"Leave me not, O gracious Presence, in such hours as I may today devote to the reading of books. Guide my mind to choose the right books and, having chosen them, to read them in the right way. When I read for profit, grant that all I read may lead me nearer to Thyself. When I read for recreation, grant that what I read may not lead me away from Thee. Let all my reading so refresh my mind that I may the more eagerly seek after whatsoever things are pure and fair and true.” John Baillie
Over the years Suzanne and I have been asked what we are reading to our children. In truth, that happened more when the kids were younger. Now our children read books I can't pronounce. At any rate, I thought I would take this time to share a little with you about what our reading time with the kids used to look like when they were younger.
I started reading to Natalie (who will be 19 in two months) when she was around two. (All the years are beginning to run together. After the requisite children’s books we all read to our children (Little Engine That Could sort of stuff), we embarked on chapter books when she was around three or four. We started reading the Boxcar Children series by Gertrude Chandler Warner. The first book of the series, which is entitled, The Boxcar Children, was first published in 1942. I much prefer reading older books to the children because they are not so saturated in contemporary popular slang. And really, our kids are going to be knee-deep in that stuff sooner than we want, so what’s the rush?
After reading a good number from that series, we started reading The Chronicles of Narnia. Dylan, who was then around three or four, began to join us for these great stories. Now, to be sure, he did not pick up on every little nuance (nor do most adults for that matter), and sometimes he tuned out or even fell asleep, but quite often he tracked along with the story just fine (doing better as he got older). Of course, a quick review at the conclusion of each chapter was essential. It was a way for Dylan, Natalie, and Daddy to discuss what happened in that chapter as well as to talk about the important themes we found there.
For Christmas 2004, Suzanne and the kids gave me a gift of about 11 or 12 Lamplighter children’s books (which I loved as much as the children, by the way). These books were written in the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries. They are gospel-centered, Christ-exalting, character-building, interesting, exciting, and uplifting stories that have been a hit around our home for both the kids and the parents. There are many, many more to purchase (they are continually finding old books to republish).
At some point during the middle of reading through the Lamplighter series, we took time out to read John Bunyan’s classic, The Pilgrim’s Progress (in modern English). I must say even with the updated English, it was tough terrain. It was hard work to keep the kids tracking with the story. The review after, (and sometimes during), each chapter was absolutely vital for this book. However, it was a huge hit and Natalie recently said it was her favorite book we read. It took us quite a while to complete, but we persevered and it was worth it.
After The Pilgrim’s Progress, we returned to our Lamplighter series. Let me add that these books appeal to both boys and girls alike (If you visit their website you will notice their catalog lists books for younger boys, older boys, younger girls, older girls, etc.). We’ve taken the time to go back and forth between them, and regardless of whether the main character is a boy or girl – the kids still love the stories. Another reason I love this series – (for that matter, all the books we have read which were written decades, even centuries ago) – is not just because they aren’t inundated with contemporary slang. It has more to do with the fact the vocabulary is so rich. These books were written in a more literate culture and there’s not so much lowering of standards as there is trying to lift the standards of the reader. Definitely a plus.
One of my, “I wonder if that was a good idea” books, was Robin Hood. I thought it would be a good swashbuckling, adventurous story. And, in many ways it was. But it doesn’t flow terribly well and we ended up reading chapters from it sporadically.
I miss reading to my children as I used to do when I first wrote this post. They have gotten older. My third grader still loves it, so I'm happy about that. I hope one day I'll be a grandfather so I can start this whole process over again.
Why read to your children? NBC use to show a public service announcement on reading to your children at least 10 times a week. And, what they say is true… it is a great bonding time. Reading together has meant all the world to our family. But Suzanne and I also have these reasons as well…
1.) First and foremost we want to impart a biblical worldview to the hearts, minds, and souls of our children. As parents we have a commandment from God to disciple our children for Christ and this is a fun and effective way to do it. We want to help prepare them to face the world once they leave our care.
2.) We want to pass on a love of reading to our children. I didn’t get excited about reading until much later in my life, and I want to do everything I can (that’s humanly possible) to ignite a fire in my children to love reading as early as possible.
3.) We want to help give our children an eye toward discerning the differences in literature – between the bad, the good, and the best.
4.) We want to magnify their imaginations, creativity, and ability to think. TV is such a passive activity. Reading requires more work…and produces more fruit.
5.) It's just plain FUN!!!
Basically, we are charged with providing a covenant home and raising covenant children. Deuteronomy 6 exhorts covenant parents to raise their children in the faith all throughout the day – when the children rise, as they move throughout the day, as they prepare for bed in the evening. Nurturing your children in the faith doesn’t have to be drudgery. Reading is a wonderful way to show your children how our Christian faith plays out (or should play out) in the real world…even in the context of imagination.
Grace and Truth,