Stories for Boys Who Dare to Be Different 2

Even More True Tales of Amazing Boys Who Changed the World


By Ben Brooks

Illustrated by Quinton Winter

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Boys can be anything they want to be! In this sequel to the New York Times bestseller Stories for Boys Who Dare to Be Different, Ben Brooks introduces seventy-six more boys and men who will inspire young readers to live boldly and true to themselves.

What do environmental activist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, philosopher Socrates, and singer Ed Sheeran all have in common? Each of them defied expectations — going against the grain and pursuing their dreams despite a seemingly impossible barrage of obstacles and difficulties. Their stories are incredible, as are those of tap dancer Evan Ruggiero, Pokémon creator Satoshi Tajiri, the brave Chernobyl Divers, and the other inspirational boys who fill the pages of this extraordinary book.

Together, their stories offer young boys the welcome alternative message that masculinity can mean many things — that it’s okay to be sensitive, to be bold, and to follow their hearts.



(BORN 1973)

Carlos grew up in a poor neighborhood in Cuba. He was kicked out of school when he was young, and his dad ended up in prison. Carlos was sent to the National Ballet School of Cuba simply because it was a place that could afford to feed him.

But his natural talent soon became apparent.

In 1990, Carlos won the Prix de Lausanne, a competition that pits hundreds of dancers from across the world against each other.

Carlos then traveled to Russia and became the first foreign person to become a guest artist for the Bolshoi Ballet. At twenty-five, he became the first black person to become a principal dancer at the Royal Ballet in the United Kingdom, as well as the first black person to play Romeo in a ballet.

“Nobody who looks like me has ever played the roles I dance,” said Carlos. “When I first appeared in Swan Lake at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the auditorium was packed with black people.”

He blew spectators away with his speed, precision, grace, and power. His otherworldly, flowing, electrified way of moving brought new life to many old ballets.

But ballet is famously tough on the body. Joints creak, feet bleed, and blisters form and burst. At forty-two, Carlos embarked on a farewell tour to mark his retirement from ballet. Five thousand people a night would turn up to cheer and cry as the dancer who’d lit up their lives whirled across the stage for the final time. After his last performance, the audience hurled roses onto the stage and gave him a standing ovation that lasted an entire twenty minutes.

Carlos is now creating an academy in Cuba where people can study dance for free, hoping to nurture the beloved dancers of the future.


In 2002, a British reporter named Amardeep Bassey traveled to Afghanistan to chronicle the impact that the American invasion was having on its people. It was a dangerous place and, for safety, he hired two local guides, Noushad and Khittabshah.

Both Noushad and Khittabshah belonged to Pashtun tribes who dwell in the Khyber Pass, a dangerous, mountainous route that is the main connection between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Together they helped Amardeep successfully cross from Pakistan to Afghanistan. In the capital city of Kabul, the reporter interviewed ordinary people about how the war had affected their daily lives. Then he headed back into Pakistan with Noushad and Khittabshah.

They were stopped at the border. Amardeep was told he didn’t have the correct visa to pass through.

“You two may go,” the border guard told the Pashtun tribesmen. “But we are taking him.”

The guards were convinced that Amardeep was an Indian spy. They hauled him off to jail, where he was locked in a small cell filled with robbers, murderers, and terrorists. Coming from the West meant he would have very likely been a huge target for violence inside the prison. However, he was not alone. Noushad and Khittabshah had volunteered to be arrested alongside him. They were not going to abandon a man they’d promised to protect.

“Without them, I would have crumbled,” said Amardeep.

The two men looked after him for twenty-eight days. When Amardeep was finally released, they were made to stay inside the jail until he’d left Pakistan.

The three of them kept in touch. Some years later, Amardeep returned to Pakistan to thank the men who went through prison to help a stranger from a distant land.


(BORN 1988)

Ibrahim grew up with thirteen siblings in Deir ez-Zor in Syria. They would spend their days playing basketball, practicing Judo, and swimming in the blue waters of the Euphrates River. Then civil war broke out.

One day, Ibrahim was in the street when rockets crashed down around him. He threw himself into the nearest building for cover. That was when he started hearing cries for help. His friend had been hurt and was lying in the open.

Sprinting out to help him, Ibrahim was struck by a rocket.

He managed to haul himself to safety, but the damage to his leg was irreparable. It had to be amputated. Medical services and supplies were so limited that Ibrahim woke up twice during the harrowing operation and was sent home the next day without any pain relief.

Seeking better medical care, Ibrahim traveled to Turkey and made the dangerous crossing to Greece on a rubber dingy. He was granted asylum and settled in Athens. Initially, Ibrahim used a wheelchair for transport but was eventually fitted for a prosthetic leg. He used it as a chance to get back into swimming.

