable than the adults around her? My attempt in this novel is to suggest the humanity of both Werner and Marie-Laure, to propose more complicated portraits of heroes and villains; to hint at, as World War II fades from the memories of its last survivors and becomes history, all the light we cannot see.


As Mr. Doerr stated there are so many things that cannot be seen (or that we don’t take time to see) but are revelatory.  This book shows the power to go beyond what we initially see, not make judgments so quickly, and take the time to relate and listen. This is a lesson for readers of all ages.


Anthony Doerr was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. He is the author of the story collections The Shell Collector and Memory Wall, the memoir Four Seasons in Rome, and the novels About Grace and All the Light We Cannot See, which was awarded the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the 2015 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. Doerr lives in  Boise, Idaho with his wife and two sons.

To learn more about this author, visit his website at Anthonydoerr.com


This blog was crafted by a Global Grandmothers supporter, Brooke Herter James.                     

Inspiring the Next Generation to Wonder

There are so many beautifully written and illustrated books for children!  We chose books for our website that will help create the next generation of global citizens by exploring these themes:

  • Generosity

  • Caring for others

  • Multi-culturalism

  • Empowerment and perseverance

I see all four of these themes in WONDER as integral to the author’s emphasis on choosing kindness as an operating principle in life. In a Q and A on her website, R.J. Palacio answers several questions about the book, two of which are featured below:


Is there a specific event that triggered the writing of this book?

I was with my two sons one day in front of an ice cream store, and we found ourselves in close proximity to a child with a severe facial difference. My younger son started to cry because he was scared, and I was nervous that his tears might hurt the child’s feelings, so I left the scene very quickly and rather abruptly. I realized afterward that I had handled the situation terribly. What I wished I had done was to turn that encounter into a teaching moment for my kids. I wished I had stopped to talk to the child, and shown my own kids there was nothing to be afraid of. It made me wonder what it must be like for that child, facing a world every day that doesn’t know how to face you back.


Was there any theme/message the author wanted to give to her readers?

I hope that kids will come away with the idea that they are noticed: their actions are noted. Maybe not immediately or directly or even in a way that seems obvious, but if they’re mean, someone suffers. If they’re kind, someone benefits. And the choice is theirs: whether to be noticed for being kind or for being mean. They get to choose who they want to be in this world. And it’s not their friends and not their parents who make these choices: it’s them. I also hope parents are gently reminded of the enormous influence they have over their children at that age, and that it’s okay to interfere in their kids ‘ lives. Their kids may act like they’re not listening, act like they’re big and know all the answers, but they’re still listening. You’ve still got them. Use the time and remind them about the things that are essential. Remind them to be kind to their old friends. Remind them to be polite, to write those thank you notes, to go out of their way to help their friends, to connect to the kids who are struggling socially or academically. I’ve heard parents say it’s hard to ask their kids to reach out or stand up against bullies because of social repercussions, but that’s all nonsense. It’s never okay not to do the right thing.

The book’s message of kindness has inspired the Choose Kind movement, an anti-bullying campaign, grew directly out of the story Wonder tells. The book has been embraced by readers, young and old, around the world.


R.J. Palacio speaks about Choose Kind in this excerpt from her website:

“If you have a choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.”
-Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

This quote by Dr. Dyer, introduced as a precept by Mr. Browne, on the first day of school in Wonder, set the tone for the rest of the year at Beecher Prep. It also set the tone for Wonder, a book that, on the outside is about a boy with a craniofacial difference but in its heart and soul, is about kindness. The theme of kindness and tolerance are what made Wonder resonate with so many people around the world. 

Since it’s publication, Wonder has been embraced by teachers and students, incorporated into curriculum plans, and selected for countless school-wide and community reads across the country. It is a perfect book to read aloud or read alone, and a vehicle for discussions about kindness, bullying, responsibility, overcoming challenges, and friendship.

R. J. Palacio lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband, two sons and two dogs (Bear and Beau). Her debut novel, Wonder, has been on the New York Times bestseller list since March 2012, and has sold over 5 million copies worldwide.

In the following video, author R. J. Palacio talks about the importance of kindness with a group of school kids in Brooklyn, NY.


To learn more about R.J. Paladio, Wonder and Choose Kind, visit her website! https://wonderthebook.com

This blog was crafted by a Global Grandmothers supporter, Brooke Herter James.


In addition to Wonder, please check out the new additions to the Global Grandmothers children’s book list here:


The Power of Reading for Children

All of us and many of you love children’s books.  This sentiment is validated monthly when we look at our online metrics  – one of the most popular pages on our site is the page that features children’s book recommendations. 

