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Articles, Book Reviews

100+ 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, consider buying 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 35+ 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. I will note, there was more tragedy (the pet dog Jack dying, Mary becoming blind, etc.) than I was expecting. Still, our girls really enjoyed their mom reading the whole series to them, even though there was, on occasion, tears flowing. The Bell Mountain series by Lee Duigon – only downside to this 12-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 12 so far and are eagerly anticipating #13! 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). Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter Mrs. Piggle Wiggle by Arleta Richardson 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. The Last Archer by S.D. Smith Farmer Giles of Ham by J.R.R. Tolkien Sir Lancelot the Great by Gerald Morris The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis The Wilderking Trilogy by Jonathan Rogers Brave Ollie Possum by Ethan Nicolle AUDIO PRODUCTIONS Half of the following are multi-voice and with great sound effects, but even the three that are simply being read are spectacularly well done. These are great for long car rides, and would be appreciated by all ages, though I’ve arranged them here by target audience, youngest to oldest. The Great Cake Mystery by Alexander McCall Smith Sir Malcolm and the Missing Prince – Lamplighter Theatre Teddy’s Button – Lamplighter Theatre Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims by Rush Limbaugh Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – the LifeHouse Theater production is just 97 minutes, so quite compacted. But it is very well done, and a great first exposure to this classic for young and old alike The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (as done by Focus on the Family theater) Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan (and read by Glenn Close) Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (as done by Focus on the Family theater) Jon Dykstra, and his siblings, blog on books at www.ReallyGoodReads.com....

Children’s fiction

BOOK REVIEW: Love That Dog: a novel

by Sharon Creech 2001/ 86 pages A review of a read-aloud book, to be read aloud. ***** As I started reading the very first page of this book, I thought it was dumb. I’ve never been a fan of poetry, particularly if it was the type of poetry that didn’t even rhyme. And that’s what was in this book. But I kept reading and found out, on that very first page, that the author agreed with me! The book is by Jack, a boy in elementary school, who doesn’t like poems either. Each day he writes a journal entry, for his teacher Miss Stretchberry, and there on the very first page, in his first entry, he tells her his thoughts on the poem they have just read in school. He writes: If that is a poem about the red wheelbarrow and the white chickens then any words can be a poem. You’ve just got to make short lines. It was a book of poetry, by a boy poet, who didn’t like poetry! So I kept reading, and I started learning. Jack’s teacher showed his class poems. Some did rhyme, some were by famous writers, and some weren’t very good at all. But I started learning, along with Jack, that poetry doesn’t always have to rhyme, or even have a set rhythm. Sometimes it can just be a different sort of way to express your thoughts, to lay them out, so people understand them better.  Poetry can be easier then teachers sometimes make it. And it can be powerful. And it can make you cry. I started reading this book, about a boy learning about poetry, and making poems, and expressing beautiful thoughts about his beautiful dog, and by the time I got to the end of it I realized it wasn’t dumb at all. Love that book....

Parenting

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 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. Books Children Love by Elizabeth Wilson 2002 / 320 pages A nice guideline to reading. 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 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.”...

