Teaching Character Through Literature: Responsibility

June 1, 2020 | Sharon Cumberland

We have arrived at our first Character Trait of the Month post! Each month, we will post about the featured character trait along with curated book lists that teach the trait through literature. Since June is when students most often graduate to their next level, we thought summer would be a great place to start. We encourage you to spend this month discussing Responsibility with your children using the definition, catch phrase, and quotes below. Then delve into the books as great ways to continue your conversation about responsibility.

“Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.”
–Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“A story meets the child where he is.  It sparks an authentic desire within him to do better, try harder, and love more.  It allows each of our kids a vicarious experience, giving them the precious gift of practice.  Stories reach us where nothing else can and quicken the heartbeat of the hero within us.  There is simply no substitute for story.”
— Sarah Mackenzie, The Read-Aloud Family

RESPONSIBILITY: Basing decisions on practical wisdom and good sense, being dependable in carrying out commitment and duties, and being accountable for one’s words, behavior, and actions.

Catch Phrase: Think before you act; finish what you begin; take responsibility for yourself.

Stories are powerful teachers; as Sarah Mackenzie reminds us, they offer our children practice. As they imagine themselves in the story they ask, “How would I respond? Would I choose to be brave or kind, etc.?”  Each month we will highlight several books that will give your child “practice” with the character trait of the month. We now have two fabulous librarians, Dr. Pamela Bleisch and Nicole Durant, who have compiled for us a collection of literature for varying ages that exemplify our character trait of the month: Responsibility.

Picture Books

Luba, the Angel of Bergen-Belsen as told to Michelle R. McCann by Luba Tryszynska-Frederick; illustrated by Ann Marshall
An inspiring story of an everyday hero, Luba Tryszynska. Luba hears the sounds of crying on her first night at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, and discovers 54 Dutch babies and children in a field, left to freeze to death. Taking responsibility for these children, she manages to obtain shelter, food, and clothing for them. Even more amazingly, she persuades innumerable adults to keep their presence a secret during the whole winter of 1944/45. When the British liberated the camp, 52 of the children were still alive. The story is simple and accessible for primary-grade children; the front and back matter gives older readers historical context. (For ages 6+)

The Little Red Hen by Paul Galdone
Little Red Hen is a time-tested cautionary tale about how we reap what we sow. When the hen asks a cat, dog, and mouse for help planting some wheat, she gets no takers. So guess who eats the cake by herself in the end? The Caldecott Honor artist Paul Galdone’s delightfully detailed ink and wash illustrations—packed with charming details—add plenty of sly humor to the well-loved story that not only offers a sage message but also shows children what it takes to make a cake from the ground up! (For ages 3+)

The Grasshopper and the Ants by Jerry Pinkney
In the retelling of this classic Aesop fable, a playful grasshopper wonders why the busy ants around him won’t join in his merrymaking as the seasons pass by. But when winter arrives, he soon sees the value of his friends’ hard work–just as the ants learn the value of sharing what they’ve worked for. Featuring a striking, surprise gatefold page, this book suggests a resonant moral: Don’t put off for tomorrow what you can do today. (For ages 4+)

A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams
After a fire destroys their home and possessions, Rosa, her mother, and grandmother save and save until they can afford to buy one big, comfortable chair that all three of them can enjoy. (For ages 4+)
We have a Book A Week unit for Kindergarten on this book to really make it come alive!

The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper, art by Loren Long
Everyone loves The Little Engine That Could, that classic tale of the determined little engine that, despite its size, triumphantly pulls a train full of toys to the waiting children on the other side of a mountain. This is a newer edition that Ms. Nicole loves reading with her kids. (For ages 3+)


Middle Grades

Judy Moody declares Independence by Megan McDonald
When Judy meets an English girl named Tori at the Tea Party ship, she is gobsmacked to learn how many liberties her British friend enjoys — her very own phone, private loo, and pounds of allowance. When a day of cheerfully doing her chores doesn’t earn Judy Moody more rights and staging a revolt in the form of a tea-throwing Boston Tub Party has her dad reading the riot act, Judy is forced into temporary retreat. Who would guess that a real-life crisis involving her brother, Stink, would finally give Judy a chance to show her courageous quick thinking – and prove her independence, once and for all? (For ages 6+)

Henry and the Paper Route by Beverly Cleary
Henry Huggins gets carried away with his own ambitions when he longs for a paper route of his own, and gets some unexpected help from the irrepressible and inescapable Ramona Quimby. (For ages 8+)

Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge
After their father is injured in an accident, 15-year old Hans and his younger sister Gretel must work and take responsibility for their family’s welfare. They cooperate toward two goals: finding a cure for their father’s illness, and entering in the ice-skating races. If they win the silver skates, they will turn their family’s fortunes around. But how can they possibly afford to buy the good skates they will need? Full of Dutch cultural and historical information, the book became an instant bestseller and remains a children’s classic. Bonus: the novel includes the famous short story of the Dutch boy who saved his country by putting his finger in a leaking dike. (For ages 8+)

Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls
The last thing fourteen-year-old Jay Berry Lee expects to find while trekking through the Ozark Mountains of Oklahoma is a tree full of monkeys. But then Jay learns from his grandpa that the monkeys have escaped from a traveling circus, and there’s a big reward for the person who finds and returns them.
His family could really use the money, so Jay sets off, determined to catch them. But by the end of the summer, Jay will have learned a lot more than he bargained for—and not just about monkeys. (For ages 8+)

Encyclopedia Brown Series by Donald Sobol
With a knack for trivia, Encyclopedia solves mysteries for the neighborhood kids through his detective agency. But his dad is also the chief of police, and every night, Encyclopedia helps him solve his most baffling crimes. Join Encyclopedia Brown as he solves ten confounding mysteries, including the theft of a diamond necklace, a bank robbery that happened in broad daylight, the case of the missing roller skates, and more. And with the clues given in each case, readers will have a chance to solve the mystery themselves! (For ages 8+)

Young Adult

Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth Speare
Although he faces responsibility bravely, thirteen-year-old Matt is more than a little apprehensive when his father leaves him alone to guard their new cabin in the wilderness. When a renegade white stranger steals his gun, Matt realizes he has no way to shoot game or to protect himself. When Matt meets Attean, a boy in the Beaver clan, he begins to better understand their way of life and their growing problem in adapting to the white man and the changing frontier.

This Newbery Honor-winning survival story is filled with wonderful detail about living in the wilderness and the relationships that formed between settlers and natives in the 1700s. (For ages 10+)

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Enter Andrew “Ender” Wiggin, the result of decades of genetic experimentation. Is Ender the general Earth so desperately needs? The only way to find out is to throw him into ever-harsher training at Battle School, to chip away and find the diamond inside, or destroy him utterly. But Ender is not the only result of the experiment. His two older siblings, Peter and Valentine, are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Among the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world. (For ages 10+)

Want more resources? Read Character Counts: Responsibility.

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  1. Pingback: Character Counts: Responsibility | Wisdom Wonder Project

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