Obviously, there are many beautifully written and illustrated books for children, too many to document here in one blog post. That being said, we choose specific books to share with you that we believe can help create the next generation of global citizens by exploring the following themes:

  • Generosity
  • Caring for others
  • Multi-culturalism
  • Empowerment and perseverance

Brooke Herter James is a Global Grandmother from South Reading, Vermont and a children’s book author herself. She has agreed to highlight several books by interviewing the authors. Our blog will feature these interviews quarterly.

Brooke Herter James, fellow Global Grandmother

Brooke’s first interview is with Suzy Becker, author of Kids Make It Better. We’ve featured a transcript of that interview below:

Brooke Herter James: I see all four of Global Grandmothers themes  – generosity, caring for others, multi-culturalism, empowerment, and perseverance in ‘Kids Make It Better’, presented with a generous dose of humor. What role does humor play in your writing for kids?

Suzy Becker: Thank you! Humor plays a role in all of my writing, even for babies. When you make someone laugh, you have undeniably succeeded in making a connection. Once you’ve done that, you can talk or write about all kinds of things. In Kids Make It Better, humor lightens some serious subjects, but I really can’t take credit for it.  Most of it’s in the kids’ words.


BHJ: Is there a specific event that triggered the writing of this book?

SB: Yes, a teachable moment, which could just as easily been a teaching debacle. I was working with a group of 3rd graders who I saw weekly. We were checking in with each other and one of them mentioned she’d seen a sad picture of a bird in the newspaper. Others had seen the same photo of a pelican with its feathers doused in oil. I jettisoned my lesson plan and passed out blank paper. “You’re in charge,” I told them. “Pretend you’re a world leader, or a scientist, a movie star, athlete, maybe an inventor, what would they do to clean up that oil spill?” There were a few moments when it all could have gone south, then they started to write and draw. “I’d get a big helicopter with a really big sponge and lower it down, soak up all the oil on top of the water…” You could feel the tension dispelling.  I thought, “Wow, if they can solve this problem that was really bothering them five minutes ago, they can solve anything! Eighty classrooms/problems later, I had the makings for this book.


Suzy Becker and class


BHJ: Who did you write this book for?

SB: It’s dedicated to my daughter, niece and nephew, but the book is for all of us. Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Kids’ solutions give me such hope. And, as the “This Really Works!” sidebars point out, a lot of their so-called imaginary answers have real-life counterparts. When I asked kids how to earthquake-proof a house, one favorite answer was, “Cover it in Jell-O.” Another was put it on springs. Structural engineers have designed foundations with systems of springs. I also included bios of kids under the age of ten who’ve made serious inroads on problems like homelessness or water access with an Action Plan at the back of the book. Setting world problem-solving aside for a second, we all want to raise happy kids. One of the only known markers for happiness in adulthood is the feeling you made a difference, helped others in childhood.


BHJ: How did this book change as it went from idea to published manuscript? Did you ask your daughter for feedback?

SB: The book changed very little. After I chose the answers, I had the kid-authors art-direct the illustrations. My daughter was only five at the time. I ran some of the questions by her to make sure they were clear.


BHJ: What is your favorite children’s book that touches on the themes mentioned above? (besides your own, of course!)

SB: I loved reading Whoever You Are by Mem Fox at bedtime with my daughter.


Suzy Becker, author of ‘Kids Make it Better’

Suzy Becker Bio: An award-winning author, artist, educator, and activist, Suzy Becker’s first book was the internationally bestselling ‘All I Need to Know I Learned from My Cat’. She has since written and illustrated five other books for all ages. Now in 49th grade, Suzy never really left school. She’s been a sub, a teacher, or a visiting artist ever since she graduated from Brown University.

New Children’s Book Recommendations!

In response to the thousands of people who use our children’s book lists, we periodically add titles that make wonderful gifts for the holidays or for any occasion. These books, chosen to help develop the next generation of global citizens, are arranged by age appropriateness.

Mama Miti, Donna Jo Napoli (Illustrated by Kadir Nelson) Ages 4-8 (2010)

There are many biographies written for children about Wangari Maathai (Mama Miti), the Nobel Prize-winning founder of the Greenbelt Movement in Kenya. What makes this one special, in addition to the powerful story, are the beautiful illustrations by Kadir Nelson. Reading this book aloud is as much a treat for adults as for children.

Gracie’s Night, A Hanukkah Story, Lynn Taylor Gordon, Ages 3-8 (2013)

There’s lots of love in Gracie’s and Papa’s lives, but not much money. Gracie finds a resourceful way to buy Papa some well deserved Hanukkah gifts, but an encounter on a bitterly cold night opens her eyes and alters her plans.” (Publisher’s description) This book about generosity speaks to everyone.


Nelson Mandela, Kadir Nelson Ages 5-9 (2011)

The strength and of Kadir Nelson’s emotionally packed illustrations perfectly match the importance of Nelson Mandela’s as a change-maker. Told in a simple and truthful voice that is accessible to children as young as age 5.