Two years later, Ibrahim competed in the Paralympics in Brazil, as part of the Independent Paralympic Athletes Team, a group made of refugees and asylum seekers. He was also chosen by Greece to carry their Olympic torch. Proudly, Ibrahim raised the lit beacon as he walked through a refugee camp in the center of Athens.

“I am carrying the flame for myself,” Ibrahim said. “But also for Syrians, for refugees everywhere.”

There are now an estimated sixty-five million displaced people around the world. Ibrahim hopes he can act as proof they can rebuild their lives.


(BORN 1975)

It is unthinkably dangerous to be gay in Nigeria. You can be sent to prison for years or even be sentenced to death. As a result, almost no Nigerians are openly gay. In 2004, Bisi became the first person ever to come out on Nigerian television.

Bisi was an actor on a popular show, and various people who knew about his sexuality had been threatening to use that information against him. Bisi decided to take control before the declaration took him by surprise.

It cost him everything.

His character was immediately killed off, the live element of the show he’d come out on was canceled, no one would give him any other work, and he was subjected to years of cruel discrimination. Leaving the house became a huge risk. Bisi found ways to become involved with outreach work, trying to educate gay men about the dangers of HIV. But Nigeria was no longer safe for him.

One night, a group of men broke into Bisi’s house. They tortured him and his boyfriend. The only way the couple could survive was to flee the country.

Bisi was given asylum in Britain in 2009 and has been living there since. He’s earned a university degree in global governance, has worked for various charities, and has now set up his own organization: the Bisi Alimi Foundation. They aim to tell the stories of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Nigeria, put pressure on employers and politicians to open their hearts to them, and draw the world’s attention to how painful life is for gay people there. Bisi hasn’t given up hope of making a difference.

“I am a prisoner of hope,” he says. “I believe that we do move as human beings and we do change. I strongly believe that Nigeria is going to change.”


(BORN 1990)

Amrou prefers not to be called “he” or “him.” At first, it can be slightly confusing for those who aren’t used to it, but avoiding these pronouns can help people who don’t feel comfortable being gender-defined.

Amrou prefers “them” and “their.” “It feels like a warm bath,” they say. “It makes me feel like I’m being heard and that someone sees me, not for being a ‘man,’ but for being Amrou.”

And Amrou often didn’t feel seen. Growing up, their parents would tell them that their walk wasn’t like a proper man’s and that their voice wasn’t how a man’s should be. Amrou’s parents’ religion made them fear their child’s differences. They banned Amrou from anything remotely bright or exciting and became furious if they caught them looking at anything related to being gay.

Amrou found escape in two different places. The first was on the stage, where they could bury themselves in a role and become someone else. The second was with their face pressed up to an aquarium, where they could glimpse another world of fantastical, beautiful creatures who seemed somehow both alien and wise.

Amrou worked as hard as possible to get a scholarship which meant they could leave home and finally have some freedom. That was when they started performing in drag, under the name of Glamrou and also as part of a troupe called Denim. Drag meant dressing up in flowing wigs, extravagant makeup, and flamboyant outfits. It also meant being able to take control of how you’re seen and break free from traditional ideas of gender. Soon, Amrou was throwing drag balls for hundreds of university students.

After university, Amrou would go on to perform sell-out shows, star in and write films and TV shows, and publish a book about their life, titled Unicorn.

Sometimes, while performing in drag, Amrou thinks of themselves as an aquarium. Though they’re separated from the rest of the room, they offer a window into a sparkling new world, one which Amrou hopes can offer courage to those who haven’t yet discovered who they are.


(BORN 1974)

Some people think he’s a famous musician. Some people think he’s a group of seven artists working together. Most people think he’s a boy from a small town near Bristol. But no one knows for sure.

All we really know is that Banksy’s artworks began appearing on the walls of buildings in Bristol during the 1990s. They were surprising, strange images that were anti-war and anti-establishment. In one, a young girl watched her heart-shaped balloon drift away. In another, a rioter hurled a bouquet of flowers.

At London Zoo, Banksy found a way to climb into the penguin enclosure and spray-painted “We’re Bored of Fish” on the rocks inside it. On the wall separating Israel and Palestine, he painted a beautiful view of a tropical island and two kids playing with buckets and shovels.

In the dead of night and in total secrecy, Banksy roamed through cities, leaving behind beautiful murals and unexpected images.

After a huge painting of a man hanging from a window appeared on a doctor’s office in Bristol, a vote was held about whether to keep it: 97 percent of residents voted for it to stay.

His work went from being seen as vandalism to being seen as valuable art. People were buying prints of his work for thousands of dollars. Banksy used this to help others. When a school in Bristol named one of its houses after him, administrators woke up to find an original Banksy on the school’s wall. When a youth club in Bristol was on the brink of closing down, Banksy sprayed a piece onto it and they sold it for $450,000, more than enough to keep them going for years.

Banksy never thought much of the traditional art world. When one of his paintings sold for $1.1 million at an auction, a secret shredder built into the frame destroyed it in front of everyone, leaving the buyer with a few scraps of paper.

