Inspiring Readers With Character Traits and Theme

Thursday, October 11, 2018
It’s my first mentor text link-up ever, and I couldn’t be more excited to Celebrate Diversity with the talented ladies of The Reading Crew!  If you know me, you know keeping things simple is not my strength. In that spirit, I chose not one but two books to share with you today: a chapter book and its perfect picture book companion.  

(Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.)

A little about the books…

In 2016, Sharon Robinson, daughter of baseball legend Jackie Robinson, published a must-read chapter book for upper elementary students called The Hero Two Doors Down. It’s based on the true story of the friendship between Jackie Robinson and a boy named Steve who lived two houses down from her parents when her father played for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Steve was part of a Jewish family in a traditionally Jewish but quickly diversifying neighborhood in the late 1940s.
Steve was thrilled about his new neighbor who would soon become his friend, and he had no idea how many life lessons about patience, honor and self-control that Jackie would teach him. In turn, students learn many of the same lessons while reading. Robinson’s perspective as Jackie Robinson’s daughter and her continued real life friendship with the main character, Steve, makes for an insightful read for children and adults alike.
A week after the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson, they signed another player from the Negro Leagues named Roy Campanella. In 2007, David A. Adler (also author of the Cam Jansen series) published Campy: The Story of Ray Campanella. “Campy” endured the same prejudice and uphill battle that Robinson did in Major League Baseball. Also like Robinson, Campy rose to fame thanks to his hard work and focus, winning awards for many years.  

A decade later, Campy’s baseball career was cut short after an automobile accident left him permanently injured, never to walk again. Campy’s heroic qualities that had helped him strive to break the color barrier in baseball then had to be employed to break personal barriers of his own, which he did successfully. Both these books reveal admirable character traits in the main characters that lend themselves to discovering inspirational themes. 

How I teach with these books…

The Hero Two Doors Down was a student favorite in my classroom when I taught it through one of my Novel Units for the first time. Last year, I taught 32 students reading, and 24 of them were boys! I loved watching all those boys gain a true admiration for Jackie Robinson simply through reading this book. The impact was surely more lasting than the way we would’ve done it ten years ago—through an article or video in February.
I had had Campy in my classroom for years and admittedly had never read it to a class; it had been given to me at some point along the way. Thankfully, the name rang a bell with me when it came up several times in The Hero Two Doors Down and I’ve been able to capitalize on also teaching this parallel story.  As we read the novel, students completed this FREE Book Walk, which address comprehension and reading skills like sequence, character traits, and theme.
Being exposed to diverse books builds character; many times the authors and characters of diverse books have a depth of character unknown to students like mine who are surrounded by people much like themselves. The way both Jackie and Campy had to unjustly fight for dreams that my students naively take for granted grabbed their attention. For that reason, inspiring my students with positive character traits in these stories, the same way Jackie influenced Steve positively in The Hero Two Doors Down, was an easy teaching decision. I used these quote sorts to point out character traits of the main characters in both books.
Character traits and theme are two of our most important and most difficult to grasp reading standards in the upper elementary grades. Making connections is an important way to help students synthesize information, which is why I like to connect character traits to theme. If students can get a handle on one, this strategy will help them understand the other.  After completing the sorts shown above (click for FREE download) and having a class discussion based on the question in the thought bubble, I create an anchor chart with my students. We relate character traits to theme, and build on this concept throughout the year as we read other novels.
Thanks for stopping for! Hop to the other blogs shared in this link-up for some amazing ideas for celebrating diversity in your classroom with some great books. 


  1. I love using real-life heroes to teach character traits and theme! Thanks for these book recommendations and resources!

  2. Thanks so much for reading, Jennifer!

  3. Thank you for sharing the backstory to this book - I'd never heard of it, and it sounds excellent!

  4. Hope you can check it out! Thanks for reading.