We all need heroes. I truly believe this. That’s why I’ve always placed a young hero, a girl or a boy, at the heart of each of my books—a character who has to dig deep in herself or himself to find something extraordinary like courage, perseverance, compassion, or hope. And those young heroes have the power to change the world!

Readers can relate to these characters because they are regular young people who seem very familiar. But just like every young person, they have the magic of a hero down inside.

When young people read about these characters, they are often asking similar questions in their own lives: Who am I, really? What’s important to me? How do I find my place in the world? And the biggest question of all: Does my one life really matter?

The heroes we meet in stories can inspire all of us to do great things, by the way they overcome challenges and by the lives that they lead. These people are essentially our trail guides on the mysterious and challenging trail of life. As our guides, they help us know just how far we can go—and just how high we can climb.

Here’s the best news of all: Heroes aren’t found just in stories. There are many more heroes right around us, in everyday life. And they’re not always the people we expect.

In today’s never-silent, 24/7 media culture, it’s very easy to confuse heroes with celebrities—people whose faces we see on the covers of magazines, on TV shows, and on the Internet. But heroism doesn’t come from being famous or wealthy.

Being a hero is about character. It’s something that happens within a person. It comes from qualities that are inside us all right at this moment. Qualities like courage, compassion, and the perseverance to carry on in spite of great obstacles. (I feel so strongly about this that I wrote a book about it, The Hero’s Trail, which has true stories about heroic young people, along with ideas about how to bring out the hero in each of us.)

My mother, Gloria, is the first person who shaped my ideas about what it means to be a hero. Not by anything she said—but simply by how she lived. How she enriched the lives of those around her, just by being a mother and a devoted teacher.

She was a woman who loved children and nature, and who spent more than twenty years creating a touchable nature museum for the Colorado School for the Blind, where kids can feel the delicacy of a hummingbird’s nest, the warmth of a polar bear’s fur, and the majestic span of an eagle’s wings. She always encouraged me and my brothers and sisters that each of us—and not just us, but every person in the world—has the power to make a difference.

That’s why, when I founded a national prize to honor inspiring young people, I named that prize after my mother. Each year, the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes celebrates 25 young leaders for the work they’re doing in their communities. They are girls and boys, ages 8 to 18, from every diverse background—and each of these young people has a story that deserves to be told.

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