Teaching Character Through Literature: Resilience & Resourcefulness - SLO Classical Academy
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Teaching Character Through Literature: Resilience & Resourcefulness

I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.― Maya Angelou

We have a character trait duo this month of Resilience and Resourcefulness. Quality stories can be incredible teachers as they challenge us to consider our own character and how we would react if put in a situation similar to those we read about. Below you will find two lists of books intentionally selected for their powerful stories that can encourage our students of all ages to be resilient and resourceful.

As a reminder, SLOCA defines Resilience as:

The ability to recover strength, determination, spirit, flexibility, and good humor in the face of change, mistakes and trials.

Catch Phrase: The only real failure is to not try again.

Reach for the Moon, Little Lion by Hildegard Müller

Little lion learns strength and resilience in the face of ridicule when he takes the advice of a supportive raven and reaches for the moon. (For ages 3+)

Sometimes You Fly by Katherine Applegate, illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt

Beginning with a first birthday and ending with graduation, the scenes travel through childhood messes and milestones. Watercolor illustrations and simple, rhyming text. (For ages 3+)

Bounce back! A Book about Resilience by Cheri J. Meiners; illustrated by Elizabeth Allen

This non-fiction picture book instructs children on how to build the skills of resilience while recovering from losses and other setbacks. Outlines how to build a positive outlook and seek help from supportive people. (For ages 4+)

The Rough Patch by Brian Lies

Evan and his dog do everything together, from eating ice cream to caring for their prize-winning garden. One day the unthinkable happens: Evan’s dog dies. Heartbroken, Evan destroys the garden and everything in it. The ground becomes overgrown with prickly weeds and thorns, and Evan embraces the chaos. But beauty grows in the darkest of places, and when a twisting vine turns into an immense pumpkin, Evan is drawn out of his isolation and back to the county fair, where friendships—old and new—await. A Caldecott Honor book. (For ages 4+)

Through the Gate by Sally Fawcett

A little girl doesn’t like the broken-down old house she and her family just moved into, but as time goes on and repairs are made, the house becomes more and more like her home. Each time the child passes ‘through the gate’, into the world beyond, she notices more of her surroundings and discovers that her new life has some wonderful things in it. Within the illustrations is a ‘spot the difference’ game. (For ages 4+)

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael Lopez

Each of us will feel like an outsider at some point. But if we go forth bravely, and share our stories, others will meet us halfway. Lyrical text by Jacqueline Woodson is illuminated by Rafael López. (For ages 5+)

A Stone for Sascha by Aaron Becker

A beautiful story for all ages, told in pictures, with no words. Without Sascha, the beloved family dog, this year’s summer vacation will be very different. But as a wistful young girl walks along the beach to gather cool, polished stones, her grief reaches a turning point. At the edge of a vast ocean, beneath an infinite sky, she uncovers a profound and joyous truth. (For ages 5+)

Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr, illustrated by Ronald Himmler

Based on a true story, Sadako celebrates the determination that made one young woman a heroine in Japan. The star of her school’s running team, Sadako is lively and athletic…until the dizzy spells start. Then she faces the hardest race of her life: the race against time. Her resilient spirit makes Sadako an unforgettable character. (For ages 8+)

Unbroken: An Olympian’s Journey from Airman to Castaway to Captive by Lauren Hillenbrand

As a boy, Louis Zamperini was a delinquent, breaking into houses, brawling, and stealing. As a teenager, his brother encouraged him to channel his defiance into running, discovering a supreme talent that carried him to the Berlin Olympics. But when war came, the Olympian became an airman, embarking on a journey that led to his doomed flight, and adrift on a tiny sinking raft on miles of open sea. Rescued and imprisoned by the Japanese, Zamperini was driven to the limits of endurance. But his resilient spirit would not be broken. This gripping page-turner is a testament to resilience and the power of hope. (This version is adapted for young readers, for ages 12+)

The adult version is: Unbroken: a World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Lauren Hillenbrand.

SLOCA defines Resourcefulness as:

To act effectively and imaginatively, to use information and available resources wisely and efficiently. 

Catch Phrase: You can figure this out!

The Line Up Book by Marisabina Russo

Sam has just dumped his blocks on the floor when his mother calls him to lunch. Sam begins to line up his blocks; they stretch out from his bedroom door. Again, his mother calls him. “Just a minute,” Sam calls back. His line needs to be longer; what can he use? All kinds of things, until Sam is just a few feet from the kitchen. But mother is almost out of patience. She counts to three, while Sam racks his brain for a way to bridge the gap to the kitchen door. On the count of “Three!” Sam’s mother comes to see what has delayed him. “It’s terrific,” she admits, seeing his finished work, “but next time please come when I call you!” Young readers will be delighted by Sam’s resourcefulness and determination. (Ages 3+) 

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires

A little girl has a wonderful idea. With the help of her canine assistant, “she is going to make the most MAGNIFICENT thing! She knows just how it will look. She knows just how it will work. All she has to do is make it, and she makes things all the time. Easy-peasy!” Imaginatively repurposing junk, she begins creating. But making her magnificent thing is not easy, and the girl tries and fails, repeatedly. Will anger and frustration make her quit? (For ages 5+)

