Summer is ideal for reading aloud to your children, whatever their ages. Here are strategies to make it simple and more fun. A big key is what you choose to read.Read More
Free time for reading is a big part of what makes summer special in our family. This year we tried something new, setting a goal that we all work together to achieve. Inspired by a feature on books that ran in the Wall Street Journal, we tacked the photo illustration on the side of our fridge and got to work. Every post-it note represents a book read by one or more of us. Everyone pitched in to cover the fridge with titles. Several were read-alouds we did together in the evenings after dinner. We all loved seeing the notes accumulate, and Steve and I were especially glad for permission to read for pleasure and not only not feel guilty, but know that we were helping to reach the family goal.
If you're looking for some ideas of what to read next, here's a round-up.
Bunny the Brave War Horse: Based on a True Story, Elizabeth MacLeod. Based on a true story about a horse and the two brothers who rode him while soldiers in The Great War.
My Friend Rabbit, Eric Rohmann. Mostly pictures, this one was read aloud by one brother to another.
Sea Rex, Molly Idle. Delightful outsized illustrations of a girl and her friends, including a dinosaur, at the beach.
Memoirs of a Goldfish, Devin Scillian. Laugh-out-loud antics of life in an increasingly-crowded fishbowl. Lively, colorful illustrations.
Memoirs of a Hamster, Devin Scillian. Much like it's predecessor, with the added danger of a hungry, mischievous cat.
What NOT to Give Your Mom on Mother's Day, Martha Seif Simpson. All the gifts that would be great for bugs and other creepy crawlies to give their moms, won't do for you to give your Mom. She's be most happy with a hug.
McElligot's Pool, Dr. Seuss. Oh the places your imagination can take you! In this classic, a boy with a fishing rod hunched over a tiny fishing hole dreams up all the creatures he might catch from near and far.
I Pledge Allegiance, Pat Mora and Libby Martinez. A heart-warming true tale of a grade-school girl and her Aunt's shared efforts to learn the pledge of allegiance and other elements essential for becoming an American citizen, leading up to the Aunt's naturalization ceremony.
A Great Day for Pup, Bonnie Worth. Part of the "Cat-in-the-Hat" franchise.
The Day is Waiting, Don Freeman
Yellow Copter, Kersen Hamilton
If I Built a Car, Chris Van Dusen. If you read one, you'll want to read them all. Imaginative, bright, and wonderfully illustrated, these whimsical stories are fun for all ages.
Days with Frog and Toad, Arnold Lobel. The best "I Can Read" book ever written and illustrated. This one is a classic that makes all others in the I Can Read series green with envy. We've read and re-read this to the point of pages falling out. Clever, subtle, funny, instructive for all ages. Hard to overstate how much we love Frog and Toad.
Frog and Toad all Year, Arnold Lobel. Ditto.
Everything Goes by Sea, Brian Biggs. Silly, comic-book style illustrations of all things maritime. Fun for learning boat basics early on.
Planet Kindergarten, Sue Ganz-Schmitt
The Little Train, Lois Lenski. Board book. Simple, primary color drawings that show the process of moving by rail from one town to the next.
Miss Moore Thought Otherwise: How Anne Carroll Moore Created Libraries for Children, Jan PinBorough. The true story of a somewhat headstrong girl who grew up to be the woman who championed and oversaw the opening of the first children's library in America.
Duck and Goose Go to the Beach
Tumtum and Nutmeg: The Rose Cottage Tales, Emily Bearn. A mouse couple spends their life on adventures together.
The Green Ember, S.D. Smith. A first novel for Smith, this rollicking tale of adventure unfolds amidst brave rabbits and wicked wolves. Ideal for family read-aloud time.
The Saturdays, Elizabeth Enright. A favorite family read-aloud six years ago, this story of the four Melendy children's idea to pool their allowance in order to fund more elaborate weekend adventures is ideal for a blossoming young reader. The first of four books in a series.
The Clue in the Old Stagecoach, Carolyn Keene. The same Nancy Drew mystery I read when I was a girl.
Aldo's Fantastical Movie Palace, Jonathan Friesen
The Threefold Cord, Jeremiah W. Montgomery. Book three in The Dark Harvest Trilogy; a fantastical retelling of early church history.
Mossflower, Brian Jacques. One of the many parts of the Redwall series of warrior animal tales.
These High Green Hills, Jan Karon.
A Light in the Window, Jan Karon. Book two in the At Home in Mitford series.
Party Shoes, Noel Streadfiled. One of the "shoe books" mentioned in the movie, "You've Got Mail." that tells the story of a family's efforts to ...
