Stories for Boys Who Dare to Be Different

True Tales of Amazing Boys Who Changed the World without Killing Dragons


By Ben Brooks

Illustrated by Quinton Winter

Formats and Prices




$22.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around September 25, 2018. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Boys can be anything they want to be! This timely book joins and expands the gender-role conversation and gives middle-grade boys a welcome alternative message: that masculinity can mean many things.

You won’t find any stories of slaying dragons or saving princesses here. In Stories for Boys Who Dare to Be Different, author Ben Brooks-with the help of Quinton Wintor’s striking full-color illustrations-offers a welcome alternative narrative: one that celebrates introverts and innovators, sensitivity and resilience, individuality and expression.

It’s an accessible compilation of 75 famous and not-so-famous men from the past to the present day, every single one of them a rule-breaker and stereotype-smasher in his own way. Entries include Frank Ocean, Salvador Dali, Beethoven, Barack Obama, Ai Weiwei, Jesse Owens, and so many more-heroes from all walks of life and from all over the world.



(BORN 1945)

Patch was bullied at school for being different and for standing up to the racism that he saw around him. Because of the bullying, he ended up in the hospital three times. On his third visit, when Patch was eighteen, he decided that, after he got out, he’d start a revolution to spread happiness.

For a while, he found it difficult to be around people, so he set out to do experiments in friendliness. He would call random numbers on his phone and speak to the people on the other end until they’d become friends. He would start up conversations with strangers in the street. And he would ride elevators up as many floors as it took for the people inside to introduce themselves and start laughing together.

Patch became a clown and a doctor. He started his own hospital called the Gesundheit! Institute, where his goal wasn’t just to make his patients less sick, but to make them happier, too.

These days, he flies all over the world, giving talks and performances as a clown and as a doctor. Patch doesn’t think the two jobs have to be separate. To him, laughter is one of the best medicines. It can get the blood flowing, strengthen your heart, and even help your body fight off diseases.

If you want to help make the world a better place, Patch has some suggestions: be silly in public, wear funny clothes, be friendly to everyone you meet, and pick up all the garbage that you see in your town.

“Anyone can do something,” he says. “It’s about deciding to do it—to dive into work for peace and justice and care for everybody on the planet.”



Eddie surfed whenever he could. Before school, after school, and sometimes even during school, if he could get away. He lived on Oahu, the third largest Hawaiian island, and the ocean meant everything to him.

Working at a pineapple factory was how Eddie saved up enough money for his first surfboard. After that, he got a job as a lifeguard and was given the task of covering all the beaches on the North Shore of the island.

Even though the waves could sometimes rise as tall as utility poles, not a single person was lost on Eddie’s patch while he was lifeguard. He would venture out into waves that no one else would dare go near. Eddie never let the sea take anyone away. For that, they made him Lifeguard of the Year.

One day, Eddie joined a crew on a wooden boat to re-enact the historic journey taken by Polynesian migrants between the Hawaiian and Tahitian islands. They would travel using traditional methods and navigate only by the sun and stars.

They ran into terrible weather. The water was so rough that it capsized the ship, tossing everyone overboard. Desperately, they clung to the sides of the boat, trying to stay afloat.

“Don’t worry,” Eddie told the crew. “I’ll go and get help.”

He swam away, into the dark, rolling sea.

The crew was eventually rescued. Nobody ever saw or heard from Eddie again.

To this day, when faced with tall waves or stormy weather, Hawaiian surfers say to each other, “Eddie would go.” Every year, they hold a surfing competition in his honor. They cancel frequently because they only go ahead if the waves are huge.


In 1979, Naif spent his summer at Camp Robin Hood, on the edge of a giant lake in America. That was where he first opened a comic book and lost himself in a world of superheroes.

Back home in Kuwait, Naif realized that there were no Muslim characters in any of the comic books he was reading. He decided that he would grow up to be a writer, so he could create them, but his father told him to study a more practical subject. Naif agreed, but he never forgot his dream.

In 2007, he made it a reality.

The 99 are a team of superheroes from all around the world, each named after one of the different ninety-nine qualities of Allah, which is the Muslim name for God.

