Ten Fiction Books that Emphasize Hard Work

10+ Fiction Books that Emphasize Hard Work and Determination

There’s a lot to love about the Little House on the Prairie series.  The books remind us of a simpler time. They emphasize a strong family–the kind of family that sticks together through hard times and somehow always comes out stronger on the other side.  They portray hard work and hardships, not as something to shun, but as an adventure to be lived.  And on top of this, they’re just plain good writing that’s fun to read.

They were actually my inspiration for this list.  When putting this list together, I tried to pick books that include these same characteristics– books that emphasize hard work, strong family ties, and simpler times.  (Of course, it’s sometimes hard to get all of those in one book so a few books might not include all of these.)

Some old-fashioned things like fresh air and sunshine are hard to beat. ~Laure Ingalls Wilder

10+ Fiction Books that Emphasize Hard Work and Determination

10 Fiction Books that Emphasize Hard Work and Determination

Little Britches: Father and I were Ranchers by Ralph Moody

Little BritchesLittle Britches follows the life of young Ralph Moody as he grows up on a ranch in Colorado.  There are many beautiful examples of respect, hard work, family structure, and the importance of good character.  The lessons Ralph Moody learn in responsibility and diligence prepare him for the unexpected role in his family that he has to take at the end of the book.

The book has a fair amount of rough language that can be edited out if done as a read aloud.

This book is the beginning of a series, so if you enjoy this book you might want to check the others out.


Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorenson

Miracles on Maple Hill
Miracles on Maple Hill is about a family who moved to the country so that the dad, who suffers from depression after returning home from the war, can find peace and healing.  The family has to band together and help out an ailing friend make it through the maple harvest.

The book is gentle and slow paced, and emphasizes the miracle that is each new season and the changes that come with it.  It made me want to get outdoors and not miss one tiny detail of our ever-changing world.

We really enjoyed listening to the audio version by Full Cast Audio.


Carry on Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham

10 Fiction Books that Emphasize Hard Work: Carry on Mr. BowditchThis book is the inspiring biography of Nathaniel Bowditch.  Because of Nathaniel’s small size, no one would have guessed that he would make a good sailor, but through his persistence and hard work he was able to work out a system that took the guess work out of sea navigation of that time.

Through following Nathaniel’s life from young boyhood to adult, readers learn that success in life is not based on blind luck, but rather is directly contingent on the amount of effort and dedication they are willing to invest in a task.  And this is a worthy lesson to learn when many youth today are hoping to skip over hard work and strike it rich through some other way.

Jim Wiess has an audio version that would be great for trips.


Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher

Understood Betsy
I read this book to my eight-year-old son lately.  At first, I was worried that it wouldn’t hold his attention because it’s an old-fashioned slower-paced book, but he loved it!  I’m not sure what grabbed his attention, but I suspect it had something to do with the simple story of a little girl not too unlike himself.   I, too, was delighted with the story all over again.

Understood Betsy is a book about a spoiled little girl who has been “understood” all her life.  When she goes to live with her practical, hard-working relatives who don’t bow to Betsy’s feelings, she learns to stop always thinking about herself and becomes a useful member of the family.


The Year Money Grew on Trees by Aaron Hawkins

10 Fiction Books that Emphasize Hard Work: The Year Money Grew on Trees
In The Year Money Grew on Trees, Jackson Jones makes a deal with a widow and ends up having to care for her apple orchard for a year, only he doesn’t know that keeping his end of the deal is nearly impossible. He finds out that caring for an orchard is much more work than he dreamed and he ends up enlisting his siblings and cousins, but he doesn’t have the heart to tell them that most of the money they make is not theirs to keep.

My boys kept asking for one more chapter because they wanted to find out if the children would end up losing everything they worked so hard for, or would they be able to keep their end of the deal and, as a result, win the apple orchard.

I wish I could wholeheartedly recommend this book, but we did have some reservations about it.  The children did not have a good relationship with their parents and often used deceit and manipulation to get their way.  If you chose to read this book with your children, you might want to discuss these things with them.

Laddie by Gene Stratton-Porter

LaddieThis is a heart-warming story told through the eyes of “Little Sister.”  The author’s love of nature shines through the pages of the book.  I have to admit that I wouldn’t have the patience to do this book as a read aloud because it is very wordy in places, but I know others have done just that and they have my admiration.   The book is full of beautiful passages that are really worth savoring.  Consider the following statement made by Laddie’s father concerning his sons’ future:

“I don’t want their horizons limited by city blocks, their feet on pavements, everything under the sun in their heads that concerns a scheme to make money; not room for an hour’s thought or study in a whole day, about the really vital things of life. After all, land and its products are the basis of everything; the city couldn’t exist a day unless we feed and clothe it. In the things that I consider important, you are a king among men, with your feet on soil you own.”

