The best books with characters who find their resilience

Mike Erskine-Kellie Author Of I Got You A Present!
By Mike Erskine-Kellie

Who am I?

I’m a writer (‘natch) and work with my fabulous wife, Susan McLennan. We’re winners of two regional Emmy awards and have created and/or written television shows for PBS, Disney, BBC, and CBC. I’ve always gravitated toward characters who really get put through the physical and emotional ringer. If they’re enduring an outlandish pile-on of hardships, I’m with them all the way. I’m not sure what this says about me, but what I love is how these hard done by characters find ways to turn things around and stagger to victory, often when all seems lost–not by magic, not by divine intervention, but thanks to some unseen force inside themselves.

I wrote...

I Got You A Present!

By Mike Erskine-Kellie,

Book cover of I Got You A Present!

What is my book about?

I Got You A Present! follows a heroic mallard (let’s call him Duckie) on his epic quest to get you, the reader, the best birthday present. Ever! But nothing goes right. 

The ten-scoop ice cream cone is a disaster to carry, the magic kit disappears (just like magic!), and an apple juice-fueled jetpack still has a few kinks to work out. Poor Duckie ends up in a race against time to show you how much he cares. But in the end, he has nothing… Or maybe there is something here... It’s the thought that counts, amiright? While the book might be about birthdays, it helps kids navigate the difficulties of setbacks and failures while inspiring them to understand what’s really important: friendship and resilience.

The books I picked & why

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I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew

By Dr. Seuss,

Book cover of I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew

Why this book?

This is my favourite Dr. Seuss book (sorry, Horton!). Our hero is… um, maybe a bear? Anyway, he’s carefree, young, and lives in the Valley of Vung. Pretty idyllic, yes? Until it’s not. Poor guy gets attacked by creatures determined to bite off his body parts. Fortunately, a chap in a one-wheeler-wubble shows up (I love it when that happens) and offers to take him to Solla Sollew, “Where they never have problems, at least very few.” What follows is a hero’s journey crammed with no end of near-death experiences culminating in him finally reaching utopia to discover…he can’t get in. He’s been resilient all along, but it’s here he excels and decides to go home and face his problems head-on. Sure, he brings a club. But, well, different times…       


By Tom Sharpe,

Book cover of Wilt

Why this book?

I love this book. It shocked me as a teenager. Shocked me. As a teenager! It was suggested to me by my father. I never looked at him the same way after that… The endless humiliations that Wilt endures are outrageous. In every book in the Wilt series, something terrible happens to his penis. In this book it ends up reluctantly attached to a rubber sex doll… I’ll wait here while you reread that line. Wilt is overlooked and abused by everyone, but when he’s arrested for the murder of his wife (who is very much alive) his resilience is a thing of comic beauty–in that 1970’s English style. If you like your comedy Python-esque and filthy then you and I will be book club friends forever. Call me! 

Water Music

By T. Coraghessan Boyle,

Book cover of Water Music

Why this book?

London, 1795 (the starting point in this book, for the current location and time, please check your phone). Ned Rise is a put-upon rogue whose life has been filled with personal catastrophes and several brushes with death. After being falsely accused of murder (because that’s how it goes when you’re Ned) he finds himself condemned to the malarial jungles of Africa, and providing free labour for the real-life Scottish explorer Mungo Park. Their fatal journey down the Niger River makes his days on the squalid streets of London look like a picnic, and Ned Rise proves to be more level-headed and resilient than the famous Scottish adventurer. T.C. Boyle is one of my favourite authors, and the creative energy and scathing social commentary in this fantastic book never lets up.       

Amadeus: A Play by Peter Shaffer

By Peter Shaffer,

Book cover of Amadeus: A Play by Peter Shaffer

Why this book?

“What the American public wants in the theater is a tragedy with a happy ending.”

- William Dean Howell

Not so much the British public, I guess. Years ago, I found this play in the remainder bin of a book store and bought it because I’d enjoyed Sleuth, not realizing there were two Schaffer brother playwrights…who, it turns out, had a major sibling rivalry thing going on. The movie was remarkable but the play really drives home Salieri’s fury at God. Resilience, it turns out can be effectively weaponized: especially when you’re the director of the Italian opera, a court-savvy sneak, and a jealous sidewinder. First on his “to do” list? Seduce Mozart’s wife… But by thoroughly destroying Wolfi, Salieri loses his humanity in the process. There’s always a snag.

Coyote V. Acme

By Ian Frazier,

Book cover of Coyote V. Acme

Why this book?

I’m a total Looney Tunes fan. Okay, the Roadrunner and Coyote were never my go-to toons (I’m more of a Daffy man), but this short story hits the funny bone at just the right angle. The most resilient of all cartoon characters is Wile E. Coyote: Despite getting blown up, run over, and frequently falling off cliffs, he never quits. He’s a silent, comedic antagonist who always has new and creative approaches in his attempts to bag that bird. That said, there was a rather unhealthy reliance on those Acme products that never did him any good… So now he’s doing something about that! Wile E. has filed a product liability suit against the Acme Company. Those malfunctioning rocket sleds ruined his life and he’s seeking $17 million in damages. 

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