Teaching Admirable Character Traits Through Books

Other than being an authentic example , books and stories can teach our children valuable character traits. It was April 2020. Four of our adult six children had returned to our house for the  Covid quarantine. We went from empty nesters to having every bedroom full. At one breakfast I started telling everyone part of a book I was reading, The News of the World. (There is a movie by the same name with Tom Hanks–the movie is not as good as the book.) I have already posted about it here. It is historical fiction about a civil war veteran in the 1880’s. His name is Captain Jefferson Kyle Kid, but he just goes by Cap’n. Since the war, his wife has died and he supports himself by going from town to town announcing at the town bar that he will be reading the news that night.  Every evening, the Cap’n dresses up to give him credibility and reads six to seven newspapers to a captive audience who can’t read. He gets paid for reading the news. For the privilege of listening, each person puts one thin dime  in the can that is passed around.

The story gets more complicated when he is asked to return a ten-year-old girl to her family. The girl had been taken captive six years earlier by Indians, her German immigrant parents and sister killed, and the U.S. government has told the Indians that the food delivery will stop if they don’t return captives. Johanna, the girl, struggles through this transition of leaving her life with the Indians and learning English. Their relationship struggles at first and slowly, slowly she begins to trust the Cap’n. 

Throughout the beginning of the movie, someone is watching them, stalking the man and child in the wagon, and finally approaches the  Cap’n and asks,”How much do you want for her?” Cap’n answers emphatically, “This child is not for sale!”

After laying this groundwork with my family, I told them about the chapter I had just finished because it was so exciting reading about good overcoming evil:

Being alerted to the dangerous situation they find themselves in,  Cap’n and Joanna,  leave the town in the middle of the night  to get a head start from the bad guys. The bad guys could overtake them on the long lonely road to the next town. As the Captain and Joanna progress through the morning, in the distance behind them, they see the dust and know they don’t have a lot of time. The Captain goes up into a small canyon, for protection and to be on the offensive. The bad guys catch up and the Captain and Joanna are cornered. The Captain kills one  of the three, but realizes he will run out of ammunition soon. Joanna, with her limited English suddenly said, “Cap’n! Dimes!” Captain Davis realizes the dimes  he got for reading the news  will fit in the gun where the bullets go. He is able to drive the bad guys away by shooting his hard earned  dimes at them.

I had the group enthralled. As I finished my 9-year-old grandson said, “Wait–what story is this?”

This story highlights the many wonderful parts of the  Cap’n’s  character. His determined words that Joanna was not for sale and that he was willing to risk his life to protect her. What a hero!  This act of service  changes his solitary life.  I love the themes of integrity, going way out of his comfort zone and routine, brilliantly problem solving the lack of ammunition  problem, stepping up to care for a stranger on a long and dangerous journey, patience with Joanna’s anger of being taken from the only family she knew and just plain grit. Just telling this part of this book gave us a great discussion that day.

All of those character strengths are being taught in a really good story. It gives our children mental models on how to act, how to choose the right, how hero’s struggle and the feeling that comes when we overcome whatever obstacles are placed before us. When we teach the hero’s struggle and how they can triumph in the end even if things don’t always go the way they wanted,  then it helps our children realize that they can overcome hard things too.

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