In this technologically driven world, we need more than ever to be deliberate on focusing on what is really important.  I love what the writer over at From Great Minds has to say about this book and the lessons learned from it. 

Librivox has a free audio of this book that would be perfect for long car trips.  Laddie is also available free for Kindle.

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink

This book follows the adventures of an eleven-year-old girl as she grows up in frontier Wisconsin. I like that the book is based on the life of the author’s grandmother.  At the end, Caddie must make a decision between her family and an affluent life overseas.

Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook says, “You take Little House on the Prairie;  I’ll take Caddie Woodlawn.”

Don’t think this book is just for girls.  My boys thoroughly enjoyed it.



Sir Malcolm and the Missing Prince by Sidney Baldwin

Sir Malcolm and the Missing Prince
I’ve mentioned this book on our favorite read aloud list, but it fits in too well here not to include it.  Prince Hubert, a spoiled young prince, is growing up out of touch with the life most of his subjects lead.  His father is worried that Hubert is growing up to be an unfit ruler for his kingdom.

In desperation, his father sends him away from home to live with an old woman in a poor, hard-working village where no one knows Prince Hubert’s true identity.  There he learns the value of hard work and how to empathize with the poorest of his subjects.

You can also listen to the dramatic audio production of Sir Malcolm and the Missing Prince by Lamplighter Theatre.

Little Men by Loisa May Alcott

Little MenThis book is a sequel to Little Women.  In it, Jo and her husband Professor Bhaer open up a school for boys.  Their goal is summed up by Jo herself with the following words:

I only want to give these children a home in which they can be taught a few simple things which will help to make life less hard to them when they go out to fight their battles in the world. Honesty, courage, industry, faith in God, their fellow-creatures, and themselves; that is all I try for.”

We can learn many lessons from this book about parenting and teaching our children.

Also check out the sequel, Joe’s Boys.  All three of these books are also available free on Kindle.

Ragged Dick by Horatio Alger

Ragged Dick

Ragged Dick is a “rags to riches” story set in New York City.
The book is about a poor orphaned boy who makes his living shining shoes on the streets. Through honesty, hard work, and determination he rises to middle-class respectability.

If you enjoy this book, you might want to check out Horatio Alger’s other books.  They all have a similar story line, but that didn’t keep my boys from enjoying them.  A lot of them are available for free on Kindle here.

 Where the Red Fern Grows, Old Yeller, and The Hatchet  are also excellent books that portray determination and a never-give-up spirit.  I’ve already written about them here, so I didn’t include them in this list.

As I was writing this post, I kept wanting to add biographies of famous men or women, but I decided that they deserved a post by themselves.  So if you’re interested, don’t forget to subscribe to email notifications so you won’t miss out.

Do you have any books that you would add to this list?  Just drop them in the comments below.  I’d love to hear about them and check them out. Thanks for visiting!

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26 thoughts on “10+ Fiction Books that Emphasize Hard Work and Determination

    1. I just realized when I was writing this post that none of my boys have read Carry On, Mr. Bowditch. I was so sure that they had read it, and that we had it in the house, but I realize now that our copy is in Africa, and the boys were a bit young to read it at the time.

  1. We have some of these, but a few I have never even heard of, so thank you for sharing them. I also appreciate you sharing your reservations about some of them 🙂

  2. Great list of books for us to check out. I was never sure of reading The Little House books with my boys; having grown up with Laura Wilder I always thought of them more as “girl” books but we really should give them a try.

    1. You could always start with Farmer Boy. 🙂 We listened to all The Little House books during long car trips when the boys were younger. The audio books are great! We need to do it again for the younger kids since they missed out the first time.

      1. I have four boys and we actually did start with Farmer Boy — and the boys loved the series. Our hands-down favorite though, was Ralph Moody’s series that follows Little Britches. So great for teaching boys to “build their character house.”

  3. I just finished getting everything in order for our homeschool to start tomorrow morning. I’ve printed out my kids’ schedules and 3-ring binders are all ready to go!!!


    1. My boys have really good memories of reading aloud. We’re not always as consistent as I’d like to be, but when we do it, we usually fly through the books.

  4. Willie Joe and His Small Change is an out-of-print book, but it is one of the best for teaching hard work and determination. I highly recommend it!

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