Through an illegal form of art, Banksy unexpectedly gave back to communities, brightened people’s lives, and brought excitement into streets around the world.



You may have heard the story of the boy who never grew up and the adventures he had in Neverland, alongside Wendy, Tinkerbell, and the Lost Boys. The story of Peter Pan was first written by a man named James Matthew Barrie.

James grew up in Scotland. He had nine siblings, though two died before he was born.

When James was just six, disaster struck again: his older brother died in an ice-skating accident. It devastated their mother, as the brother had been her favorite, but through a shared love of stories, she and James drew closer and closer.

At school, James spent most of his time reading, playing pirates, and putting on plays with the drama club he’d formed with friends. He knew he wanted to be an author and went to college to study literature. After that, James wrote books for adults. They tended to be funny and strange, but none would quite capture the imagination of the world like the magical children’s story he went on to write.

The first time the character of Peter Pan appeared was in a book written by James called The Little White Bird, but it was on the stage when he really came alive. The play was called Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Never Grew Up, and it was a hit. James had used various elements of his own life to weave the tale: the Saint Bernard dog he shared with his wife, the games of pirates he’d played at school, and the memory of his older brother, who’d never had a chance to grow up.

The play was a huge and instant success. James turned the story into a novel, which has since been made into countless films and theatre productions.

When he died, James left the copyright earnings from Peter Pan to Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital. The boy who never grew up is, to this day, helping children who one day will.



Chester had a difficult childhood: he was bullied at school for being small and looking different and was abused for several years. His parents divorced when he was eleven. He frequently ran away from home. The only way he could truly escape was through painting pictures, writing poems, and penning songs.

Chester eventually dropped out of school and worked at a Burger King. Sometimes he played with bands, though they never had any success. Disheartened, Chester thought about quitting music entirely.

Then he was asked to audition for a new band that was being put together. Chester missed his own birthday party to record a demo. The other members were blown away by his vocals, which would soar from quiet whispers to furious screams of rage.

He joined a rapper, Mike Shinoda, as well as several other musicians, to form the band Linkin Park. Their first album, Hybrid Theory, came out in 2000 and became the bestselling rock album of the twenty-first century.

The band combined metal, rap, and electronic music to create an unheard-of sound that blasted from the bedrooms of teenagers everywhere.

In Linkin Park songs, Chester sang openly about his struggles with mental health, which millions related to. When he sang about the whirlwind in his head, the pain of living in his own skin, and the search for somewhere to belong, people felt like they were listening to someone who understood them.

Linkin Park sold more than 100 million albums. They’ve since been cited as an influence by everyone from bands like Imagine Dragons to rappers like Stormzy.

Unfortunately, in 2017, Chester took his own life. The mental health issues he’d suffered since childhood became overwhelming and he felt unable to access the help that was available. Fans, family, and celebrities gathered together at his funeral to celebrate Chester’s life and listen to the songs he’d given to the world.


(BORN 1955)

Tim’s parents worked on the first computer ever available to buy in stores: a five-ton machine that would fill a whole room. He grew up entranced by talk of mathematics and complex code. A love of toy trains also gave him his first glimpse into the world of electronics, and Tim was soon constructing his own gadgets.

He kept working on his creations throughout college. Using an old calculator, broken television sets, and a car battery, Tim built his very own computer terminal. After using it to hack into the physics mainframe, the university banned him from accessing the system.

Tim traveled to Switzerland to work as a computer programmer. What frustrated him most about his work was how much data there was and how difficult it was to share. He came up with a way of computers interacting with each other to make the process easier. When Tim released the source code for free, his creation rapidly took on a life of its own.

The internet was born.

It has gone on to shape societies, businesses, and governments, infiltrating every aspect of our lives and putting everyone on Earth only a click away.

Tim worries about the state of the internet today. It was meant to be a network that would bring everyone together, give everyone equal access to opportunities and education, and allow people to work together to build a better future. Instead, he is concerned it has been taken over by large corporations who use the data of its users for profit and power.

He’s urging people to fight back and reclaim the internet as theirs. He has created a number of online organizations meant to give people understanding of the issues related to them.


On Sale
Oct 13, 2020
Page Count
160 pages
Running Press Kids

Ben Brooks

About the Author

Ben Brooks was born in 1992 and lives in Berlin. He is the author of several books, including Grow Up and Lolito, which won the Somerset Maugham Award in 2015.

Learn more about this author

Quinton Winter

About the Illustrator

Ben Brooks is a New York Times bestselling author of several books, including Grow Up, Lolito, Hurra, Stories for Boys Who Dare to Be Different, and Stories for Kids Who Dare to Be Different.

Quinton Winter is a British illustrator, artist, and colorist. He has worked for many clients including the Guardian newspaper, Walker Books, Vertigo Comics, and the BBC.

Learn more about this illustrator