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Crib notes: Most touching kid stories of 2011

Get a box of tissues ready and take off your mascara, because here are some of the most touching and heart-warming kid-related stories from 2011.

Rather than ask for gifts for her ninth birthday, Rachel Beckwith asked her friends and family to donate to a nonprofit she'd heard about, charity:water. Her goal was to raise $300 to help provide people in other countries with clean drinking water. Just a few weeks after her birthday, still a bit shy of her goal, she was tragically killed in a car crash. News of young Rachel's selfless wish spread, and touched by her story, people around the world felt compelled to make her wish come true, even after she was gone. By the time her birthday campaign ended in September, more than $1.26 million  had been donated in her memory. Then, a California man, so touched by her generosity, started an online campaign, 9th Birthday, encouraging other kids to ask for charitable donations, instead of gifts for their 9th birthdays as well. Rachel's mom has said, "Knowing that Rachel's decision to give up her ninth birthday will now help save thousands of people brings me to tears." It brings us to tears as well.

Holding hands as they crossed the street to catch the bus, sisters, nine-year-old Anaiah and 5-year-old Camry Tucker, soon saw a truck barreling towards them. Knowing there wasn't time for them both to get out of the way, Anaiah, pushed her younger sister out of the way, saving the little girl's life, but taking the full impact of the truck herself. Her act of heroism cost her dearly -- she suffered a broken neck and damaged spleen, she also lost a leg and a kidney. She also spent nearly three weeks in the hospital. When she did come home, it was to a hero's welcome. Her community reached out to support her and her mother, who was unemployed, offering to help with the expensive medical bills. Of course, no one was happier to see her home than her little sister, Camry. We are awed by young Anaiah's act of sisterly love and courage.

Our favorite prima ballerina this year, is six-year-old Sophie Nugent. Sophie suffers from cerebral palsy and was told she'd never walk. But, Sophie didn't just want to walk, she wanted to dance. Now, after undergoing a groundbreaking procedure, Sophie's doing both -- in the cutest leotard and matching leg warmers you've ever seen. Sophie's mother said, "When I took her to get her first leotard was one of the best moments of both our lives. I had never seen her smile so much in her whole life - she didn't want to take it off." And, from the looks of it, Sophie hasn't stopped smiling (or dancing) since, and now enjoys taking weekly dance classes with her friends. After reading Sophie's story, we can't stop smiling, either.

Proving that brotherly love is every bit as strong (and courageous) as sisterly love, six-year-old Timo Perez, saved his younger brother from a vicious dog attack. A German Shepherd across the street from the boys' home, escaped from its fenced yard and approached the boys who were playing in their own back yard. When he heard the dog growling and coming towards them, Timo pushed four-year-old Carlito and another friend under a nearby truck, protecting them. Then, he used his body as a shield, saving the other boys. Timo, who was mauled by the dog and needed more than 30 staples in his head and arm, hopes to be a hero someday. Timo, you're already a hero.

A two-year-old girl, who had spent most of her life in a hospital, was just days away from dying when she received the organ donation she so desperately needed. She has five-year-old Luca, and his parents, to thank for that life-saving gift. Tragically, that gift was only possible because Luca's own young life came to an abrupt end. Little Luca died just 24 hours after complaining of feeling sick -- apparently from a rare complication of the usually-treatable Epstein-Barr virus. Once his parents realized he wouldn't survive, they began to talk of organ donation. Because the deaths of children are often unexpected, many parents don't consider organ donation. Luca's parents did consider it and that consideration is said to have saved the lives of four other people. Generously and lovingly, Luca's dad said, "We send Luca’s organs with love to all these people, especially to the little girl who they told us was just days away from dying." As parents, we can only imagine the grief Luca's parents must be experiencing, and are moved by their thoughtfulness and kindness in the midst of their own loss.

Dana Macario is a TODAY Moms contributor and Seattle mom to two sleep-depriving toddlers. She is currently developing an alarm clock that will start an IV coffee drip 10 minutes prior to wake-up time. Once properly caffeinated, she also blogs at www.18years2life.com.