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On reading together

It used to be, a generation and a half or so ago, that reading out loud was family entertainment. My own childhood memories – although not so idyllic as to picture my Mom knitting or mending every evening while my Dad whittled away on some useful wood carving to the tune of Dickens – do still include fond recollections of family story telling.

Every holiday season we rented a cottage on an island in the North Sea. While we were there we did a lot of hiking. Mom always took along a blanket and a bag full of Groninger koek, a chewy and filling type of bread-cake. We’d settle down somewhere – either on the edge of a farmer’s pasture with mournful, dark-eyed cows cozying up to the fence, or in a grove of sweet-smelling fir trees. After we played some games Dad would pull out his copy of a book by the unlikely title of Pa Pinkelman. We savored the flavor of his voice as much as we did the hearty flavor of the koek. It’s a good memory and I hope it’s a memory our children have as well.

Today’s parents, however, are faced with a problem that appears to thwart memories of togetherness times. This problem is called television and computer technology. It’s a push-button age we live in and children are brought up in an environment that encourages sitting back and watching – an environment that can encourage a negative attitude towards reading.

Reading Together, Longer

But is reading to a child really that important?

It is a fact that children read to in childhood read easily when older and will keep that interest in reading in later years. Many parents make the mistake of no longer reading aloud to their children when they reach the age of being able to do so on their own. The example is used of learning to ride a bicycle. When a child learns, you give him a shove and off he goes on his own down the road. But is it not pleasurable, to both you and the child, to have occasion to ride together? Shared experience heightens pleasure and fosters a desire to keep going.

The Christian aspect to this, and it cannot be stressed enough, is that of shared Bible devotions after mealtimes and before bedtime. “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. They will be a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck.” (Prov.1:8-9).

Reading out loud improves reading skill and more difficult books can be progressively introduced over time promoting conversations on many topics. Many parents feel uncomfortable reading out loud to children when the children get to be a bit older. They are unsure of the choice of books and afraid of being rejected in favor of other pastimes. Sad to say, they often, especially if a mother works outside of the home, are too tired and too occupied with other household chores.

Yet, developing the desire and ability to read in a child is a parent’s God-given task. This is not a mandate to teach ABC’s and ensuing words, but a mandate to communicate to a child a number of truths. The foremost of these are that an all-powerful God has created; that we have fallen; that we need repentance and forgiveness in Christ; and that all of creation awaits the second coming of Christ. Parents are also to teach responsibility intertwined with providence; they are to show children that there is reprobation as well as election; they must ensure that children are aware of hell as well as heaven; and they must make children acutely aware of the antithesis. Much of this is accomplished by teaching a child what and how to read.

What’s Out There

Some years ago, twelve parents analyzed 45 books selected at random from major book lists recommended to librarians that year. Their purpose was to graph what authors were telling the teens of the day about the world through fiction, and to work with the library to add books for diversity. These parents made some startling discoveries. There were no books from Christian publishers on the lists and dominant themes in these books were classified as follows:

– most fathers are absent or bad
– sixty percent of mothers work outside the home full time
– marriage is boring or dangerous
– parents and their kids are estranged half the time
– clergy are bumbling hypocrites
– the spirit world helps kids more than it hurts them
– I can solve my own problems. God doesn’t help
– sex outside marriage isn’t wrong unless it’s forced
– death is prominent, even pervasive
– profanity is in seventy percent of the books [1]

The above are another ten good reasons why parents should be aware of what their children could possibly be absorbing. And this was from back in 1988, and things are not getting better. Children are given a fair amount of alarming baggage when they read current books.

Developing Habits

If parents drink on a daily or weekly basis, it is easier for their children to become accustomed to alcoholic beverages. If parents are not respectful toward one another, children are apt to be disrespectful and unkind to their peers. If parents don’t go to church, it is not likely their offspring will develop the habit. If parents don’t read the Bible on a daily family basis and discuss what they have read with their young listeners, their children will not become aware of God’s values, unless the grace of God intervenes. If parents allow children unsupervised access to public or school libraries, they are treading on thin ice and their children are apt to fall into cold and numbing waters. If children are left by their parents to feed on an ample diet of TV and to snack voraciously on computer games, they will end up with scurvy of the soul, osteoporosis of the heart and die of spiritual hunger.

It is rather obvious that parenting is a full-time job. A child left to himself, Proverbs 29 tells us, disgraces his mother.

There are also Christian family do’s. For example, do know what is in your church, school and public library. Recommend good books to the librarians in all three and be prepared to give reasons why you recommend these books. Do know what kind of magazines are in these libraries. Do put God-centered books in every room of your house. Do communicate with other Christian parents as to what they are reading. Do pray daily with and for your children. Do have daily devotions and discussions with your children.

A couple recommendations

The fact that many Christian parents are unaware of what is available in the area of Christian books and magazines is sad. The following is meant to fill this void just a bit.

