October is a month for celebrating the discipline and hard work necessary to be a good student and to live a fruitful life. We urge all our students to push themselves. We move beyond the “comfortable” and strive for real challenge. By October school is starting to be hard. Some of the back-to-school blush is off the rose, and even for the most dedicated students, classes, homework, and daily routine are no longer quite so romantic. In this program, October is inspirational and is dedicated to the joy of the virtues that the Greeks associated with temperance and the early Americans associated with industry: diligence, self-control, self-discipline, and perseverance in the face of adversity.
Our three-year cycle alternates these specific traits, but the rubric for October is the same: self-mastery. This is the virtue that calls us to control the passions, push ourselves, and—through such efforts—ultimately free ourselves to realize our full potential.
The following books are a small sampling of the books recommended in the resource guide.
(grade levels indicated in parentheses)
The Hare and the Tortoise. Aesop
Adapted and illustrated by Brian Wildsmith.
Oxford Children’s Press, 2007 (Diligence, K-2)
In this colorful retelling, Wildsmith emphasizes not only the tortoise’s diligence and perseverance, but the boastful hare’s folly. So confident is the hare of victory in his race against the tortoise, that he breaks to snack and doze. Meanwhile the plodding and persistent tortoise trudges by him to win the race. The classic fable reminds children of the virtue of perseverance and the folly of arrogance or pride.
Little Engine That Could. Waty Piper
Illustrated by George and Doris Hauman.
Putnam Publishing Group,1991. (Diligence, K-1)
“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can, I think I can. . . .” The little engine chugs and tugs and ultimately rescues the stranded train that stronger and faster engines had passed by. This is Watty Piper’s classic story of the can-do engine that could, when others couldn’t or wouldn’t. Themes of determination, hard work and perseverance abound.
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. Virginia Lee Burton
Houghton Mifflin, 1993. (Diligence, K-1)
In this classic story, Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel Mary Anne exert themselves to the fullest to excavate the foundations for a new town hall in Popperville. Challenged by modern gas, diesel, and electric engines that are more powerful and faster than his steam shovel, Mike still insists they can dig the whole cellar in a day. The entire town turns out to watch as the determined duo defies all odds.
The Boy Who Held Back the Sea. Lenny Hort
Illustrated by Thomas Locker. Puffin, 1993 (Diligence, K-3)
Illustrated by the incomparable Thomas Locker in the tradition of seventeenth century Dutch masters, this book tells the classic tale of Jan, a mischievous young boy and unlikely hero. He nonetheless sees a hole in the dike and spends a night face down in a ditch in order to save his town. His perseverance and self-discipline are rewarded, and are accompanied by themes of hope and renewal as the child steers his own life to a better course.
Betsy Ross. Alexandra Wallner
Holiday, 1994. (Diligence, 1-2)
Wallner’s lively biography celebrates the enterprise and resourcefulness of a revolutionary heroine. Betsy Ross was widowed three times, yet this eighteenth century American heroine managed on her own to raise her children, run a business, and be an American patriot.
Seeker of Knowledge
The Man Who Deciphered Egyptian Hieroglyphics.
James Rumford. Houghton Mifflin, 2000. (Diligence, 1-4)
This fascinating volume describes the untiring efforts of nineteenth century French scholar Jean-Francois Champollion to decode Egyptian hieroglyphics. Champollion’s fascination with Egypt began as a young boy, when Napoleon (soon-to-be-emperor of France) marched into Egypt. The childhood fascination grew into an adult passion when Champollion learned of the discovery of the Rosetta stone. Through painstaking effort, he eventually cracked the code. Illustrations and story are a complete delight. The text can be read at profitably as late a fifth grade, even if the ancient Egypt unit is taught in first.
When Jesse Came Across the Sea. Amy Hest
Illustrated by P. J. Lynch. Candlewick Press, 1997. (Diligence, 2-4)
Set in the early 20th century, this touching and exquisitely illustrated immigrant story develops themes of courage, hope, and the diligent pursuit of dreams. Jesse, a thirteen-year-old girl from eastern Europe, joins her aunt in America. She has been chosen for the journey to America by her rabbi and her village, but must leave her grandmother behind. Sewing lace, she soon weaves a new life for herself and is able to bring her grandmother to America as well.
Hidden in the Sand. Margaret Hodges
Illustrated by Paul Birling. Macmillan, 1994. (Diligence, 2-4)
Set in the Rajasthan Desert in northern India, this is the story of a small boy, whose tireless effort and enterprise save his caravan from death in the desert. It is also a great “last shall be first” story, as the young child is not taken seriously by his elders until the crisis shows his merit.
John Henry. Julius Lester
Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. Dial Books, 1994. (Diligence, 2-4)
A humorous, “tall-tale” version of the African-American folk hero of the railroad age, who “died with a hammer in his hand.” John Henry’s determination and will to work come shining through. Lester’s closing: “It’s not the dying, but how you did the living that counts.”
Caravan. Lawrence McKay, Jr.
Illustrated by Darryl Ligasan. Lee and Low, 1995. (Diligence, 2-4)
Jura, a ten year-old boy accompanies his father on a camel caravan through the Pamir mountains in Afghanistan to trade their goods with villagers on the other side. They brave steep, snow-covered mountain paths, frozen rivers, and winter storms, all the while guiding a horse and three heavily laden camels. Simple poetic text and dramatic illustrations convey the diligence and determination of father and son in this warm coming-of-age tale. Children will be introduced to a world of commerce very different from our own, and also the drama of Afghanistan’s stark mountains and valleys.
The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane.
Holiday House, 1994 (Diligence, 4-6)
A superb photo biography of the two brothers whose diligence, perseverance and confidence took us into the age of aviation. Orville and Wilbur Wright excelled in methodically documenting their experiments, learning from failures, photographing their progress, and ultimately in persuading a not-terribly-interested federal government that their “flying machine” might be worth a second look. A wonderful true story of tenacity told with the verve and historical authenticity that Russell Freedman brings to all his work.
Michelangelo. Diane Stanley.
Harper Collins, 2003 (Diligence, 4-6)
Well researched and beautifully illustrated, Stanley has once again distilled “essence.” Her poignant picture book biography of the mercurial and impatient sculptor (turned painter, architect, and poet) shows that a man who was clearly not perfect, could still be “excellent” – which is the root meaning of the world virtue. Michelangelo’s unflinching devotion to his craft comes across clearly, as do his painstaking efforts to find new ways to embody human form and striving in marble and plaster.
The Man Who Made Time Travel. Katherine Lasky
Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2003
This is a challenging but rewarding science biography for fifth and sixth graders. It is a story of perseverance and extraordinary intellectual virtue. We learn of the life-long efforts of English clockmaker John Harrison, to solve the problem of measuring longitude at sea with a clock that would not lose time. (The relationship of time to longitude is the challenging scientific concept in this book.) Harrison developed the first accurate chronometer, which became an invaluable guide for modern navigators. But the process was painstaking. Responding to a competition and prize offered by England's Board of Longitude in the early 1700's, Harrison spent his life developing a series of clocks that would ensure maritime safety. He was determined to improve the device’s accuracy, while facing great professional skepticism about the clearly proven results of his work. A quest that began when he was a young man dominated his life. In June 1773, after five trials, numerous improvements, and changes in concept, 79 year old Harrison was awarded the prize money, but never the actual prize! This is a model of scientific virtue in action.
For an extensive bibliography of quality children's literature exemplifying these virtues, see the Core Virtues resource guide.