Each year as we work to build a strong classroom community, my fourth graders and I read several picture books focused on learning and working with others. Many focus on conflict resolution and diverse learners. Recently, I have seen a need for books that have characters who model resilience.
There has been much discussion recently around the concept of “growth mindset.” This theory is based on Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck’s research in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. This quote from Dweck explains how a growth mindset works:
In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.
In recent years I have noticed that many students just don’t believe they can achieve, so they make excuses or give up trying altogether. I find that sharing stories of resilience, analyzing the characters’ choices, and shining a light on the students’ own lives can help them see that success is not easy for everyone and that talents can be developed.
All of the books I’ve used recently with students to explore resilience are included on this padlet.
When choosing books for K–2, I look for an entertaining story with a character who faces some sort of challenge. The situation the character faces can be silly or serious, but it is important to try to choose books with relatable problems for students. Here are a few examples. In the fun and silly book Stuck by Oliver Jeffers, the main character gets his kite stuck in a tree. He decides to throw things at the kite in an attempt to free it. When this doesn’t work, he throws bigger and sillier things at the tree.
Another book to share with young students is Hank Finds an Egg by Rebecca Dudley. The main character in this beautiful, wordless picture book is Hank, an adorable bear. Hank finds an egg that has fallen out of its nest and tries over and over again to return it.
In Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bicycle by Chris Raschka, the main character goes through the process of learning how to ride a bike with failures and lots of attempts. Most children can relate to the challenges faced in these books, making it easier for them to have valuable discussions.
Students in upper elementary grades are ready to hear longer and richer stories of resilience. In addition to the many wonderful fiction stories available, I like to share the stories of real people through biographies. Using biographies that show the important person from childhood helps the students see that all influential people were once children just like them who worked hard for their achievements. Using biographies of people who are not common household names shows students that people do not need to be world famous to be important.
The students will need some guidance in discussing the character’s resilience during and after reading.
Although it is not an exhaustive list, here are a few questions to ask during reading:
• Why do you think the character keeps trying even though what they have tried doesn’t seem to be working yet?
• What choices does he/she have at this point?
• What advice would you give this character?
Possible questions to ask after reading include these:
• What might have happened if the character had given up?
• In what ways are you like this character?
• Have you ever given up when trying to learn or do something? What made you give up?
• What is something you have had to work hard to do?
Older students might respond well to the following questions:
• How would you describe the character’s personality?
• What were some obstacles the character had to overcome?
• What do you think motivated the character to keep trying?
In addition to discussing the story, it is always best to have the students relate the story to themselves in some way. One activity for younger students could be to make a list of things they have achieved after lots of practice. Older students could journal or write about a personal experience when they displayed resiliency.
The development of resilience is something that can be fostered and woven into read alouds, using picture books to fuel discussion. These common reading experiences create powerful points of reference to use throughout the year.
Thousands of picture books and novels are available to use with children. This padlet is a great resource to find books that suit the needs of your students. Please feel free to add a favorite book if you do not see it on the list.