Skip to content

Not all heroes

Not All Heroes

“Morally complex and extremely fun.” –Kirkus Reviews ⭐starred review

“Not All Heroes promotes the insight that we all have the superpower to help people in need, even if only in small ways.” ―Booklist 

“A rivalry with another RLSH league adds a lively element, but the story stays grounded in day-to-day life, encouraging readers to think critically about what allyship means and how to avoid centering oneself.”
Horn Book

A Junior Library Guild Gold Star Selection
A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year
A Bank Street Best Book of the Year

Even though her family moved across the country for a “fresh start” after her little brother’s death, eleven-year-old Zinnia Helinski still feels like she’s stuck waiting for her new life to begin. Then she spots her new neighbor, Kris, climbing down the fire escape of their apartment building. He’s wearing a black eye mask! And Spandex leggings. . . . And a blue body suit?

Soon Zinnia finds herself in a secret club for kids who want to be heroes. The Reality Shifters don’t have superpowers, but they do have the power to make positive change in their neighborhoods. And a change is just what Zinnia is looking for!

At first, she feels invincible. Zinnia finally has friends and is on the kind of real-life adventures her little brother, Wally, would have loved. But when her teammates lose sight of their goals, Zinnia must find the balance between bravery and recklessness, and learn to be a hero without her cape.

join the adventure!


Want to order a SIGNED copy? Contact my local bookstore, Gulf of Maine Books (gulfofmainebooks(at) or 207-729-5083) and speak with Gary or Beth. Or order online at Print: A Bookstore. Request a personalized message and I’ll write in your book! 

Disclosure: If you use my Indie-Bound, Bookshop, or Powell’s link, I receive a small referral commission; if you use my AmazonSmile link, .5% will be donated to Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program


Like Zinnia, all of us will experience grief in our lives. When we lose someone we love, there are so many different emotions to process. It can be hard to understand and express how we feel, and if you are at all like me, you might find it’s especially difficult to ask for help. Talking with friends, family, and others you trust is an important place to start. Art, music, and writing are also excellent tools for expressing how you feel. The Dougy Center has lots of helpful activities and resources for kids who are grieving.

I would like to offer a special thanks to Charlotte Agell for writing the picture book Maybe Tomorrow? I read it many times while writing this book, and each time felt like a warm hug. If you or someone you know has lost a loved one, I highly recommend it.

My husband, Kevin, and I were listening to the audiobook of Jon Ronson’s Lost at Sea  (note: a book of essays with grownup themes) when I first learned about the real life RLSH movement that was popular in the early 2010s (and still exists today on a smaller scale). I was intrigued that there were people who felt so strongly that change
needed to happen in the world that they would put on costumes and try to do something about it. I read lots of books and articles about the RLSH before creating my own imaginary teams: the Reality Shifters and the eXtreme eXamples.

The goals, efforts, and results of the RLSH teams and individuals I read about ranged broadly. Some wanted to assist people experiencing homelessness or to clean up local parks and visit children’s hospitals; others wanted to set up a neighborhood watch to increase the safety of their communities; while some felt the urge to fight crime in a (frankly, dangerous) vigilante style. A small number even claimed to actually have superpowers! In my research, the RLSH I admired were the ones who were willing to listen, learn, adapt, and work with others to help create positive change in their communities.

What fascinated me the most about the worldwide RLSH community was that it was made up of individuals with an extraordinarily wide range of belief systems—religious, atheist, conservative, liberal—every ideology you can imagine. And yet, they put those differences aside to combine forces for the common good. It was an excellent reminder that we don’t always have to agree with one another in order to work together. Working together is how we will make the world a safer, healthier, and happier place.

In Not All Heroes, Zinnia meets Derek, Pearl, Mary, and several other individuals who do not have permanent housing. There are as many different experiences around homelessness and home insecurity as there are shades of a rainbow—and the experiences depicted in this story are just a few examples. There are real-life superheroes all around us who are working in small and large ways to address the many issues that contribute to home and food insecurity. No matter what your own housing situation is, there are things you can do, too!

For instance, The Emergency Action Network (TEAN) is a group of moms in my town who noticed that too many families and children in our community were struggling to meet their most basic needs. They also knew that plenty of people would like to help. So they organized a network (kind of like a superhero team!) to make a change. When TEAN learns that a student needs school supplies, a winter coat, food, bus pass, blankets, mattresses, even socks—they put out a call for donations and find community members who can provide the needed items. Importantly, to protect the privacy of children and families receiving the donations, TEAN works with our school department to organize referrals, collect goods and services, and ensure that the items get to their intended recipients anonymously. If you’d like to learn about starting a TEAN in your community, you can visit: Start a TEAN in Your Community.

Other schools around the country have programs a lot like the Free Fashion Room that Jade suggests to the Oceanside Optimists. Your school might have a weekend backpack program or a summer lunch service that you can participate in and/or help out with. Outside of school, many local shelters, food banks, churches, and libraries, as well as legal and policy advocacy organizations have programs that bring volunteers together to donate time, money, and talents to help make sure all people have access to a place to sleep and food to eat. These groups are made up of regular people who have seen a problem and decided to do something about it—real-life superheroes! They might host events, organize letter-writing campaigns, and advocate for things like public housing, rent relief, or more mental health and addiction resources. National organizations like the United Way, Feeding America, and Operation Warm will point you in the direction of programs, events, and resources near you—as well as provide information to help you build your own advocacy programs from scratch.

It all starts with being curious, paying attention, listening, and educating yourself. A great place to find learning resources about home insecurity and many other social justice issues is Learning for Justice. If we can understand why inequities exist, then we can start to figure out how we can work together to build change.

In 2020, we celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a groundbreaking civil rights law that affected many areas of life for millions of people: from ramps and curb cuts to equal pay and the right to live free from discrimination.

As Papa Wheelie and the Reality Shifters know, the ADA didn’t fix everything. There are still curbs that need to be cut, ramps that need to be built, and other inequalities and discrimination that need to be eradicated, but the ADA brought us much closer to where we need to be. And we never would have come this far without the advocates and protesters who were willing to speak out and fight for a better, more inclusive future.

My Uncle Dave (who is in the dedication for Not All Heroes) has used a wheelchair for 40 years and he helped me make sure I got Papa Wheelie’s character just right. He, my Aunt Val, and I especially had fun working together on the scene where Papa Wheelie pops a wheelie!

If you want to learn more about the history of the ADA, there are some really interesting artifacts and pieces of history at the Smithsonian Institute. I also found a good sum-up in the 99% Invisible podcast episode: Curb Cuts.   

Let's Keep In Touch!

Sign up for my quarterly newsletter to learn about giveaways, events, sneak peaks of new projects, book recommendations, and more!