They get their powers after finding magic stones that have been secretly scattered around the world hundreds of years earlier. The stones were created by the librarians of Baghdad, to preserve the city’s wisdom after it was destroyed by invaders.

One character, Mujiba the Responder, has answers to everything, and wears a headscarf like a lot of Muslim girls. Another character, Darr the Afflicter, uses a wheelchair and can manipulate people’s nerves.

The 99 battle their enemies without violence. Like their religion, they teach peace.

Naif wanted to give Muslim boys and girls their own superheroes. He also wanted the world to have a deeper understanding of Islam than what is sometimes shown on the news.

The comics have sold thousands of copies, been turned into a TV show, and are handed out to children at refugee camps.

Naif has received death threats because of the 99. But he’s also been praised. President Obama thanked him for inspiring so many young Muslims and for letting them know that they can be superheroes, too.


(BORN 1948)

Mohed grew up in a tribe that would chase the rains across the Syrian Desert. Wherever the rains were, plants would grow, which meant the tribe’s goats, camels, and sheep would have something to eat.

It was a difficult life. Mohed’s mother died young, followed by his brother, and his dad wouldn’t speak to him at all. He was raised by his grandma, who told him that he’d grow up to be a shepherd.

“But I want to go to school,” he told her, one day.

“Don’t be silly,” she said. “Shepherds don’t go to school.”

Mohed didn’t listen. In the mornings, he’d secretly race barefoot across the hot desert sand to a schoolhouse, where the other kids would bully him for being poor. He ignored them, knowing education was his only chance to get out.

He worked so hard, he won a place to go to France and study. Once he arrived, Mohed realized he could hardly understand anything the teachers said, and he was so poor he could only afford to eat once a day.

Still, he carried on working until his French got better and he graduated with a degree that helped him find a job.

Mohed saved and saved and bought a company that was about to fall apart. He renamed the company after himself—Altrad—and he turned it around. Today, it has 1 million customers, in 100 countries, and 17,000 employees to organize everything.

Mohed’s proven, to himself and everyone else, that it doesn’t matter how you grow up, or what people tell you you’re supposed to be—there are no limits to what you can achieve.



As a boy, Roald dreamed of being an explorer. He would picture himself trekking across the vast uncharted polar wilderness and imagine himself becoming the first person ever to reach the North Pole.

But it was never going to happen. His mother made him promise that he wouldn’t go off on dangerous adventures, and that he would study medicine and become a doctor instead.

“Okay,” Roald told her. “I won’t go.”

When she died, Roald was devastated, but he decided he could finally become an explorer. To prepare for his journeys, he slept with all his windows open during the freezing winter. He also made visits to native people living in the north. They taught him about wearing animal skins against the cold and using dogs to drag sleds across the snow.

It was hard work, but Roald still wanted to be the first person at the North Pole. He put all his energy into preparing an expedition. Then, one day, terrible news came: a man named Robert Peary had beaten him to it.

Not wanting to give up, Roald secretly turned his expedition around and tried to become the first person to reach the South Pole instead. It would be difficult. There was already a famous English explorer named Captain Scott trying to get there, and he’d had a head start.

But Roald was faster.

With four people, four sleds, fifty-two dogs, and lots of determination, he became the first person to reach the South Pole.

Using his new fame, Roald built a huge airship and flew to the North Pole to fulfil his dream. Later, people found out that Robert Peary had never actually been there. In the end, Roald was first to the North Pole, after all.



During the first half of the nineteenth century, Susan came home from school one day and explained that she wasn’t being taught long division. Her dad was furious.

“Why not?” he wanted to know. “How can you not be learning math?”

She wasn’t being taught it because her teacher was refusing to teach it to girls; he would only teach it to the boys. So Daniel, Susan’s father, immediately opened his own school where anyone could learn about anything they wanted, regardless of gender.

Daniel ran a cotton mill and a small local store. Unlike most other people at the time, he refused to sell alcohol, which was what made the most money. When the community needed to build some new houses for the mill workers, everyone said he’d need to provide gin and wine if he wanted the men to help, but he refused and instead concocted a delicious lemonade; the workers came and helped, anyway, and the houses were built without any drunken accidents.

