How To Be Extraordinary

How To Be Extraordinary
Rashmi Sirdeshpande and Annabel Tempest
Puffin Books

What an inspirational selection of people Rashmi Sirdeshpande has chosen for her look at the lives of fifteen men and women from around the world, each of whom has made a truly impressive contribution to humanity. The balance of male and female inspirers is as equal as an odd number allows with one more male. I think if I were asked to compile a book like this, I’d want to include every one of these, who come from all walks of life.

There’s my all time hero, freedom fighter, Nelson Mandela, Britain’s first female spy, Polish born Krystyna Skarbek who once faced off German officers while in possession of a top-secret silk map, which she rolled and used as a headscarf. (Sadly, the extent of her bravery wasn’t recognised until after she died).

I’ve followed the career of Sir “Mo” Farah” from his early days in a secondary school just up the road from the primary one I taught at, through the time he trained at St Mary’s University, becoming elated as he won those Olympic gold medals, until now; his athletic skills and versatility are undoubtedly ‘superstordinary’.

It’s great to see the author/illustrator of much-loved children’s books, Judith Kerr, who with her parents fled Nazi Germany, arriving in London in 1936; and the unstoppable environmentalist, Sir David Attenborough, who continues to be an inspiration in his 90s as well as another environmentalist, Wangari Maathai from Kenya.

Readers (even adult ones) will be less likely to know more than the names of particle physics phenomenon, San Lan Wu; Aeham Ahmad, Syrian musician and ‘peace-builder’; and I must mention the phenomenal war surgeon David Nott who for more than 25 years has been taking unpaid leave to volunteer in places of conflict and natural disaster including Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and Syria.

The potted biographies are each allocated a double spread, which is packed but not overwhelmingly so, with information, quotes, and illustrations by Annabel Tempest.

One of the messages young readers will take from this book is that there’s a multitude of ways to be extraordinary. I watched two young children on TV the other night with their campaign against free throwaway plastic toys. I’m sure there are countless other youngsters out there whose imaginations these fifteen inspirational role models might ignite.

Add this one to family bookshelves and primary school class collections.

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