Courage and Resilience
True stories of extraordinary courage and resilience are very compelling reads for me. Some of them are so amazing and improbable that they seem like they must be fiction. I grew up enjoying adventures like London’s White Fang and Call of the Wild, and survival stories like Dafoe’s Robinson Crusoe and O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins, so I have always loved stories where the characters face great adversity. But, when the story is actually true, the level of admiration for people’s courage and resilience is greatly amplified.
Here are a few recent titles that fit the bill:
Don’t let the picture book format fool you…this book packs a strong emotional punch and is a gritty, realistic look into war, racism, and violence. Using brief, free-verse poetry by the former Children’s Poet Laureate, J. Patrick Lewis, the story of the 369th Colored Regiment is told.
Like most black military units, they were mostly relegated to menial tasks, but the 369th did come to be known as the Harlem Hellfighters for their battle-worthiness. Another aspect of the regiment adds a hopeful tone to the book; they became known for their music. Led by bandleader James Reese Europe, they spread their unique blend of jazz, blues, and ragtime throughout Europe.
Despite their achievements and service to their country, they still faced discrimination and even lynchings back home in the United States. Gary Kelley’s wonderful illustrations bring the Hellfighters’ courage and resilience to life in this title.
We tend to think of slavery as an issue of the past, but unfortunately, it still happens with regularity today. This is the story of Shyima, who was born into a large and poor family in Egypt. When her older sister is caught stealing from a family she is working for, Shyima’s parents “repay” the family by giving them Shyima. So, at the age of eight, Shyima is a household slave with no hope of ever seeing freedom. The family then takes her to California, where she continues working in captivity. Luckily, Child Protective Services eventually is alerted, freeing her after 5 years as a slave.
Shyima’s resilience shines through when you hear her story, and in reality, her journey is only beginning when she is rescued from slavery. She must learn how to function in a world that is very new to her: living in a foster home, learning a new language, relating to others, going to school, and much more. This is an ultimately uplifting story about a topic that needs more awareness about it.
It seems that everyone now knows the story of WWII veteran Louis Zamperini. As of this writing, the adult version of this book has been on the New York Times bestseller list for 180 weeks. If someone doesn’t yet know the story, they will, as Unbroken the Hollywood movie is set to be released on December 25th.
This is the young adult adaptation of Unbroken, which will help the story spread to a younger audience. The story is the same; Zamperini goes from rebellious youngster to Olympic runner, then off to war where his plane is shot down and he endures 47 days in a life raft, only to then fall into the hands of Japanese soldiers, where he encounters torture, degradation, and starvation. At every step along the way, one wonders how Louis manages to survive and face another day.
Unbroken is a superb narrative nonfiction title that I have made required reading for my kids, and a book that I tell anyone who will listen that they must read.