Daniel was an abolitionist, which meant he wanted an end to slavery, and a pacifist, which meant he didn’t believe in violence. He believed in hard work, family, and treating people equally, which are all values he tried to instill in his daughter.

It must have worked. Susan grew up to be one of the most important activists of the time. She campaigned for women’s rights and against slavery, and was so effective and influential that, one hundred years later, her face was put on the dollar coin.

After her father died, Susan wrote to a friend saying, “The best way I could prove my love and respect for his memory, is to try to do more and better work for humanity than ever before.”

And that’s exactly what she did.



At ten years old, Louis had to drop out of school and start working to make money for his family. He sang in the street as well as working for a wealthy Jewish family, who were the first people to encourage his music. The Karnofskys gave him hot food, a warm bed, and even the money to buy his first instrument: a type of small trumpet called a cornet.

During a New Year’s Eve party when he was eleven, Louis fired his stepdad’s gun into the air and was arrested and sent to a special home for boys. At the home, Louis was given real guidance on how to play the cornet. Despite being alone, miserable, and away from his family, Louis managed to find joy and escape in music. By the time he left the home, he knew exactly what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.

Louis kept playing and was discovered and mentored by King Oliver, the most famous jazz cornet player of the time. Louis moved around and played music with whoever he could, wherever they were allowed.

During one recording session, Louis dropped the lyric sheet for the song. Instead of pausing, he carried on singing using made-up sounds. He’d accidentally invented a whole new type of performance: scat singing.

When the jazz bars started closing down because of the Depression, Louis was famous enough to tour around the world instead. He would perform up to three hundred concerts in a year and record hundreds of albums with the biggest bands around.

Louis still found time to spend with his family, even adopting his disabled nephew when his cousin passed away.

It was because of Louis that jazz music achieved the kind of popularity it did all over the world. One magazine called him, “America’s greatest gift to the world.”

In memory of the Karnofsky family, Louis always wore a Star of David and often blended Russian melodies into his music. He may have become one of the most famous musicians on the planet, but he wouldn’t have been able to do any of it without that first little bit of encouragement.


(BORN 1926)

David’s parents were teachers, so he grew up on the grounds of a university, surrounded by traveling professors, thick books, and talk of fabulous new discoveries. What fascinated him most of all was the natural world, and he spent hours outside hunting for fossils, shells, and eggs.

David went to college to carry on his study of nature, then he joined the navy, hoping to catch a glimpse of it. Thrilled to finally venture out into world, he was annoyed when they only sent him as far as Wales!

Once he’d completed his service, he went to the BBC and asked if he could present shows about wildlife to the British public. The bosses were reluctant to put him on TV. There weren’t many programs about the natural world, and they weren’t sure that anyone would want to watch them. They also thought that David’s teeth were too big and that no one would want to watch him either.

They couldn’t have been more wrong.

Lying patiently in wait for days, weeks, and months, the film crews that have worked alongside David on his programs have caught some of the most beautiful shots of animals that have ever existed.

His shows have brought people face to face with gaping-mouthed anglerfish, illuminating the seabed with the glowing bulbs that hang from their heads. Viewers have seen sneaky cuckoos, slipping their own eggs into the nests of other birds. From the safety of their living rooms, they have even been able to watch lions chasing, catching, and feasting on zebras and gazelles.

David brought the exciting, magical, and bizarre world of nature into the homes of millions of viewers. And he wasn’t just entertaining them; he was letting them know about the magnificent creatures with which we share our planet, the dangers those creatures face, and what we can do to help save them.

More than ten plants and animals have been named after David. When the British Antarctic Survey built a new ship to patrol the icy polar waters, they named that after him. too: the RRS Sir David Attenborough.


  • Filled with interesting stories about boys (and men) that contributed and changed the world in their own ways, this text is sure to inspire young readers and show them that there are many, many different ways to make a difference.—Booklist

On Sale
Sep 25, 2018
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