The Gritty Jester

Anyone who has ever been in my office knows that I sport a typical English teacher’s bookshelf cluttered with tattered copies of classics, anthologies, and professional texts.  But only one book is set face out and standing on the top shelf in full regalia- The Jester Has Lost His Jingle, by David Saltzman.  While A Separate Peace (Knowles) was my first favorite book, and Song of Solomon (Morrison) my favorite book as a young adult, this seemingly children’s book represents the most transcendent of stories that I have read- and I continue to share it periodically not only as a guest reader in a Pre-K class, but also during my weekly conversations with the 6th, 7th,and 8th grade classes.  It is certainly an important book for all ages.

In recent weeks, I have been exploring Angela Lee Duckworth, which has led me on a cookie crumb trail through Debbie Silver’s Fall Down Seven Times, Get Up Eight, through Ericcson’s 10, 000 hours and other nuggets that discuss grit and resilience as integral human traits for success.

On my morning run today,  Duckworth met the Jester, and I realized just how much they have in common.

If you have not seen Duckworth’s TedTalk, here is the link:

Satlzman’s book follows the adventure of a court jester who one morning is suddenly faced with a kingdom of rulers and disciples that just no longer find him funny, nor do they find anything funny, hence the Jester “loses” his jingle and is banished.

At this point, the Jester, who has undoubtedly put in the Ericcsonian requisite 10,000 hours to become expert in his field, likewise shows tremendous grit in not giving up, but rather going on a journey to “find laughter”.  Accompanied by his best friend, Pharley (a talking stick- a nice commentary on inclusivity and embracing differences in others), he travels the world seeking “laughter”.  Ultimately, he arrives at a bridge that crosses to a huge city (undoubtedly Saltzman’s hometown of New York City of the 80’s).

Resolving through the first the banishment, then the inability to find his grail all over the world, he is then rejected rather harshly by multiple stereotypes: the smoking, ornery businessman, the homeless man on the street, and ultimately, he ends up at a hospital trying to cheer up a little girl with a tumor.

Showing grit, resilience, and a commitment to helping others through laughter, he starts small with the little girl, which ultimately leads the whole city into laughter and happiness.

The story ends with the Jester racing back to the king and reporting his experience, and sharing the laughter he “found” with the kingdom.

The story reflects so many ideas that educators and researchers in recent years have proposed as integral.  A growth-mindset, resilience, embracing differences in others, a global community and cultural literacy (he goes between a medieval kingdom and contemporary New York city), collaboration (with Pharley- who at one point encourages the Jester to keep moving in his pursuit), and grit.

It is always refreshing to make such connections as these and to once again realize that my children are getting through their experiences the opportunity to develop these important traits, while also knowing that we are never too old to learn from a children’s book.


Side Note: I always feel compelled to share the story of David Saltzman- one of true grit, resilience, courage, and positive thinking.  I encourage anyone interested in the powerful addition to the reading experience to read about David.


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