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Some weeks the same topics seem to come up over and over again. Recently for me, it’s been talk of an article from The New York Times asking whether failure is really the secret to success. In his piece from the Sunday magazine, What if the Secret to Success is Failure (opens in a new window), Paul Tough describes the evolving work of two men who, despite working in vastly different settings, both believe that specific character traits can profoundly affect a student’s ultimate success or failure in life. Interestingly, the character traits aren’t necessarily the ones we find in elementary school “character education” programs, but rather traits such as zest, grit, self-control, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism, and curiosity.

If these traits are the ones that enable students (and adults) to lead happy, meaningful, productive lives, to be the people who are “able to recover from a bad grade and resolve to do better next time; to bounce back from a fight with their parents; to resist the urge to go out to the movies and stay home and study instead; to persuade professors to give them extra help after class,” how we can we nurture these traits in our homes and schools? And, are these traits ones that our society values and rewards?

Maybe one simple way to nurture traits like grit, self-control, and curiosity is to use children’s literature as a springboard for discussion. When book characters and the subjects of biographies act with grace, use self-control, or are curious, we should highlight that! Talk about it; ask children what they might have done in that same situation. Use carefully chosen books as “mentor texts” for character traits.

Here’s a small collection that may get the conversation started:

Making a Difference: Meet Charlotte, Soo, Horton, and the other characters in this booklist recommended for kids ages 0-9. Whether they care about someone, have the courage it takes to act, or stand up for what they believe in, the characters in these books all have something in common — they’ve made a difference.

Standing Tall: What makes someone stand out? Sometimes it’s that they stand up for what’s right or what they believe in; other times it’s because they stand up to help a friend. In this collection of books recommended for kids ages 0-9 you’ll read about people who stand out because they stood strong.

Links to books with character building, positive traits: This helpful collection of links (opens in a new window) from Library Book Lists (opens in a new window) provides suggestions for books about honesty, self-discipline, fairness, and other traits.

About the Author

Along with her background as a professor, researcher, writer, and teacher, Joanne Meier is a mom. Join Joanne as she shares her experiences raising her own young readers, and guides parents and teachers on the best practices in reading.

Publication Date
September 29, 2011