Books that teach students how to fail before they sail

Books that Teach Students How to Fail Before They Sail

Our students are amazing! However, they also encounter struggles along the way. Before success comes their way, it's likely they will fail. First, we need to teach our students that it is not only OK to fail before they sail, it's almost a given! One way to do that is with high-quality nonfiction books that share stories of people that struggled before making amazing discoveries or contributions to society. Here are 10 books that teach students how to fail before they sail.

Fantastic Failures: True Stories of People Who Changed the World by Falling Down First
by Luke Reynolds

First, take your readers on a journey through the lives of 34 famous figures. From JK Rowling to Albert Einstein, the stories show readers that failing is just another step to success. Inspire your students with famous winners that struggled along their path to glory.


My Corner of The Ring
by Jesselyn Silva

This memoir depicts one young athlete’s grit and determination to succeed at a sport she loves. Despite being knocked down, both literally and figuratively, Jesselyn stands back up and keeps reaching for her goal to win a gold medal in boxing at the 2014 Olympics. Even if your students aren't into sports, they'll find inspiration in this story of triumph.



The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
by William Kamkwamba (Author), Bryan Mealer (Author), Anna Hymas (Illustrator)

Another engaging memoir tells the tale of one young boy from a Malawian village that was ravaged by drought and hunger. In the face of desperation and adversity, William Kamkwamba figures out a way to build a windmill and bring electricity and water to his desperate village. This is also an inspirational story to share with your class about both adversity and innovation. In addition to a book, this story is now a Netflix film.

Undefeated
by Steve Sheinkin

Undefeated is also high interest read for football enthusiasts. First, the novel chronicles how Jim Thorpe and Pop Warner came together to create the inspirational Carlisle Indians football team. Overall, this is more than the tale of the sports underdog; the novel looks at the persecution of Native Americans and a school that was made to erase Indian culture. Finally, share this diverse title to inspire all learners in your classroom.


Never Caught The Story of Ona Judge
by Erica Armstrong Dunbar

Never Caught, the Story of Ona Judge: George and Martha Washington's Courageous Slave Who Dared to Run Away is the Young Readers Edition of the story, Never Caught, which was a National Book Award Finalist for nonfiction. This narrative tells the tale of a brave young woman who overcame obstacle after obstacle in order to gain freedom. Share the unique struggles she overcame with your students.


Unbroken (The Young Adult Adaptation): An Olympian’s Journey from Airman to Castaway to Captive
by Laura Hillenbrand

Next, this middle school level book is an adaptation of the adult version that was a New York Times Best Seller and is now a major motion picture. Unbroken shows young readers what it means to be determined and survive against the odds when former Olympian Louis Zamperini crashes his plane into enemy territory and survives.

Isaac the Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal'd
by Mary Losure

Another biography on the list is the story of Issac Newton, from a troubled child to the Father of Physics. The book is written as a narrative nonfiction that will keep your young scientists turning the pages.


Girl CEO
by Katherine Ellison (Author), Ronnie Cohen (Author), Georgia Rucker (Illustrator), Tory Burch (Foreword)

Next, share advice from extraordinary women who run the world! Forty females are highlighted through mini-biogrpahies in the book. Each story tells readers what it takes to succeed and be a leader and that success does not happen overnight.


Boys in the Boat (Young Readers Adaptation): The True Story of an American Team’s Epic Journey to Win Gold at the 1936 Olympics
by Daniel James Brown

Along the same lines as Unbroken, this story book tells the story of nine working-class young men who became an eight oar crew at the University of Washington that went on to challenge elite rowing teams. Finally, through grit and determination, the young men beat the odds and went on to surprise the world.

Becoming RGB -
by Debbie Levy (Author), Whitney Gardner (Illustrator)

Becoming RGB is another biography that tells the story of an inquisitive young woman who changed the course of law. This book about U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is uniquely written in the style of a comic book. Your students will engage and learn about resilience.

Famous Failure Extension Activities

After sharing some of these inspirational titles with your students, allow them to explore more famous failures that ultimately succeeded with an engaging escape room activity!


Famous Failures Escape Room


What is an escape room? : To begin, escape rooms involve reading comprehension activities that ask readers to use clues to solve puzzles. In addition, these puzzles lead to a solution and students learn about the topic along the way. Finally, students can play in teams or independently. What do students need to participate in an escape room? : Your students just need a Google account to access the escape room materials. All escape rooms can be played remotely or in class. Overall, the Famous Failures Escape Room is one of my favorites! This escape room also covers four famous people that failed before they sailed to success:
  • Michael Jordan
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Elizabeth Blackwell
  • Mark Cuban



  • This Famous Failures Escape Room includes everything you need to get started with a fun, engaging activity about perseverance and overcoming adversity.



  • 1. Four half page reading passages
  • 2. Four decoders
  • 3. Questions for each passage (multiple choice, fill in the blank and true/false)
  • 4. Teacher directions
  • 5. Answer key
  • 6. Student directions
  • 7. Hint cards
  • 8. How to decode puzzles
  • 9. How to save time if the activity is taking too long
  • 10. Words to know: A glossary of terms


  • Finally, the activity typically takes about 45-60 minutes. In addition, some students may need some scaffolding with reading and math problems. Teach your students to fail before they sail with these engaging books and an Escape Room that fosters growth mindset and helps your students learn, collaborate, and overcome anything!
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