Time at the Top. Edward O. Mondroyd
Tabitha's Travels, Arnold Ytreeide. A fictionalized account of a Jewish girl's journey toward Jerusalem in the days leading up to the crucifixion of Christ.
Gulliver's Travels, Swift
Kidnapped by River Rats, Dave and Neta Jackson. Historical fiction that recounts the story of .
Stowaway, Karen Hesse
Chestry Oak, Kate Seredy. The author of FAMOUS TITLE tells the lesser known story of the last Hungarian prince's escape to America in World War II.
Scottish Chiefs, Jane Porter.
The Scarlet Pimpernell, Baroness Orexy.
From the Landmark History Books for kids:
Medal of Honor Heroes, Landmark HistoryIntroduction to Global Missions, Zane Pratt, David Sills, Jeff Walters
Custer's Last Stand, Kantor
William the Conqueror, Lafayette
Combat Nurses of World War II, Wyatt Blessingame.
Dolly Madison, Jane Mayer.
A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards, George Marsden.
Dead Wake, Erik Larson. Riveting account of the building, launch, and tragic sinking by German U-Boat, of the luxury ocean liner Lusitania.
Target Tokyo, James Scott.
Princes at War, Deborah Cadbury. World War II British history,
The Write Brothers, David McCullough.
In the Kingdom of Ice, Hampton Sides.
The Speechwriter, Barton Swaim. A rollicking look at life from the inside of a Governor's office. Swaim worked for South Carolina Governor Sanford, before his moral failing and political demise. As a former congressional staffer, I can testify to the truth of what he experienced, but also the value of the lessons he learned.
Frances Ridly Havergal, The Girl Who Loved Mountains, Lucille Travis.
The Hallelujah Lass, Wendy Lawton. The true story of NAME.
Courage to Run, Wendy Lawton tells the story of Harriet Tubman's work with the underground railroad to help 300 slaves escape to freedom.
Ransom's Mark, Wendy Lawton. The story of Pochanatos
Fierce Convictions: The Life of Hannah More, Karen Swallow Prior.
The Greatest Knight, Thomas Floridge
Through Gates of Splendor, Elizabeth Elliot
The Things of Earth, Joe Rigney.
Praying the Bible, Don Whitney.
Let the Nations Be Glad, John Piper.
What is the Mission of the Church? Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert.
The Missionary Call, David Sills
Seeing Beauty, and Saying Beautifully, John Piper. Compelling portraits of three of the most effective communicators of the Christian faith: poet George Herbet; preacher George Whitfield; and apologist C. S. Lewis.
This week as our eight-year-old son was reading chapter 25 of Farmer Boy to me at the kitchen table, I was feeling a bit behind schedule. We had been doing this together on and off since last fall, and I was eager for him to finish so we could start another read-aloud. But today, when I noticed how close to the end of the book we are -- just four more chapters to go -- it hit me that hearing him read this book has been a taste of joy so sweet, the end of it suddenly feels sorrowful. On the last page of "Threshing," the chapter about nine-year-old Alamanzo's efforts to help Father process their wheat, our son read,
...he went whistling to do the chores.
All winter long, on stormy nights, there would be threshing to do. When the wheat was threshed, there would be the oats, the beans, the Canada peas. There was plenty of grain to feed the stock, plenty of wheat and rye to take to the mill for flour. Almanzo had harrowed the fields, he had helped in the harvest, and now he was threshing.
He helped to feed the patient cows, and the horses eagerly whinnying over the bars of their stalls, and the hungrily bleating sheep, and the grunting pigs. And he felt like saying to them all:
"You can depend on me. I'm big enough to take care of you all."
Most people think the Little House books are for girls. I disagree. The main character in the series isn't the plaited second daughter, Laura, but Pa. He's the stout-hearted pioneer, the one who forges through the big woods, heading always further on, working tirelessly to make a living for his family. He beats back the wilderness to take dominion everywhere they settle. Indians, locusts, wild fires, blight, storm and cold; all of this and more conspire against him. Every failed harvest reminds him that he is at the mercy of a fallen world, but also that it is his burden and charge to provide for wife and children in spite of adversity and even disaster. Little House is a series about taking dominion.
Farmer Boy is particularly suited to sons. It is Laura's account of Almanzo Wilder's childhood, providing a look into the upbringing that formed him into the man who would become her husband. Every chapter presents a new challenge for the boy who is determined to grow to be a farmer like his own father.
"You can depend on me," our son read aloud. "I'm big enough to take care of you all."
