Resilient Reading: Helping Kids (and Grown-ups!) to Bounce Back with Books

Merriam-Webster offers a twofold definition of the word “resilience”:  

1: the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress;

2: an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I have been contemplating the subject of resilience quite often lately. As we enter March 2021, I cannot help but look back at the past year, consider all that has transpired since last March, and ponder how many times librarians and classroom teachers (myself among them)–and their students–have had to be flexible, rethink and rework plans, accept little defeats when favorite programs and projects had to be shelved like so many books, and handle a myriad of emotions, including but surely not limited to confusion, anger, loneliness, and even, in the most unfortunate instances, sorrow and grief.

In referring to Merriam-Webster’s definition(s) again, one can’t help but note the terms strained, stress, misfortune, change, and recover. Things like strain, stress, misfortune, and change often require that human beings recover–possibly more than once, over and over–in order to carry on.  As I’ve reflected upon this–the nature of resilience–there’s been a question that’s come to mind again and again:  

How do we bounce back?

At some point, I felt the cartoon-style light bulb appear above my head as the “A-HA!” moment arrived.  One answer to the question–and likely an incredibly good one–was this:

We bounce back with books.

Of course. I know, I know; I really should have thought of it immediately. It was there the whole time, wasn’t it?  

The truth is that books can be amazingly powerful teaching tools in the hands of skilled educators; and they are perfect vessels as well, full of experiences and stories that can be read and shared with students as examples of how people made it through the worst of times so that they could later witness and enjoy the best of times.  As J.R.R. Tolkien’s simple but sage hobbit, Sam Gamgee, says to Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings (here, the cinematic version from The Two Towers, which does capture the original text’s essence well):

“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow…[and] those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going.”

In fact, The Lord of the Rings is an excellent instance of a story–a long, epic one at that–wherein many characters display great resilience in the face of “darkness and danger,” fear, sadness, and overwhelming odds. There are many, many more in every fiction genre, and just as many in nonfiction.  

Such tales are inspiring. Whether their protagonists are an orphaned boy wizard, or a girl who wishes for a magic pencil, or a man who walks five hundred miles to school, or a woman who stays seated on a bus, they serve as models of strength and perseverance. Our students–indeed, all of us–can truly benefit from learning about and from stories and characters like these. For many reasons (poverty, loss, family issues, etc.), and to be honest, a fair number of the students in my school (and maybe in yours) needed to hear stories like these pre-pandemic. That’s the reality. The reality also is that even more kids need them now, even more…and so do we.

Speaking of inspiration: my ruminations on resilience have made me realize that we need more books about bouncing back in our own school library. Since funding is foundering, I plan to apply for a grant to enhance our collection and initiate conversations within our school, with families, and with our local communities about all the ways that books can help kids to survive and thrive during trying times. My ideas are still germinating, but hopefully they’ll take root and grow a bit.

In the meantime, I do NOT intend to turn back. Instead, I plan to bounce back. Let’s all keep going, and make our way through this great story, this one that really matters, together.

Read About Resilience–A (Growing) List

  • The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander
  • Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington by Jabari Asim
  • I Am! Affirmations for Resilience by Bela Barbosa
  • El Deafo by Cece Bell
  • Violet the Pilot by Steve Breen
  • She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World by Chelsea Clinton
  • Jabari Jumps and Jabari Tries by Gaia Cornwall
  • The Sea in Winter by Christine Day
  • The Unstoppable Garrett Morgan:  Inventor, Entrepreneur, Hero by Joan DiCicco
  • Bird by Zetta Elliott
  • Rosa by Nikki Giovanni
  • The Oldest Student:  How Mary Walker Learned to Read by Rita L. Hubbard
  • How to Catch a Star by Oliver Jeffers
  • The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kakwamba
  • Unbeatable Betty by Allison Crotzer Kimmel
  • A Perfectly Messed-up Story by Patrick McDonnell
  • Dreamers by Yuyi Morales
  • The Hugging Tree by Jill Neimark
  • The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney
  • Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
  • Someday a Bird Will Poop on You by Sue Salvi
  • After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again by Dan Santat
  • The Most Magnificent Thing and The Thing Lou Couldn’t Do  by Ashley Spires
  • The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • I Am Courage! by Susan Verve and Peter H. Reynolds (coming in September!)
  • I Am the Storm by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple
  • Malala: My Story of Standing Up for Girls’ Rights and Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai

Work Cited:

Merriam-Webster. n.d. “Resilience.” Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/resilience (accessed Feb. 24, 20201)

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Author: Lia Fisher Janosz

I am Regina Libris.

I’m…a Bibliothecaria Rebellatrix (“librarian…because Book Wizard isn’t an official job title,” at Sharon Elementary School in Alleghany County, VA) wending a way through the seven ages whilst geeking out over Shakespeare & sundry other stuff. I am rather like Hermione Granger and have “conjured” floating candles in our school library. I’m an admirer of Eowyn and would place myself somewhere in the middle of the shieldmaiden-healer spectrum. I am inimitable, I am an original, and yet I am totally #TeamHamilton (see what I did there?). I’m a student in the Longwood University School Librarianship program and an avid reader and lifelong learner (and, apparently, Mistress of the Obvious as well). Any rumors regarding me having a crush on either Stephen Colbert or Chris Martin are completely…irrefutable. That being acknowledged, I am the loyal consort of an unsung prince of Poland and very proud mother of a tornadic, talented, and talkative wunderkind girl and a happyhopper jollyjumper bouncyboy who has a memory like an elephant.



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