Girl Reading
Credit: photo by Andy Carter

Children's Books Based on True Stories with Real Life Lessons

As a child growing up in the rural Alabama countryside, I engaged in two primary activities. I played outside - in the woods, in treetops, on fences, and in barns. And I read books - any book I got my hands on. What I didn’t bring home from school, I had delivered to my house through the books-by-mail program sponsored by the county library, which was designed to provide literature to children in rural communities. If it sounds like I was somehow underprivileged, nothing could be further than the truth, especially in my mind. I remember feeling like I had the greatest childhood ever, one whose freedom was largely unrestrained. I made my own adventures, often acting out the plots in the books I was reading against the backdrop of my own private landscape. Looking back as an adult, I realize that many of the books I read as a child taught me lessons and values that I still hold onto even now. A few of my favorites were the ones based on the real lives of young women – girls who helped me figure out what was important in life, and about the kind of person I wanted to be. I’d like to share some of them with you. 

The Little House (9 Volumes Set)
Amazon Price: $62.99 $29.61 Buy Now
(price as of May 3, 2016)
The Little House Books, a nine book series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, in which the author tells her own story. The most valuable lesson I from the Little House Books is that having just enough truly is enough. Perhaps no other writer had so profound an effect on my life as Laura Wilder, so much that I named my firstborn after her. Set in the late 19th century, Wilder's books chronicle her life growing up in a pioneering family, as they moved throughout the Midwest in search of farmable land and a permanent home. There were periods of hunger, cold, illness, and poverty, but there was never a thought of giving up. For me, Laura and her family demonstrated a true spirit of unity, resolve, and joy. They never stopped trying, they never stopped hoping, and they never ceased to be thankful. Even today, I think we could all learn something from them about how to deal with difficult times in our lives.
Island of the Blue Dolphins
Amazon Price: $7.99 $2.39 Buy Now
(price as of May 3, 2016)
This book taught me that it's ok to be alone. Set in the mid 1800's, Island of the Blue Dolphins is based on the true story of "Karana", who spent 18 years alone on a deserted island after the ship carrying her entire village inadvertently left her behind. Karana learned to hunt, fish, and protect herself from the elements, while making peace with her situation, all with only the island wildlife for companionship. While it is ultimately a story of surviving in isolation, there is not the sense that she was truly lonely. In a small way, I empathized with Karana, growing up in the quiet country, rarely any friends to play with, I spent much of my own childhood alone, yet I too was not lonely. Deep in the woods, with my animals and my thoughts, I found great contentment in the solitude of nature as I learned about who I was within my world.
The Betsy-Tacy Treasury: The First Four Betsy-Tacy Books
Amazon Price: $15.99 $8.79 Buy Now
(price as of May 3, 2016)
The Betsy-Tacy Books by Maud Hart Lovelace. A nine book series, based on the author's childhood, The Betsy-Tacy Books taught me the value of true and lasting friendships. Set in Minnesota at the turn of the twentieth century, the series chronicles Lovelace's life from early childhood to her mid twenties. I loved reading about Betsy's coming of age experiences, the innocence of the time she lived in, her travels, social events, and her writing ventures. But it was the theme of friendship, woven into each story that made these books so impactful. Like Betsy, I've learned that some friends remain with you throughout your life, while others appear only for brief chapters, yet each one is part of the story that makes up who you are.
Caddie Woodlawn
Amazon Price: $7.99 $3.36 Buy Now
(price as of May 3, 2016)
Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brinks. Based on the life of the author's grandmother who grew up in the remote Wisconsin wilderness in the late 1800's, Caddie Woodlawn taught me the value of standing up for what is right, even when the cost is great, and even if you are alone in your endeavor. I could relate to Caddie because she was such a tomboy, rebelling against social norms placed on girls (though it was obviously easier for myself as a girl in the 1980's). But what struck me most about Caddie was her fierce determination to stand up for those who were vulnerable, even at great personal risk. The story climaxes when Caddie learns that the local settlers were planning an attack on the neighboring Indians, so she rode out alone to warn them, not knowing if the Indians might kill her on sight. Ultimately, her actions prevented a war between both villages and saved untold lives. I wish I could say that I possess the bravery of a Caddie Woodlawn, but I've also never been tested on such extraordinary terms. I think the real lesson to remember from Caddie is the importance of intervening for others who cannot defend themselves, even if doing so costs you personally.
The Story of Helen Keller
Amazon Price: $99.34 Buy Now
(price as of May 3, 2016)
The Story of Helen Keller by Lorena A. Hickok. This book taught me that every person is valuable, and everyone is able to learn if there is only someone who does not give up on them. I remember being about nine years old, walking home on the trail from my grandmother's house, reading the book she had just given me. Likely the tattered paperback had belonged to one of my aunt's when they were girls, but I was enthralled from the first page by Helen Keller's story. Set in the late 1800's in Tuscumbia, Alabama, Helen was blind and deaf and completely without ability to communicate or understand language. Her parents, desperate for any help whatsoever, brought in young Anne Sullivan, barely an adult herself, to try to teach their daughter. I remember being amazed at the stubborn commitment of this woman, who doggedly worked day after day, not giving up on the child. It was Anne's efforts that opened the world for Helen, who would then grow up to become one of the most famous activists for persons with disabilities who has ever lived. From that book, I learned the manual alphabet and a little bit of Braille; and it ignited my interest in other forms of augmentative communication. Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan's story was an influential inspiration for me and attributed to my desire to become a teacher of children with communication impairments

When a child is reading a book, she doesn’t always know what she is learning at the time, only that she is enjoying a story. Certainly, I unaware of the of the life lessons I was gaining from the books I grew up reading. But there are some books that stay with you, help make you are, and in some small way, their story also becomes part of your story.