Not All Heroes Wear Capes: 9 Books About Ordinary and Everyday Heroes

Megan Mabee


Megan Mabee has been filling notebooks with her story ideas and favorite book quotes since she first began reading. She enjoys board gaming, rewatching Miyazaki movies, and building Legos with her preschooler. Megan holds a Master of Library and Information Studies degree from UNC Greensboro and a Public Librarian Certification. Megan has worked in a college bookstore and high school library, and she now loves talking books in the public library where she works and as a Bibliologist at TBR: Tailored Book Recommendations.

Children of Anguish and Anarchy by Tomi Adeyemi

Featuring gorgeous designed edges, dazzling metallic foil designs on the jacket and case, and an exclusive endpaper map that reveals new unexplored territories, Tomi Adeyemi’s #1 bestselling Legacy of Orïsha series comes to an earth-shaking conclusion.

When I heard about Book Riot’s Heroes and Heroines Day, I thought to myself, I do love a good superhero story, but what about those ordinary and everyday heroes in books? The ones who become heroes simply by helping a friend or stepping out of their comfort zone to do something unexpected and heroic.

Take The Lord of the Rings, for example. Sure Frodo’s a hero for carrying the Ring across Middle-Earth. If it was me in his place, the Nazgûl would’ve absolutely caught me before I made it out of the Shire. What about the more ordinary characters in the story, though, like Samwise Gamgee? Without Sam being one of the most loyal friends in bookish history, Frodo never would have made it to Mordor. I appreciate Sam’s quiet heroism. He stands by Frodo no matter what. He remains by his side and supports him as every other character drifts away on side quests. Sam’s the real hero of the story.

People don’t need to be extraordinary to be a hero. They don’t need superpowers. I tried to explain this concept to a friend the other day. He replied, “So what you’re saying is, not all heroes wear capes.” I couldn’t help laughing and kicking myself for failing to put to words that popular expression. That’s exactly my point though.

This Heroes and Heroines Day, I’m here to shout out the ordinary and everyday heroes in books. These stories fill me up in a way not all books can. They make me feel like anyone can be a hero, maybe even me. It doesn’t have to be grand gestures either. It’s in the little things, the actions that often go unnoticed that can make someone a hero too. The collection of titles I’ve gathered below uplifts unsung heroes in both fiction and nonfiction books. Who’s your favorite ordinary hero?

9 Books About Ordinary and Everyday Heroes

cover of Iona Iverson's Rules for Commuting

Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting by Clare Pooley

This heartfelt book by Clare Pooley features a charismatic collection of characters who share a daily commute on the same London Tube. When a man starts choking on the train one day, a few of the commuters join together to save his life. This surprising act of heroism moves the crew to form unexpected connections with one another that will have far-reaching impacts on their lives.

What You Are Looking For is In the Library by Michiko Aoyama book cover

What You Are Looking For Is in the Library by Michiko Aoyama, Translated by Alison Watts

Librarians can be everyday heroes, too, and I love that this book, in translation by Japanese author Michiko Toyama, celebrates this idea. The story follows a librarian in Tokyo named Sayuri Komachi. As a diverse range of people visit Sayuri in the library, she finds the just-right books to help them at that moment in their lives.

Book cover of The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams

The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams

Speaking of libraries and heroes, this sweet book by Sara Nisha Adams stars a heroic widower grandfather visiting a library in the hopes of connecting with his granddaughter. Mukesh lives in London and worries about his granddaughter, Priya, who spends all day reading in her room. In a subtlely heroic gesture, Mukesh comes up with a plan to get through to her. Stopping by the library, he meets Aleisha at the check-out desk and picks up a unique reading list from her.

The Hummingbird Book Cover

The Hummingbird by Sandro Veronesi, Translated by Elena Pala

This next book in translation by Sandro Veronesi also features a grandparent-grandchild dynamic and highlights the quiet heroism that can arise in everyday life. In 1960s Florence, Marco Carrera faces life’s emotional ups and downs, from the loss of loved ones to caring for his granddaughter as well as his own elderly parents.

The Patron Saint of Second Chances Book Cover

The Patron Saint of Second Chances by Christine Simon

While we’re on the topic of Italy, Christine Simon’s charming book set in the tiny Italian village of Prometto shines a spotlight on the power of a small-town hero. With a water crisis growing dire in Prometto, charismatic vacuum repairman Signor Speranza gets caught up in an elaborate scheme to raise the money for the town’s pipe repairs.

the cover of A Psalm for the Wild-Built

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

So far the fiction titles I’ve selected on this list of books about everyday heroes have been set in the ordinary world. When you consider heroes in sci-fi books, you may think superpowers. However, Becky Chambers does an incredible job of calling attention to an ordinary hero in this endearing sci-fi novella. On a moon called Panga, nonbinary Sibling Dex has become a tea monk, traveling in their eco-friendly ox-bike wagon to different settlements. They then listen to people’s worries and mix the perfect tea to soothe their troubles. Sometimes being a hero means simply listening to someone when they need it. This story promises lots of hopeful philosophical pondering, plus some Iron Giant robot BFF vibes, so you won’t want to miss it!

Book cover of Banned Book Club

Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook, Ryan Estrada, Ko Hyung-Ju

While fiction books uplift ordinary heroes, nonfiction books about everyday heroes can be so profound and moving too. Reading about someone’s ordinary heroism in real life can make the idea of being a hero feel that much more attainable. This nonfiction graphic memoir by Kim Hyun Sook shows how reading banned books can be an act of ordinary heroism. Hyun Sook draws us into her college days in 1983 in South Korea when the Fifth Republic military regime enforced censorship and brutalized and murdered protestors. Despite these difficult circumstances, Hyun Sook takes a quiet stand by joining a secret banned book club with some of her new school friends.

Butterfly Book Cover

Butterfly: From Refugee to Olympian, My Story of Rescue, Hope and Triumph by Yusra Mardini

This powerful memoir by Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini will stay with you long after you finish reading. Yusra and her sister Sarah’s heroism is incredibly inspiring. Yusra recounts the harrowing journey she and Sarah made as they fled Syria and traveled by boat with a number of other refugees to Greece. When their boat’s engine fails, the two teens jump into the water to help pull the boat to safety. The Netflix movie adaptation of Yusra’s story called The Swimmers is very much worth watching too.

The Cat I Never Named book cover

The Cat I Never Named by Amra Sabic-El-Rayess, Laura L. Sullivan

I wanted to round out this list with this emotional memoir by Amra Sabic-El-Rayess. This book shows how anyone can be a hero, even our four-legged friends. As Muslim teen Amra and her family struggle to survive the Bosnian genocide in the 1990s, they meet a stray cat who becomes a guardian spirit for them over the years, turning up at crucial moments. Along with this, the cat provides them comfort, which is an act of ordinary heroism in itself.

Before You Hang Up Your Cape for the Day…

I hope these books about everyday heroes give you hope that anyone can be a hero, even you. In any case, I hope these stories make you feel something. If you’d like more books that make you feel, check out these Books That Break Your Heart and Put it Back Together Again. Happy reading, bookish heroes!