Articles, Book Reviews, Parenting

Raising readers: the surprising power of reading aloud

Of all the skills our children need to master, reading is at the top of the list. Children who read fluently do well in school, while poor readers struggle because the entire curriculum is based on the ability to read. Reading opens up incredible opportunities; in contrast, illiteracy is related to poverty and crime. But success in life is not our main motive for raising readers. We want our children to love words so that they will be daily readers of the Word. The Bible is a challenging book, and our children need to be able to read and understand it in order to grow in their relationship with God. That’s why raising readers is a priority for Christians.  Start early… The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease provides a valuable resource for parents, teachers and anyone else involved with children. With carefully documented research and compelling stories, he tells us the most important thing we must do is read aloud to our children. Trelease points out that reading is like any other skill: you get better at it by doing it. But how do we get our kids to want to read in the first place? Children gravitate to activities they find enjoyable. How do we give them a love for reading? We must read to them daily. Reading aloud brings to life the characters, places and adventures that are hidden between the covers of books. Children learn that books hold exciting stories. Young children associate books with cuddle times with their favorite person. As the family matures, books become the vehicle for countless conversations and laughs, shared memories and ideas. In this environment, children naturally fall in love with books. …and keep going! Most of us understand the importance of reading to young children. The nightly bedtime story, I would hope, is a habit that parents maintain. When children have been read to regularly, they start kindergarten eager to learn to read. But as they get older, reading levels often drop lower and lower. Trelease writes: “Among fourth-graders, only 54% read something for pleasure every day. Among eighth-graders, only 30% read for pleasure daily. By twelfth grade, only 19% read anything for pleasure daily. In a Bureau of Labor Statistics survey in 2010, young adults between ages 15-19 reported spending only 12 minutes a day reading versus 2.23 hours watching television.” What is going wrong? Many parents don’t realize that we need to keep reading to children even when they begin to read on their own. Reading is a complex skill that takes years to develop. Stuck with Cat in the Hat but hungering for more The problem is, a beginning reader reads at a level far below his comprehension. That means that for a long time, he is stuck reading boring books. Reading is hard work, and if there is little reward, why bother? Typically in grade four, children start to give up on reading. The pain is not worth the pleasure. This is why continuing to read to your child is so important. You need to read captivating books that keep alive the interest and the motivation to read. Reading to your child every day is like advertising for books. Smart companies do not stop advertising. According to Trelease, the research shows that the gap between a child’s listening vocabulary and reading vocabulary usually does not close until about grade eight. Yet most parents stop reading to their children long before that time. Expanding their vocabulary Besides giving children the motivation to want to read, reading to our children also gives them the building blocks to be able to read. It gives them words. Researchers can tell how well a child will do in school based on the size of his vocabulary before schooling begins. Does speaking to our children provide enough vocabulary? No. We use 5,000 words in our daily conversation, with another 5,000 used less often. Trelease writes: “The eventual strength of our vocabulary is determined not by the ten thousand common words but by how many rare words we understand.” When we read to our kids they hear three to eleven times as many rare words as they would during normal conversation. Reading aloud pours a rich variety of words into our kids’ ears and minds. This vocabulary is crucial for their learning. What about TV? Does television build vocabulary? Research shows that television is greatly inferior to print. Most TV script is made up of conversational vocabulary and over the years there has been a steady decline in the use of complex sentences and rich vocabulary. Trelease devotes a chapter to television and whether it helps or hinders literacy. To highlight one item, a study in 2004 which tracked 2,500 children concluded that: “for each hour of daily TV viewed by the child before age three, the risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) by age seven increased by 10 percent.” In contrast, reading aloud is the best way to increase attention span. The American Academy of Pediatrics has warned that children under two should not watch any TV. This would include other screens as well. As parents, we need to be in control of the technology in our homes if we want to foster reading and raise healthy children. Benefits abound Reading aloud is an incredible force in the lives of children. Sharing books builds the bond between adult and child and gives the child a secure sense of being loved and valued. Reading enriches life and is a gateway to the world of ideas. Good readers are able to provide leadership in our communities because they have thought about many things. We need more readers. The time you invest in reading to the children in your life is of incalculable value. Start reading today. It’s never too late to start. And be encouraged by what God has been doing in our families. He has built reading into our lives by giving us the Bible and making us people of the Word. He has given us wonderful routines of mealtime reading and bedtime Bible stories, where fathers especially can be the role models their sons so desperately need. These habits alone give our kids a huge boost in literacy. Our Heavenly Father knows what our children need. Praise God and keep reading to your kids! A version of this article was first published in the July 15, 2017 edition of Una Sancta and is reprinted here with permission.   Practical Suggestions For even more suggestions see Jim Trelease wonderful list of the "Do's and Don'ts of Read-Aloud." MAKE READING OUT LOUD A PRIORITY Make it a habit by setting a specific time. Doesn’t matter when – before bed, after lunch, naptime, or school – it just has to be a daily appointment. Model reading. Children should see you reading for enjoyment. Have books in the house. Visit the library regularly. Read out loud every day for a minimum of 15 minutes. Keep reading to children even after they learn to read. Get the grandparents reading to your kids. Read to your infants – long before they can talk, they are language sponges. MAKE IT EXCITING It’s okay to skip boring bits. Pre-reading helps with this. FIND POCKETS OF TIME Read to your preschoolers while nursing/feeding your baby. Read to your kids while waiting for the doctor, dentist etc. Read nursery rhymes (or that book you’ve read so often you have it memorized) while folding laundry or doing ironing. Pick a good book to read aloud when camping. READ OUT LOUD EVEN IF YOU’RE NOT A READER Not the best reader yourself? Don’t worry – your child will love it. As the parent, you are the very best reader for them. FEEL FREE TO USE TECHNOLOGY Make use of audio books. Picture books are best as paper books, with their big bold pages. But e-readers have a place too, with their ability to store many, many books. If the grandparents live far away they can still read to your children via Skype. ...