By Inspiring Courage

In the face of a pandemic, we’re all living in a state of uncertainty. There are a lot of unanswered questions and swirling fears as we try to figure out what “the new normal” looks like. During times like these, it can be encouraging to hear stories of courage, of individuals and groups who faced down war, illness, economic devastation, and other tragedies with bravery to be admired. Here are fifteen books and movies — some true, some fictional — to inspire you in the coming weeks. All are available to check out online via Overdrive or Hoopla


Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

In 1943, a U.S. bomber crashed into the Pacific and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood. Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared – Lt. Louis Zamperini. Captured by the Japanese and driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor. 

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

While an illness keeps her bedridden, Bailey watches a snail that has lives on her nightstand and discovers a greater understanding of her own confined place in the world. Told with wit and grace, this memoir is a remarkable journey of survival and resilience, showing us how a small part of the natural world illuminates our own human existence and provides an appreciation of what it means to be fully alive.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Here is a tale of two generations of women brought jarringly together by the tragic sweep of war, where personal lives—the struggle to survive, raise a family, find happiness — are inextricable from the history playing out around them. It’s a heart-wrenching novel of an unforgiving time that tests the limits of strength and courage and reminds us of the importance of friends and family. 

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown

Every day we experience the uncertainty, risks, and emotional exposure that define what it means to be vulnerable. Whether the arena is a new relationship, an important meeting, our creative process, or a difficult family conversation, we must find the courage to engage with our whole hearts. Based on 12 years of research, her book argues that vulnerability our clearest path to courage, engagement, and meaningful connection.

The Fellowship of the Ring (Lord of the Rings) by J.R.R. Tolkien

In a sleepy village in the Shire, young Frodo Baggins finds himself faced with an immense task, as his elderly cousin entrusts the One Ring to his care. Frodo must leave his home and make a perilous journey across Middle-earth to the Cracks of Doom, there to destroy the Ring and foil the Dark Lord in his evil purpose.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo

A landmark work of narrative nonfiction that tells the dramatic and sometimes heartbreaking story of Indian families striving toward a better life in one of the twenty-first century’s great, unequal cities. With intelligence and humor, the bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human in the lives of Abdul the garbage picker, Kalu the scrap-metal thief, Asha’s college-educated daughter, and many more. 

What is the What by Dave Eggers

An epic novel based on the life of Valentino Achak Deng who, along with thousands of other children, was forced to leave his village in Sudan at the age of seven and trek many miles by foot, pursued by militias, government bombers, and wild animals, crossing the deserts of three countries to find freedom. When he finally is resettled in the U.S., he finds a life full of promise, but also heartache and myriad new challenges. Moving, suspenseful, and unexpectedly funny. 

The Martian by Andy Weir 

After a Martian dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, astronaut Mark Watney finds himself stranded alone with dwindling supplies and no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive. His supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. But drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills, and a relentless refusal to quit, he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next.

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo 

The adventures of Despereaux Tilling, a small mouse of unusual talents, the princess he loves, the servant girl who longs to be a princess, and the devious rat determined to bring them all to ruin. 

Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby

After the loss of her parents, Frankie and her sister are doing everything they can to survive. And as the embers of the Great Depression are kindled into the fires of World War II, and the shadows of injustice, poverty, and death walk the streets in broad daylight, it will be up to them to find something worth holding on to in the ruins of this shattered America.


The Way Back (2010) – Based on the inspirational true story, some Siberian gulag escapees travel four thousand miles by foot to freedom in India.

Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (2006) – In 1943, as Hitler continues to wage war across Europe, a group of college students mount an underground resistance in Munich. But when one of their members is captured, her cross-examination by the Gestapo quickly escalates into a searing test of wills. 

When the World Breaks (2010) – Great Depression-era life and art come to life with rare film clips and survivors’ stories as this documentary examines the creativity and survival during 1930s America. 

Mine (2017) – An American soldier, stranded in the desert for 52 hours after his mission falls apart, must fight for survival against his enemies, the elements, and the creeping psychological toll of his treacherous situation.

The Babushkas of Chernobyl (2015) – A documentary about the last survivors of a community of “self-settlers” who refused to leave their ancestral homes after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. This portrait of a community tells a remarkable tale about the pull of home, the healing power of shaping one’s own destiny and the subjective nature of risk.

All summaries from OverDrive, Hoopla, or GoodReads.

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