A large percentage of the books on our family shelves are actually about books. They’re books within books, if you will, and they’re filled with wisdom on how to read with children, why to read with children, and—best of all—what to read with them. The closing chapters of these books are always my favorites: they’re full of fascinating book lists.
I wouldn’t be in this business if I didn’t love book lists. (My blog is, after all, essentially a nine-years-long book list.) And so I am pleased to introduce you to Wild Things and Castles in the Sky: A Guide to Choosing the Best Books for Children. This is an anthology of essays, edited by Leslie Bustard, her daughter Carey Bustard, and myself. With over forty essays written by dozens of contributors, Wild Things covers a range of reading-related topics, from fairy tales to graphic novels, classics to contemporary works, board books to Shakespeare. It’s all in there—the how, the why, and the what. A few of the stellar contributors are:
The essayists write from a variety of backgrounds, and while their interests and tastes vary (assuring there’s something in this book for everyone) every essayist recommends books full of truth, beauty, and goodness. (I know, because we read a lot of them as I wrote my chapters and edited the rest. Our library basket overfloweth!)
The book will be published this spring by Square Halo Books (the official listing is here, and you can pre-order a copy there). In the meantime, I’ll be sharing some books here that our family found through this project that I think you’ll love—books the other Wild Things contributors introduced us to. The Square Halo blog is also running posts by the editors and contributors, and we’re sharing even more wonderful books over there. If your library basket also overfloweth, our work is done!
Pictured above: all books mentioned somewhere in Wild Things & Castles in the Sky. Every one of them is worth reading!
Be warned: I am not a spontaneous person. Some people might look at our daily routine and weep over the repetition of it all, but I’m cool with that. I find that repetition comforting and conducive to productivity, but if you find it dull and horrifying, then—fair warning—this particular post might not be for you.
Moving on: We try to read aloud at set times every day. As the kids grow and increase in number, these times have shifted, but they tend to stay centered around meals and bedtimes, because that is when we’re consistently together and typically seated.
I advocate for establishing a habit of reading because I suspect that the odds of us all feeling like sitting down to read a chapter out of a chapter book at the same time are not good, and if it does happen, it probably won’t happen every day. And to keep kids interested in the overarching narrative of a chapter book, I think they need to hear a bit of the story every day.
So, because I like making lists and schedules and spread sheets, I’m sharing a sample day at Chez Rosenburg with you. This is not every day, but it is an average day. Enjoy!
Mitch and I wake at 5:00, make tea, and read our Bibles. He sometimes reads other things after that; I write. The girls play quietly or read or do what sounds like Riverdance upstairs from 6:30 until 7:00. And then the day officially begins.
I eat lunch with the older girls, then pile a mound of blueberries on Phoebe’s tray to keep her quiet and read a story aloud from the Jesus Storybook Bible. We used to read story bibles at bedtime, but as Lydia and Sarah have gotten older, we’ve advanced to more challenging evening readings. But I do like knowing that the little ones still get that big picture view of Scripture, so even if it means reading over Phoebe’s post-lunch screeching, I press on.
I consider it a success if we do this three times a week.
After lunch, I put Phoebe to bed (and read The Three Musketeers while I nurse her). Then Lydia, Sarah, and I tangle up comfortably on the couch and read a chapter from our current book (All-Of-A-Kind Family, by Sydney Taylor). I escort Sarah upstairs for her quiet time. She often insists on bringing our read-aloud book up with her, so she can look at the pictures and improvise her own story lines (loudly) while she rests.
After Sarah is settled, I grab both my Bible and Lydia’s and join her in our room, where she does quiet time. We read a chapter together from my reading plan (currently the book of Matthew), underlining verses that stood out to us and talking (very minimally) about certain parts of the passage. This time quietly slipped into our schedule and has become one of the best parts of my day.
I leave her with stack of books and head out to the living room—or, on a nice day, the porch—where I read, nap, write, and/or plan art lessons until Phoebe wakes up and we kick off the afternoon.
While I put Phoebe to bed, Mitch takes Lydia and Sarah through our catechism reading (from Training Hearts, Teaching Minds), then reads to them from a chapter book (currently Half Magic, by Edward Eager). I grab my sketchbook once Phoebe’s down and join Sarah on the floor. We draw together—often scenes from our book, since these books tend to be well above her reading level—while Lydia curls up with Mitch on the couch.