I interrupted his reading. "Is he?" I asked, looking intently at him. He thought for a moment. "Yes, I think he is."
"What is Almanzo becoming?" I asked.
"A man." Churchill answered.
He looked up from the page to my face. "Mom, you're crying."
"Yes, I know. The transition it happening," I said, wiping away my tears.
"Is that a good book?" I asked my friend, picking up the hardback her son had set on our couch. "I don't know," she said, "I hope so. He reads so fast I have a hard time keeping up with him." She said she tries to stay a step ahead, scanning his library selections ahead of time, but not always knowing for certain what's in the books he's reading.
I understand her challenge. Having kids who love books is a good thing. Having readers who are hard to keep up with is both challenge and joy. I'm glad our kids like to read a lot, even as I'm aware of our responsibility to guide their selections. I want them to read creative, excellent, inspiring books. But it can be hard to find those among the weeds on the library shelves. And that's even more so as they advance to middle school and beyond.
With so many bad choices available for kids, how can you find the good ones?
Enter books of books.
These are collections of some of the best of children's literature, mostly classics, with some recents. Officially called "annotated bibliographies," these books contain lists of children's books with a sentence or more describing each book. And they're a great help. When my kids are ready for more books, these are the resources I go to again and again.
Honey for a Child's Heart by Gladys Hunt
This is my oldest book of books. Written in 1969, Honey is now in its fourth edition. I have the 1978 copy my mom used when we were kids. I've read and re-read it, beginning with the inviting introduction by Stony Brook's Frank Gaebelein. He writes, "The home is still the greatest educational force, and parents who make reading attractive contribute immeasurably to their children's intellectual, emotional, and spiritual development."
Hunt inspires me further, writing, "Children and books go together in a special way. I can't imagine any pleasure greater than bringing to the uncluttered, supple mind of a child the delight of knowing God and the many rich things He has given us to enjoy. This is every parent's privilege, and books are his keenest tools. Children don't stumble onto good books by themselves ..."
Hunt makes it her aim to help parents find those good books so they can lead their children well with chapters like "What Makes a Good Book?", "The Pleasure of a Shared Adventure," and "Who Influences Your Children?" She follows these with lists of books organized by grade, from picture books for toddlers all the way up to hard chapter books for teenagers.
Read for the Heart by Sarah Clarkson
This is my most recent addition. Though new (2009), this book of books is full of wonderful classics. Written by my friend Sarah Clarkson, daughter of author Sally Clarkson (The Ministry of Motherhood), Sarah is a lover of literature and a gifted writer (Journeys of Faithfulness). Sarah sorts her recommendations by category: Picture Books, Golden Age Classics, Children's Fiction, Fairy Tales, History and Biography; Spiritual Reading for Children; Poetry; and Music, Art, and Nature. I especially like her Appendices that list Caldecott and Newbery Medalists, as well as three well-loved series: G.A. Henty, Trailblazers, and Landmark History. I've been using them to build our library of out-of-print classics through used-books websites.
Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease
When I was pregnant with our first-born, my friend who was a grade-school teacher gave this book to me. It outlasted all the onesies and receiving blankets and set me on my way to reading to our children. While not written from a biblical perspective, Trelease convinced me early on of the vast benefits of reading out loud to your children when they're little, and never stopping.
He says, "Extensive research has proven that reading aloud to a child is the single most important factor in raising a reader. It is also the best-kept secret in American education. This inexpensive and pleasurable fifteen minutes a day --either in the home or in the classroom--is more effective than worksheets or any other method of reading instruction."
You never outgrow being read to. I still like it when Steve reads to me while I make dinner. I get to hear articles I probably wouldn't find time to read otherwise and we get to talk about what we're reading; thinking through ideas together.
These are the books of books that I own. There are a few others I'd recommend that I've borrowed and re-borrowed from the library:
by Elizabeth Laraway Wilson, with a foreword by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, daughter of L'Abri's Francis and Edith Schaeffer.
Though not primarily a book of books, Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise's
includes a robust annotated bibliography as part of their list of resources for educating at home. If you're looking for living books by subject (e.g., history, art, literature) and grade, this is good go to.
If you have a good library near by, I suggest getting all of these in turn in order to decide which will best meet your needs and fit your style of reading. One good book of books will keep your library basket full of great books for a long time.
I followed my gift-giving friend's example and now give one of these wonderful resource books to expectant moms. Second only to a silver cup or spoon, books outlast all other shower gifts. You may not be able to eat out of a book, but well chosen, it will nourish your soul forever.