I Will Aways Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives, Martin Ganda and Caitlin Alifirenka, Ages 12 and up (2015)

This best-selling book is a “dual memoir” told alternately from the perspectives of the two writers who were assigned to each other as pen pals when they were young teenagers. “The remarkable tenacity of these two souls pulled like magnets across the world by their opposite polarities – one committed to helping, the other to surviving – is deeply affecting…It’s quite a little miracle of unexpected genuineness.”―New York Times Book Review

Last Stop on Market Street, Matt de la Pena, Ages 3-6 (2015)

In this Newberry Medal winner, we meet CJ and his grandmother waiting for a bus after going to church. He has many questions and she answers them with patience and wisdom. Through their conversation, it is clear that their family has little income but is rich in many other ways. We don’t know where they are going until the last stop on Market Street, where they get out of the bus to volunteer at a soup kitchen. The relationship between this African-American grandma and her grandson is a model for all of us who want to help raise the next generation of global citizens.


One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia, Miranda Paul, Ages 5-9 (2015) 

”The simple format of this picture book belies the strength of its content, a story lovingly supported by charming collage illustrations. As a girl, Ceesay realized that the goats on which her village relied were dying because they were eating plastic bags. She also saw that people were tossing the used bags on the ground just as they had always thrown away their baskets when no longer useful except the plastic bags, unlike the baskets, weren’t biodegradable. So Ceesay figured out how to use crochet, a skill with which the villagers were already familiar, to make purses out of the plastic bags. The simple but lyrical text conveys this beautiful, thought-provoking tale of ecological awareness and recycling.” (–starred, School Library Journal)


Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote; a Migrant’s Tale, Duncan Tonatiuh Ages 6-9 (2013)

When Pancho Rabbit’s father, who has been picking carrots and lettuce in the North to support his family, fails to come home when expected, Poncho sets out to find him. He meets a Coyote—literally and figuratively—who helps him but at too great a price. Luckily, Poncho Rabbit’s father finds him just in time.  This award-winning picture book rings true, and the animal characters make it less scary than human characters would. Duncan Tonatiuh is the author of many excellent books that focus on Latino families.


Wonder, R.J. Palacio Ages 8 and up (2012)

In addition to making numerous best book lists, this book about a child born with a facial deformity and the response of others to him, is the #4 bestselling children’s book on Amazon, with over 11,000 reviews averaging 5 stars! (It has also been made into a movie). The potential for discussion at any age from about 8 up is so powerful that it is hard to assign an age range. Wonder is essentially … a wonder. It’s well-written, engaging, and so much fun to read that the pages almost turn themselves. More than that, Wonder touches the heart in the most life-affirming, unexpected ways… Do yourself a favor and read this book – your life will be better for it.” – Nicholas Sparks


Wonder Girls: Changing our World, Paola Gianturco and Alex Sangster, Ages 8 and up (2017)

This amazing book, written collaboratively by photojournalist Paola Gianturco and her 11-year-old granddaughter, documents the work of fifteen activist groups worldwide lead by girls under the age of 18. These girls are working on equal rights, education, ending child marriage, domestic violence, and other urgent issues in their communities. The work of these young activists is inspiring, as is the quality of the photographs and the writing. All royalties from the book go to The Global Fund for Women which in turn makes grants to activist women and girls in 177 countries.

Inside Out and Back Again, Thanhha Lai, Ages 13- 18 (2011)

This story of a family fleeing Vietnam after the fall of Saigon and moving to Alabama as refugees is based on the author’s own experience and told in verse.  This New York Times bestseller has won a National Book Award and a Newberry Honor Medal.


Refugee, Alan Gatz   Ages 9-12 and up (2017)

What could be more timely than the story of refugees? This highly acclaimed book intertwines the stories of three teenage refugees and their families from WW2 to the current Syrian crisis. . One is fleeing Nazi Germany for Cuba in 1930, another is fleeing Cuba in 1994 for the US, and the third is fleeing Syria in 2015. “Filled with both tragic loss and ample evidence of resilience, these memorable and tightly plotted stories contextualize and give voice to current refugee crises, underscoring that these journeys are born out of a desperate need for security and safety.” Publishers Weekly” Warning— Some content may be emotionally difficult for readers at the younger end of the age range, especially if they are reading this book independently.


A Long Walk to Water, Linda Sue Park, Ages 10 and up (2013)

This bestselling novel is based on true stories of Sudanese children whose lives ultimately intersect. Salva is one of the “lost boys” of Sudan. Nya, the girl in the story, must walk miles every day to fetch water. This story is one of great hardship and endurance, with a bit of good luck. Salva is ultimately adopted by an American family and later goes back to Sudan to build a well.