Christopher Booker’s book The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories outlines seven plots. One of these seven is ‘Rags to Riches.’ In this plot, the main character gains power, wealth, or a mate. In the beginning of the story, the character is clearly at the bottom of the social hierarchy. This character is unhappy but deserves better. The character is then put into a better situation and everything appears to go well. Something takes place that causes the character to almost lose what has been gained. The character must then overcome the crisis. Others may laugh at his efforts, yet the person persists. The character learns from going through the predicament. Finally the character gets the life he wished for. This may or may not be the life the character wanted at the beginning of the story.
Famous novelist, Charles Dickens, lived a rags to riches life. His father squandered the family money and was eventually sent to prison for his debts. This left Dickens to earn money for the family. When he was twelve, Dickens worked in a shoe polish factory. For a 10-hour day of labors, he earned six shillings a week. Dickens alternately worked and attended school as family finances allowed. Dickens wrote about his life in many of his novels. Child laborers found their way into David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, and Great Expectations. Upper elementary students can learn more about Charles Dickens in Mary Pope Osborne’s book – Rags and Riches: Kids in the Time of Charles Dickens.
Variants of ‘Rags to Riches’ stories may include:
- enslavement – Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story of the Underground Railroad, Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt
- struggling artist – The Noisy Paint Box
- lone inventor – George Washington Carver:Teacher, Scientist, and Inventor
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
- The Ugly Duckling
- Slumdog Millionaire
- David Copperfield
- The Prince and the Pauper
- A Knights Tale
- James and the Giant Peach
- Esperanza Rising
- A Little Princess
Students create a staggered flip organizer that explains Booker’s plot ‘Rags to Riches.’ The organizer also contains a page for students to list examples from literature or pop culture. Next students answer “Digging Deeper” questions. For this lesson, students discuss rags to riches themes. Finally three outline pages provide practice.