Strength in the Face of Adversity

Staff PicksSoutheast Library

Strength in the Face of Adversity

Books to inspire fortitude in readers of all ages

Are you looking for ways to build your bravery? Are you trying to figure out what hardships people have overcome in the past? Take a stand with these books that focus on children and adults staying true to their values despite their challenging and unjust circumstances.

For Younger Children (Pre-K to 3rd Grade)

Mumbet's Declaration of Independence by Gretchen Woelfle
This true story is based on the life of Elizabeth Freeman. When Mumbet saw that America was being formed on principles of freedom for all, she decided to go to court to fight for her rights despite all odds being against her. With inspiring illustrations and easy to understand text, this is a great book to empower children who are faced with injustices. 

Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and her family's fight for desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh
In 2010, Sylvia Mendez was the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the U.S.A.'s highest civilian honor due to her critical role in the desegregation of California's public schools. This book tells the story of her experience in the California school system and the lawsuit her family filed in order for her and many other American children of Mexican descent to receive a just education. Sylvia and her family did not give up, even when other children and grown ups were not treating them with respect.

Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki
Mochizuki's beautiful picture book is an approachable introduction to America's less glorious history. Great for early readers who are on the cusp of chapter books, Baseball Saved Us can be used as a beginner's discussion tool on the cruelty of America's Japanese internment camps and the dangers of racism.

For Older Children (3rd to 6th Grade)

The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Amira and her family live on a farm in the Darfur region of Sudan. Life is repetitive for Amira until the Janjaweed come to her village. Pinkey's straight-forward prose dives deep into the complexity of the Darfur crisis. This book takes a hard look at whether a humanitarian crisis can have any positive outcomes or whether no answers can be provided.
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Lai's semi-autobiographical book is written in prose and discusses a child's experience as a refugee from South Vietnam during the Vietnam War moving to Alabama. Hà and her family juggle many competing emotions and challenges, including adjusting to a community where they are viewed as intruders and wondering whether Hà's father, who went missing during his army service, will ever be able to find them in Alabama. Hà's story is a National Book Award winner and a Newbery Honor book.
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
How do you respond when a newsworthy incident happens at your school? How do you respond when it happens to you? Reynolds' and Kiely's Coretta Scott King Honor Book Awards winner follows a week in the lives of two boys who go to the same school, lead separate lives, but are bound together by a terrible occurrence. Impossible to put down, this novel provides stirring images of how race relations effect kids and teens.

For Teens and Adults (7th Grade and up)

Gaijin: American Prisoner of War by Matt Faulkner
Gaijin explores the experience of Koji Miyamoto, a young teen from San Francisco whose father is Japanese and who is brought to a Japanese internment camp with his mother after the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Koji experiences bigotry from other San Franciscans due to his Japanese heritage and he is bullied within the camp due to his non-Japanese mother. Throughout the graphic novel, he learns to persevere despite his difficult circumstances.
We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose student resistance movement that defied Adolf Hitler by Russell Freedman
This award-winning book detailing the resistance movement started by Sophie and Hans Scholl explores what it means to sacrifice self security in the fight for the greater good. While the risks were great, Sophie and Hans were determined in their resolve to hold fast to their ethics in a society that was growing more restrictive and repressive. A critical read for gaining a greater sense of the dangers and challenges of life in Fascist Germany.

A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the missing agents of WWII by Sarah Helm
When Sarah Helm was tasked with chronicling Vera Atkins work during World War II, the task proved harder than expected. As a critical member of the highly confidential SOE French Department, Atkins kept most of her life shrouded in mystery. Helm masterfully unearths the complex puzzle of Vera's life during the war and after, when Vera struggled to make sense of what happened to the many British agents (notably many women) who had gone missing during their service in France. A harsh glimpse of the reality of intelligence work, this book is a must read for adults searching for clearer insight on political resistance in history.