Teaching Character Through Literature: Diligence

September 1, 2020 | Sharon Cumberland

“Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful!’ and sitting in the shade.”
― Rudyard Kipling

DILIGENCE: Committing to doing tasks with excellence and persevering with determination and patience to complete tasks in spite of difficulties and discouragement.

Catch Phrase: Do your best; don’t give up!

This weekend my husband and I spent Saturday morning doing yard work. As far as household chores go this is one of my least favorites (I know there’s plenty of you out there that relish time working on your yard, but that is not me). As I raked up some leaves and these weird berry-like things from a tree in our parkway, I was reminded of the two winters we lived in Dallas, Texas. We had two big Red Oak trees in our front yard and when the temperatures dropped in Texas so did ALL of the leaves. The first winter this happened I had this idyllic thought, Oh how fun, we will rake them up and play in them! By the second winter, I knew better. It took us hours upon hours, bags upon bags and sometimes days upon days to find our yard again and to convince our neighbors we hadn’t up and abandoned our home. Did I mention it was about 40 degrees?! It felt like a never-ending task. I sometimes secretly hoped for a super-windy day to come along and blow them all away (let them be my neighbors’ problem). In truth, we never did manage to get every single leaf, but we diligently worked to find the pathway to our front door and most of the lawn.

Sometimes hearing how someone else persevered and overcame can reassure us and our students that we are capable of doing hard things. I don’t know if my story about the leaves inspired you in any way (or like me, gave you a new appreciation for evergreen trees) but hopefully, these carefully selected books from our librarians will lead to beneficial discussions about diligence in your home.

The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle
Early one morning a spider begins to spin a web. One by one, the animals of the nearby farm try to divert her, but the busy little spider keeps working. When the spider is done, it is clear to everyone that the web is beautiful—and useful, as well. The spider webs in the pictures have texture, to be enjoyed with the fingers as well as with the eyes. (Available as a board book, for ages 1+)

Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie dePaola
This wordless picture book will delight young children as they follow a determined farm woman in her efforts to make pancakes for breakfast. (For ages 3+)
*We have a Book A Week unit on this book to really make it come alive!


Farmer Duck by Martin Waddell
A modern fable for young children with delightful illustrations by Helen Oxenbury. Hardworking Duck does everything around the farm because the farmer is too lazy to do the work himself. When Duck finally collapses from exhaustion, the other farmyard animals devise a clever plan to teach the slothful farmer a lesson.  (For ages 3+)

The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss
A little boy plants a carrot seed, and although everyone tells him it won’t grow, he continues to water and care for it, knowing that his hard work will pay off in the end. This simple story highlights the value of diligence, hope, and patience. (For ages 4+)

“The Grasshopper and the Ants”, one of Aesop’s Fables
The grasshopper laughs at the ants who toil away all summer and fall, storing up grain. The grasshopper fiddles away his days— until the winter winds begin to blow. We love Milo Winter’s treasury of Aesop’s fables, and Jerry Pinkney has a beautiful version, as well. (For ages 4+)
This book is used in one of our Preschool Fairy Tales summer packs! Get fun activities for this story and more:

Little Kunoichi the Ninja Girl by Sanae Ishida
In a secret town on a secret island, a young ninja girl in training learns the value of determination, hard work, and cooperation. With whimsical and humorous illustrations, this playful story also teaches that practice does not have to equal perfection. Includes a “Did you know?” section about Japanese culture. (For ages 4+)

Bees are a great example of diligence–each of us might aspire to be “as busy as a bee.”

The Bee Book by Charlotte Milner
Bees are fascinating as well as industrious. They are brilliant at building, super social, and responsible for a third of every mouthful of food we eat. This book is packed with information, with attractive illustrations laid out in appealing spreads. (For ages 5+)

Clan Apis by Jay Hosler
An appealing graphic novel by an entomologist, telling the story of a bee called Nyuki, from the hive called Clan Apis, as she matures from a larva into an adult bee and takes on more responsibilities within her community. Packed with information about the life cycle and environment of honeybees, this is also a moving story of a lively individual growing to mature adulthood and learning the power of sacrifice, told with gentle humor and poignancy. (For ages 10+)

Sports biographies are great for showcasing diligence and perseverance.

Salt in His Shoes: Michael Jordan in Pursuit of a Dream by Deloris Jordan and‎ Roslyn M. Jordan
This biography, written by Michael Jordan’s mother and sister, tells of the obstacles the famous basketball player had to overcome to reach his dream of playing in the NBA. (For ages 4+)

There Goes Ted Williams: The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived by Matt Tavares
If you have a baseball enthusiast in your home, try this exciting and inspiring picture book biography of Ted Williams, the baseball player whose determination, diligence, and sacrifice made him a legend. (For ages 6+)

Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World’s Fastest Woman by Kathleen Krull
Wilma Rudolph was told she would never walk again after polio paralyzed her left leg when she was a child. Refusing to give up, the fiercely determined Wilma learned not only to walk but to run, and she became the first American woman to earn three gold medals at the Olympics. An inspirational story. (For ages 6+)

Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod by Gary Paulsen
This is acclaimed children’s book author Gary Paulsen’s true account of his experience entering the Iditarod – the 1150-mile winter sled-dog race between Anchorage and Nome. He and his team endured countless hardships along the way, but they pushed on. A fantastic real-life adventure story for older kids and adults about determination and never giving up! (For ages 11+)

These two inspiring stories focus on people overcoming disabilities:

Emmanuel’s Dream:  The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson
Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah was born in Ghana, West Africa, with one deformed leg. He hopped to school each day, more than two miles each way, learned to play soccer, ride a bike and left home at age thirteen to provide for his family. In 2001 he set a record, bicycling four hundred miles across Ghana, spreading his powerful message: disability is not inability.  Bright collage illustrations celebrate this story of triumph over adversity. A great read to teach diligence to smaller children. (For ages 4+)

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaley Hunt
A great read about Ally, a girl who has managed to hide her inability to read for many years. Although she is afraid to ask for help, her newest teacher, Mr. Daniels, sees the bright, creative kid underneath the trouble-maker. With his help, Ally learns not to be so hard on herself, that dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed of, and that through determination and hard work she can learn and grow. (For ages 10+)


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