Information and resources relating to News of the World by Paulette Jiles
News of The World by Paulette Jiles is set in northern Texas in the decade after the Civil War. Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, an elderly widower who has lived through three wars and fought in two of them, travels from town to town reading a selection of news items to people eager to hear of people and places they could never otherwise imagine. The solitary existence that he enjoys is interrupted when he is commissioned to take charge of ten-year-old Johanna, kidnapped by the Kiowa at the age of six and raised as one of them for 4 years. She was recently rescued by the U.S. Army. He is to take her to her aunt and uncle in San Antonio, her parents and sister having been killed in the raid that made her a captive. The ten-year-old has for the second time been torn away from the home she knows and thrown into what to her is an alien culture. Johanna has forgotten the English language, initially tries to escape at every opportunity, and refuses to act “civilized.”
Their 400-mile journey south through unsettled territory and unforgiving terrain proves difficult and at times dangerous. Yet as the miles pass, the two lonely survivors tentatively begin to trust each other, forming a bond that marks the difference between life and death in this treacherous land. Both are struggling to find a way to relate to each other and to work together to address the threats they encounter in a lawless and hostile world. Besides the suspense of the journey, there is the uncertainty about what will happen when they reach their destination. Captain Kidd is faced with a choice between what seems right and what is legal.
Reading Group Guide (download a copy from the link below):
1. Discuss Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd’s work as a newspaper reader. What does he bring to his audience, and what does he gain from his work besides financial compensation
2. Why does Kidd accept the difficult job of returning Johanna home? What drives him to complete the job despite the danger and obstacles?
3. Why do you think Johanna wants to stay with her Kiowa family? What do you think she remembers of her life before she was taken?
4. What connects Kidd to Johanna? Why does she seem to trust him so easily?
5. What does Kidd worry may become of Johanna once she’s returned to her family? What does he know of the fate of other “returned captives”?
6. Doris Dillion says that Johanna is “carried away on the flood of the world...not real and not not real.” She describes her as having “been through two creations” and “forever falling.” Do you agree with her assessment? Does Johanna remain this way through the course of the novel?
7. Discuss the various tensions in the novel: Indians and whites, soldiers and civilizations, America’s recent past and its unsure future. In what ways do these tensions underlie the story of Kidd and Johanna?
8. Imagine the perspective of Johanna’s Kiowa family. Why do you think they would’ve taken her in and raise her? Why would they give her up? How do you think they felt when they let her go?
9. Discuss the troubling moment when Johanna wanted to scalp her fallen enemy. How did that make you feel about her?
10. Partway through his journey with Johanna, Kidd feels as though he was “drawn back into the stream of being because there was once again life in his hands.” What do you think this means? What does it tell you about Kidd’s emotional life?
Watch the book trailer below:
This online resource provides digital copies of historical newspapers similar to those which Capt. Kidd may have read in his travels across Texas.
Capt. Kidd takes care to avoid the hot-button issues plaguing post-Civil War Texas by not reading from local newspapers. Learn more about this era from this article from the Texas State Historical Association.
Learn more about the Southern Plains tribe from which Johanna Leonberger was recovered after four years of captivity.
George Catlin (July 26, 1796 - December 23, 1872) was an American painter, author, and traveler who specialized in portraits of Native Americans in the Old West. Claiming his interest in America's 'vanishing race' was sparked by a visiting American Indian delegation in Philadelphia, he set out to record the appearance and customs of America's native people.