Marvelous Mattie by Emily Arnold McCully

A biography of a prolific inventor who became the first woman to receive a U.S. patent. Margaret Knight could make almost anything – toys, sleds, a foot warmer. At twelve years of age, Mattie designed a metal guard to prevent shuttles from shooting off textile looms and injuring workers. As an adult, Mattie invented the machine that makes those square-bottom paper bags we still use today. However, in court, a man claimed the invention as his, scoffing that “Miss Knight could not possibly understand the mechanical complexities of the machine.” Mattie proved him wrong. A banner of sketches showing her various inventions runs along several pages. A short bibliography closes. Inspiring to readers of all ages. (7+)

Whoosh: Lonnie Johnson’s Super Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton, illustrated by Don Tate

Another biography of a prolific inventor. Lonnie grew up in the 1950s with five siblings “squeezed into their parents’ small house in Mobile, Alabama.” Always tinkering with scraps, spare parts and junkyard finds, he made rockets from scratch, and even built his own robot named Linex with jukebox switches and his little sister’s walkie-talkie. In 1968, his robot took first place at the science fair competition held at the University of Alabama, where Lonnie was the only black high school student to participate. As an engineer, Lonnie worked for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he created a lightweight backup system for the Galileo space probe. One day, Lonnie was working on a new refrigerator and air-conditioning cooling system, using the faucet in his bathroom sink, a hose, pump, and nozzle– when, suddenly, “WHOOSH!” Water sprayed out with such force, he decided his contraption “would make a great water gun.” With dogged persistence, he approached toy company after toy company with his invention. Johnson is still very much in the invention game, developing an advanced solar-energy system. A lively story of persistence and passion for problem-solving. (For ages 7+)

Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco

Looking forward to a fresh start at a new school, Trisha is crestfallen when she is assigned to a special class with children who are different. But Mrs. Peterson, their teacher, believes in them. She divides her students into tribes, and takes them to a junkyard, which she describes as “a place of possibilities . . . amazing things waiting to be made into something new.” Trisha’s tribe reclaims and restores an old model plane that they intend to send to the moon. Despite a school bully, they manage a triumphant launch. Polacco’s inspiring story includes a note on the subsequent successful lives of her former tribe members, revealing how they did make it to the moon after all. (For ages 7+)

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown

Roz the robot discovers that she is alone on a remote, wild island with no memory of how she got there or what her purpose is. Her only hope for survival is to adapt to her surroundings and learn from the island’s unwelcoming animal inhabitants. An action-packed novel about nature and technology from an award-winning author and illustrator. (For ages 8+)

Baby Island by Carol Ryrie Brink

Sailing from San Francisco to Australia to meet their father, Mary (age 12) and Jean (age 10) are shipwrecked on a deserted island. With them are the four adorable babies they’ve enjoyed babysitting on the long voyage. Right away, the resourceful sisters set out to make the island a home for themselves and the little ones. But are they alone? Who made those huge footprints in the sand? A charming survival story from the Newbery Medalist author of Caddie Woodlawn. (For ages 8+)

The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White, illustrated by Garth Williams

Louis is a trumpeter swan– but unlike his four brothers and sisters, he cannot trumpet joyfully. In fact, he can’t even make a sound. And since he can’t trumpet his love, the beautiful swan Serena pays absolutely no attention to him. Louis tries everything he can think of to win Serena’s affection—he even goes to school to learn to read and write. But nothing seems to work. Then his father finds him a real brass trumpet. Is a musical instrument the key to winning his love? (For ages 8+)

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

A thirteen-year-old boy’s diary and sketchbook, relating his adventures during the year he spends living alone in the Catskill Mountains. A captivating story of wilderness ingenuity. Sam reflects honestly on his struggle for survival, his dependence on nature, his animal friends, and his ultimate realization that he needs human companionship. (For ages 8+)

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

Brian Robeson is traveling by single-engine plane to visit his father for the first time since the divorce. When the plane crashes, killing the pilot, the sole survivor is thirteen-year-old Brian. He is alone in the Canadian wilderness with nothing but his clothing, a tattered windbreaker, and the hatchet his mother had given him as a present. At first consumed by despair and self-pity, Brian slowly learns survival skills—how to make a shelter for himself, how to hunt and fish and forage for food, how to make a fire—and even finds the courage to start over from scratch when a tornado ravages his campsite. When Brian is finally rescued after fifty-four days in the wild, he emerges from his ordeal with new patience and maturity, and a greater understanding of himself and his parents. Winner of the Newbery award, 2006. (For ages 12+)

We hope you find these book lists helpful as you strive to reinforce these character traits in your family through quality literature.

For previous posts on our Character Trait of the Month, please see:

Have a book that you think really embodies or encourages resilience and/or resourcefulness? We’d love to hear about it – share it in the comments below!

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