Those Who Persevere

Perseverance is a value we see in the Bible often, although not necessarily using that precise word. It occurs most often in the context of suffering or hard work. Think of Noah, continuing the labor of building the ark in the face of scoffers. Then there is Jacob, working year after year to win his beloved.

Jesus tells us to persevere in prayer, even when we do not seem to get answers. Near the end of his earthly life, he warns his disciples of the hardships they will face, then tells them that their perseverance will win them their lives.

The book of Romans is full of references to perseverance: “tribulation brings perseverance; perseverance strengthens character” (5:3-4). “We have hope through perseverance and the encouragement of Scriptures” (15:4). And more.

Perseverance in Fiction

How do children gain an appreciation of perseverance in a world that pulls them in many directions and is always offering something new and distracting? Here are a few book ideas.

Quilt of Dreams, by Mindy Dwyer, tells of a girl grieving her grandmother’s death. She and her mother discover in her grandmother’s sewing kit a bundle of triangles labeled for making a quilt. Together, the girl and her mother work on creating a quilt, which is a long and sometimes difficult process. While doing so, they share many warm memories.

In A Visitor for Bear, by Bonny Becker, a bear is a loner, keeping visitors out. A persistent mouse keeps popping up and suggesting tea or a snack or just to sit together by the fire. The bear eventually gives up, and they have tea by the fire. And the bear discovers that he likes company.

Biographies of Persevering People

There are a number of people who personify perseverance. Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of the Anne of Green Gables books, had to try many times to get her first book published. She also had to work hard to find time to write at all and had to persevere to get fair treatment from her publisher. Her story is well told in a book by Alexandra Wallner.

An easy biography of Susan B. Anthony by Deborah Hopkinson tells of the long struggle to win the right to vote for women. It would have been easy for Anthony and others to give up, but they continued, enduring much hardship.

I had the privilege of going to a Methodist youth conference when I was a teenager and hearing Howard Thurman. I will never forget his deep voice and aura of holiness, and I continue to treasure his writings. In Howard Thurman’s Great Hope, Kai Jackson Issa tells of his determination to finish school—most black children in Florida, where he grew up, were only educated through seventh grade in the early twentieth century—with the principal giving him rigorous private schooling. A doctor recognized his intelligence and paid for his high-school education. Hard work, prayer, and an “angel” helped him go on to college.

Christopher Columbus had to persevere to make his discoveries. There are many books on Columbus, but I am drawn to a simple one by Peter Sis with great illustrations: Follow the Dream. Columbus had to go to the Spanish court several times in order to convince Queen Isabella to give him the ships to sail. Then he had to convince the sailors that they would eventually find land. It was certainly never easy or quick.

Marie Curie (I like the short biography by Leonard Everett Fisher) had to persevere through poor living conditions to get an education, then had to work very long hours, repeating experiments over and over, in order to make the amazing discoveries she did.

More Fiction

Going back to fiction, you might try Mirette on the High Wire, by Emily Arnold McCully. Set in France in the late nineteenth century, the book tells of a girl who lives in an inn that houses entertainers. One day, a tall, sad-faced man comes, strings a wire across the alley, and begins to seemingly “walk on air.” Mirette is entranced and begins to train herself to walk on the wire until she can go all the way across the alley, a long and difficult process. Then she asks the man to teach her more. Eventually, she is able to help him in a special way.

At the Crossroads, by Rachel Isadora, is a story of South African children waiting at the edge of town for their father to come home from the mines (a big event). The men are late returning and everyone else gives up and goes home, but these children stay out all night and are rewarded.

The Tiny Seed, by Eric Carle, tells the adventures of a tiny seed, which has to pass through many dangers before it eventually lands in soil, sprouts, and becomes a plant—a flower—then produces seeds itself!

The Snow Country Prince, by Daisaku Ikeda, tells of brothers who are fond of the swans that spend the winters in the marshes near their homes. When a particularly hard winter sets in, the brothers feed the swans and rescue one that is injured. At the same time, their father is injured in another city and is hospitalized. The lesson for the swan and the father is “Never give up.”

A Peruvian folktale, Chancay and the Secret of Fire, by Donald Charles, tells of a man who catches a large and beautiful fish and decides to let it go. In return, the fish grants him a wish. He says he wants nothing for himself, but his people are cold and afraid of the dark. The fish sends him on several missions to prove his worth and willingness to persevere, and eventually he is able to take “the mirror of the moon” and use it to start the first fire.

In Manuelo, the Playing Mantis, by Don Freeman, a praying mantis is drawn to outdoor concerts and wants to be able to play an instrument. He tries making instruments, but none of them play, and other animals make fun of him. Finally, a spider helps him make a cello, for which she supplies the strings. The other animals join in for wonderful concerts.

Good Examples

These are a few of the many stories and biographies for children that emphasize the value of perseverance. Hearing examples at an early age may help them in their own struggles to follow through on big projects and dreams. 

Kathie Johnson has always had a love for children's books. She collected many as a teacher and began sharing them with other teachers. In 1986, she opened a children's library in her home, and it has continued to expand over the years. Many home-schooled and schooled children borrow books from it, and she takes great pleasure in finding the "right" book for a child. She attends First Presbyterian Church in Berkeley.

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