In this fast-paced world of today, how much are we doing to teach our students about persevering? The idea of endurance, perseverance, and over-coming obstacles certainly seems worth discussing with our young readers, writers, and learners. Don’t we want students to stick with something even when the going gets tough?
The fifth graders I work with had the privilege of having a visit from Bernice Steinhardt, co-author of Memories of Survival. All her life, the author’s mother, Esther Nisenthal Krinitz, told her children stories of her own childhood during the Holocaust. When the Nazis took over Poland and ordered all Jews to report, Esther escaped with her sister and never saw their family again. As she got older and was living in the U. S. Esther made a quilt with each square illustrating one of the stories from her life. Bernice then added the text for each story as it was made into a picture book. It is a fabulous book and the students were very intrigued.
Based on a recommendation from their website, artandremembrance.org, the classroom teacher decided on three things after the author’s visit: 1) to immerse the students in read alouds and discussions relating to the theme of persevering; 2) to teach the students about the interview process so that they could conduct interviews with their parents, grandparents, or other relatives; 3) have the students choose one story of perseverance from their interviews to write and illustrate. The Art Teacher joined in with a way to make a quilt out of the children’s illustrations. The “Stories of Perseverance Lesson Plan” can be found on their website.
My job in this endeavor was to bring in and booktalk many of the children’s literature texts on the theme of persevering. As I rummaged through my own books, I realized the books fell into several categories. Several books had characters who persevered through personal challenges, real-life or fictional: Wilma Unlimited (the story of Wilma Rudolph), Thank You, Mr. Falker and Junkyard Wonders (both about Patricia Polacco’s difficulties learning to read and being in special classes), Stone Fox (both main characters strive to overcome obstacles), and Half-A-Moon Inn (a young, mute boy perseveres to find a way back to his mother.) Each book lent itself to further ideas from the students. For example, Wilma’s story reminded the children of many other athletes who also endured personal challenges.
Another category was made of all the holocaust-related books, like: Let the Celebrations Begin, The Story of Anne Frank, Hilde and Eli, The Number on My Grandfather’s Arm, Number the Stars, and so on.
I booktalked or read aloud a few picture books from the Civil Rights Era: Freedom Summer, Freedom School, Teammates and books about Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks.
Patrick Allen (author of CONFERRING: The Keystone of Reader’s Workshop) taught me about the book called Spirit of Endurance: The True Story of the Shackleton Expedition to the Antarctic by Jennifer Armstrong. This book will probably remind students of other true-life adventures books about climbing Mt. Everest, searching for the Titanic, and so on.
Many of the children in our school have families that have recently come to the United States from other countries and speak another language other than English as their first language. Although this project is still in the making, we feel confident that the students will uncover many family stories of perseverance to share with the class.