Building Character Through Literature
Printer Friendly Version
By Lorraine Curry
Noble character comes from example and teaching. Most importantly,
a child becomes what their parents have modeled. Teaching (telling,
correcting, disciplining, etc.) effects character somewhat,
but without example, a smaller degree of teaching "sticks."
To help overcome our flaws as parents, we can use the lofty
examples found in literature. An advantage to using literature
in building character is that the teaching is neutral, and not
perceived by the child, especially older children, as judgmental
or condemning. In other words, our approach can now be sympathetic
to the child, letting the literature do the teaching.
The teacher should also be the example in her esteem of books.
She should read well and interestingly. She should read privately
and share from her own books. For reading aloud or for assignments
she can choose character building selections such as legends,
myths, fairy tales, fables, parables, allegories, poetry, short
stories and novels.
"They shall speak of the glory of thy kingdom, and talk
of thy power; to make known to the sons of men His mighty acts,
and the glorious majesty of His kingdom." (Psalm 145:11-12)
"The influence of the Bible, particularly the King James
version, upon the development of the English language and literature,
has been attested to by critics for generations."1
Not only is there exceptional literary value in the Bible, there
is also life changing power inherent in the Word, being living
and God-breathed. The Bible should be the primary resource for
the Christian homeschool, while particular sections such as
the Proverbs give concentrated doses of wisdom and character.
The Holy Bible covers each and every area of character training
and development and can stand alone as our character building
A teacher and pupil met after 20 years. The pupil said, "Do
you remember the commandment you had on the blackboard for a
week 'Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth'? Well,"
he said, "that marked the beginning of my Christian life,
though you never made a comment upon the verse, and you never
knew that it was responsible for any change in my life."1
You can also use this idea in your own homeschool. Copy a verse
from the Bible onto a board or print the verse out in a large
font and tape it up on the wall. Leave it for several days to
familiarize your children with the verse and principle. Memorizing
will be easy because the child is seeing it continuously.
One can find high moral value in other types of literature
too. Some of the loftiest examples are Pilgrim's
and Shakespeare's Hamlet,
Lear. Even lesser known works such as Jane
Scarlet Pimpernel, The
Way of the Scarlet Pimpernel, Eldorado,
Will Repay, Middlemarch,
First Prayer, Beside
the Bonnie Briar Bush, The
Little Minister, and The
Hoosier Schoolboy illustrate Biblical principles. After
reading any literature, choose a Bible passage to describe the
main message of the work.
Some of the best character building material can be found in
the biographies of people who lived righteous lives before God
and man. Once again, let us first look to the Bible. It makes
morality live through biography. Consider Jonah, Noah, King
David, Paul, Ruth, Esther and numerous others as examples of
both lofty and poor character.
We have read aloud, in our own homeschool, the life stories
Spurgeon and Billy
Sunday. As our children see what kinds of lives others lived
before God and man, they are inspired to like character because
virtues are more potent in modifying character when the virtues
are found in man. Your child will think, "If they could,
why can't I?"
The life of Sir Walter Scott along with being interesting and
charming is a most powerful example of integrity that is much
needed today. When Scott's publishing house failed he refused
to file bankruptcy but committed to paying off his debts no
matter the cost to him and worked rigorously to produce many
books in a short time, earning what was needed to clear his
Another person worth emulating is Clara
Barton, who overcame timidity as a 16 year old teacher by
reading her Bible her first day in class, and replacing her
timidity with concern for her students. Her mission was to serve.
Frances Willard not only championed the emancipation of women,
she also fought for the purity of home life and against intemperance.
One can also read of Helen
Keller, Jacob Riis, Booker
T. Washington and Dr. Grenfell. Older students may read
Men, Carlyle's On
Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History and Plutarch's
Lives. Another choice, if you can find it, is the book,
Lives of Poor Boys (Girls) Who Became Famous by S.K.
"One of the best discoveries a boy or girl can make is
a man or woman of real worth; one who by example has shown the
world what the factors are which constitute success and true
Fables and Other Literature
Fables can teach morals. Consider which has more lasting effect,
telling your child that lying has consequences and that he shouldn't
do it or reading the story of the boy who deceitfully cried
"Wolf!" over and over and was ignored when he really
The adventure loving boy can read Captains
Rover, and The
by Cooper, Robinson
Crusoe, and Around
the World in 80 Days. Vintage books such as Tom
Swift, Pony Rider Boys, Horatio
Alger's and Henty's books also fall in this "good book"
category. Instead of the cheap modern romance, the older girl
can read works
such as Lorna
on the Floss, Ramona,
Virginian, or Princess
Aline. Nature lovers may choose Long, Payne, Seton-Thompson
and Theodore Roosevelt. Choose other character building literature
such as "The
Great Stone Face" or "Midas
and the Golden Touch" by Hawthorne and "The
Vision of Sir Launfal" by Lowell. Sir Launfal starts
out in the pride and haughtiness of youth, yet eventually learns:
Who gives himself with alms feeds three
Himself, his hungering neighbors and me
Dickens' Books: "If you suspect that you may be just a
little too selfish, read Martin
Chuzzlewit; if avaricious, Our
Mutual Friend; if you are given to public display, and
think more of position and power and pomp conferred by money
than of doing good to humanity, loving and being loved at home,
and happy in the humbler walks of life, read Dombey
In your reading, call attention to the elevating themes of
literature. Discuss the characters and their actions. List the
good and bad traits of the characters. Memorize character building
excerpts. Include recitations as part of each school day.
Virtuous deeds have about them a degree of contagion and an
infectious character. The child who identifies himself with
the people of history will be taken out of his smallness and
grow larger in goodness and greatness. The pages of history
are filled with heroism, self-sacrifice, love of country and
devotion to principle no matter what the cost. Early American
history is especially rich with good and great examples of character.
Other periods of American history worthy of study are the Civil
War period, the temperance movement, and World War II. World
history is also rich with heroes, although not always heroes
who knew God.
In no other subject area can we see so clearly by the panorama
of man's doings that "the wages of sin is death,"
and that God's principles never change. For example, the student
of history is reminded of the truth that a nation cannot endure
when its citizens are lacking in morality. Goldsmith's voice
in his "Deserted
Village" rings clearly from the past for us to consider
Ill fares the land,
To hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates,
And men decay.
Even scientific literature can build character. Humility abounds
in scientists who know God realizing how limited man is and
how very little he knows. Respect and love for God spring from
a study of His creation in its miraculous and perfect construction.
The lives of godly scientists can be studied as well as their
Character building literature completes your tool kit for training
your children to be moral, upright adults. It is the plane that
smooths off the excess, exposing the clean and clear, and should
be used diligently, along with the hammer of daily example and
the saw of didactic teaching.
1 W.M. Welch AM, How to Study (Chicago, W.M. Welch and Co,
2 J. O. Engleman, Moral Education in School and Home, 1918,
Chicago: Sanborn & Co.
Lorraine is mom to four, ages 13-17. She sells and reviews
vintage and classical Exceptional Books! and publishes a free
email newsletter. Her own book EasyHomeschooling Techniques,
is available from her site, Amazon.com, Christian Book Distributors,
Lifetime Books and Gifts, other booksellers or you may request
a copy from your local Christian bookstore (through Ingram/Spring
Arbor Distributors). Website: www.easyhomeschooling.net
Copyright © 2000 Eclectic Homeschool Association