Teaching Character Through Literature: Resilience

May 1, 2021 | Betsi Ashby

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

RESILIENCE: 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.

I think it is safe to say as we come to the end of this school year, that for anyone reading this, it has not been business as usual. What a year to raise children (among other things)! We have all, parents and children alike, have grown in resilience. As you focus on this month’s character trait with your own child(ren), a great way to begin is with a review of this last year—how have you each become more resilient? Take time to affirm a moment or period where you observed each other displaying resilience. Then delve into the book list below and see if your understanding of this character trait broadens and deepens after reading about the characters’ own displays of resilience. In what ways will each of you “try again” this month?

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+)

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+)

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 a drift 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 Redemptionby Lauren Hillenbrand

Want more resources? Read Character Counts: Resilience.

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