  1. Books Children Love
    by Elizabeth Wilson
    2002 / 320 pages
    A nice guideline to reading.
  2. God’s World Publications 
    This organization publishes different age level magazines – the first level is kindergarten and the last level is high school. As well they publish an adult weekly magazine, a sort of Christian Time periodical, called WORLD magazine. These magazines are excellent in that they teach children as well as adults to be discerning in what they read. Highly recommended

Endnote

[1] What are Your Kids Reading by Jill Carlson, Wolgemuth and Hyatt Pub. Inc., Brentwood, Tennessee, 1991, page 3.

For another resource for good books, check out Reformed Perspective’s children’s fiction reviews and non-fiction reviews, and picture book reviews. Christine Farenhorst is the author of a number of books that would make for great read-alouds – you can find them listed here. This article is an abridged version of one originally published under the title “And a Chain to Adorn Your Neck.”


Up Next


Book Reviews, Children’s fiction, Children’s picture books, Lists

20 read-aloud suggestions…

I’ve been reading out loud to my girls since they were born, and now that they are older we're still reading, ending each day with a chapter or two of something. That means for years now I've also been on the hunt for that next great book to read, talking to others and searching their bookshelves to find out what their favorites are and what they might recommend. If you're looking for that next book too, or maybe the coronavirus quarantine has you thinking about reading to your kids for the first time, here are some favorites that our family and others have sure loved. Many of these can be checked out electronically from your local library. Otherwise, considering buy the e-book version of one of the chapter books – it's an investment that'll pay off in the hours you and your family can enjoy these stories together. While there are 20 recommendations below, some are of books series, so the total number of books recommended amounts to well over 100, and all of them fantastic! PICTURE BOOKS All of these have big bright pictures on every page, and the first three are rhymed, which makes it a lot easier for a beginning Dad to get off to a good reading-out-loud start; these will make you sound good! A camping spree with Mr. Magee by Chris Van Dusen – it has 2 great sequels The Farm Team by Linda Bailey – about a hockey-playing barnyard Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel  – a favorite of millions for the last 40 years Charlie The Ranch Dog by Ree Drummond – while the 10 sequels can't quite match the enormous charm of this, the original, your kids will love them too Don’t Want to Go by Shirley Hughes – Shirley Hughes has dozens of other wonderful read-aloud picture books The Little Ships by Louise Borden – this is a stirring WWII account suitable for the very young, about the bravery of ordinary folk James Herriot’s Treasury for Children – a big book with 8 sweet stories for animal-loving children Mr. Putter and Tabby series by Cynthia Rylant – an old man and his cat, and his wonderful neighbor and her trouble-making dog - 23 books in all. Piggie and Elephant series by Mo Willems – an Abbot and Costello-like duo of Piggie and Elephant getting into all sorts of antics. 29 books, most of which require from the reader only the ability to do just two different voices BOOKS WITH PICTURES There are pictures in these selections, but not on every page. These are slightly longer, more involves stories which your children will not be able to read on their own until the later part of Grade 1, or the beginning of Grade 2, but they’ll love to hear them a lot earlier than that. Bruno the Bear by W.G. Van de Hulst – one in a series of 20+ classic books that are impossible to find except here Winnie the Pooh & The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne – it’s worth getting the big collected treasury to read and reread again and again The Big Goose and the Little White Duck by Meindert DeJong – a gruff grandpa wants to eat the pet goose! Rikki Tikki Tavi by Rudyard Kipling – the gorgeous Jerry Pinkney adaption is the very best Prince Martin Wins His Sword by Brandon Hale – epic story, in rhyme - this is just so fun to read out loud, and there are 3 sequels! CHAPTER BOOKS Once the kids are hitting kindergarten or Grade 1 mom and dad can read books they might read for themselves only in Grade 5 or 6, or even as adults. That can make reading aloud more fun for parents, as the stories will be of more interest to them now. The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder – this is not the easiest read aloud – the sentences can be quite choppy – but girls everywhere are big fans, and there are 8 sequels The Bell Mountain series by Lee Duigon – only downside to this 11-book Christian fantasy series is that each title leads into the next; it’s one big story with no clear ending in any of the books. But we've read all 11 so far and are eagerly anticipating #12! The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson – A laugh out loud hilarious adventure for older children (maybe Grade 3 and up), with 4 main books, and then a book of short stories too. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien – much more of a children’s tale than Lord of the Rings and shorter too (maybe also best for Grade 3 and up) The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic by Jennifer Trafton - the author is Christian though that doesn't come up directly anywhere; it's just good silly fun Treasures from Grandma's Attic by Arleta Richardson – a clearly Christian grandma talks with her granddaughter, telling stories about way back when she was a little girl. This wouldn't work for boys, but our girls absolutely love it (and there are 3 sequels every bit as good). Innocent Heroes by Sigmund Brouwer – Brouwer has collected true stories about the amazing feats different animals managed while working in the trenches of World War I, and then told them as if they all happened in just one Canadian army unit. This is probably my wife's favorite book on this list, and the girls sure liked it too. There were one or two instances where I had to skip a few descriptive words, just to tone down the tension a tad - war stories are not the usual fare for my girls – but with that slight adaptation, this made for great reading even for their 5-9-year-old age group. Jon Dykstra, and his siblings, blog on books at www.ReallyGoodReads.com....


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