With all three girls down, the house feels bigger and quieter—until someone comes downstairs because someone else won’t stop talking and is keeping her awake. But eventually, the chirping upstairs drops to a murmur and Mitch and I drift out to the comfy chairs on the front porch or flop limply onto the couch and watch The West Wing.
When we go to bed, we bring books. I read another chapter in my Bible and then a novel until I can’t hold my eyes open anymore. Mitch reads or plays a game on the iPad until he can’t hold his eyes open anymore.
That might look like a lot of reading, but these chapter-long chunks of time spent together have become the sweet points in our day, the marshmallows in our Lucky Charms, and we get in big trouble with the little people in our home when we skip them for any reason, however reasonable.
Occasionally, I add other things into our routine (like poetry at snack time), or we drop things for time to accommodate new babies or a change in school routines. But this is the way things look right now.
When we read a good book to our children, we delegate: we enlist the help of gifted authors to demonstrate for them (and for us, too) what life is like in other places, other times, other bodies. This is what it looks like, a good book says, to ask for forgiveness even when the asking is hard, to love the unloved, to find joy in the common graces of life.
A good book takes us outside our own experience, outside a particular moment where Papa reads aloud to the rest of us, who were drawing a moment before but now sit—sniffling, pens suspended—as we listen to Prince Rilian’s farewell to his father. This is grief. This is joy.
This is, in a sense, one aspect of what the Bible does for us: it shows us what it looks like to fight against God, to persevere when we don’t want to, to look forward to the life yet to come. We study the movements of the Lord’s hand through each story and find comfort in the fact that his hand moves in our stories, too. We watch other lives lived out in its pages and recognize ourselves in them; that recognition then shapes the way we respond to trouble when it comes. This is where rebellion leads; this is redemption.
And so we fill the corners of our hearts with Scripture and the corners of our home with good books. We surround our daughters with characters that they can connect with, characters who are foolish and funny, warm and wise, prone to mischief or perhaps a little too perfect. We introduce them to Anne, Jo, Heidi, Lucy,and Laura, of course. And then we move on to Bobbie, Phyllis and Irene, Emily and Rose—heroines of the lesser-known works of great authors or of the books picked up on a whim that are, perhaps, unassuming on the outside but radiant within.
Here, for your pleasure, is a list of our favorites. These stories don’t appeal exclusively to girls, by the way. Quite a few of them feature male characters that share the spotlight with the female lead or simply steal it outright, but they’re boys (and men) of good quality that I want my girls to know and love. I suspect that those of you with sons might find that your boys scoot their Legos a little closer to the couch whenever you pull these books out to read with your daughter. (I’ve marked those books with an asterisk.)
When their father is unexpectedly (and mysteriously) called away from home, three children move to the English countryside with their mother. Adventures large and small ensue, all told in the charming style of E. Nesbit. This book is one of my very favorites. (Read the full review.)
An old fairy tale of the best sort, written by an author who came to my attention because C.S. Lewis gave him a hearty endorsement. This is, I think, the best of his books for children, and features the princess Irene and her unlikely friend, Curdie. There is also a magical great-great-great-great-grandmother and a whole passel of ornery goblins. (Read the full review.)
Circumstances change abruptly, both in life and in plot lines. What Katy Did demonstrates both aspects of this, and through the story of Katy Carr, shows how the road of suffering often leads to the most glorious destinations. (Read the full review.)
Here is a marriage of history and fiction. Wendy Lawton tells the story of Mary Bunyan, the sightless daughter of John Bunyan, as she navigates life during her father’s imprisonment. This is a beautifully told story and shows the progress of Mary’s fledgling faith alongside the robust, proven faith of her father. (Read the full review.)
There is a good deal of “bashing of crowns” and “striking one another with blows” in this book, it’s true. But this unlikely candidate merits a spot on this list for three reasons: 1) Maid Marian is no nameless damsel in distress here but a woman bold, courageous, and virtuous. 2) The men in this book know how to treat the ladies. 3) My daughters loved it. (Read the full review.)
You already know about Anne. Emily of New Moon is the slightly darker tale—a deep violet to Anne’s brassy red, twilight to Anne’s fresh morning—of Emily Starr, poetess, orphan, and bewitching lead lady. My affection for this book is deep, my friends. So deep. (Read the full review.)
Have you heard of this book? I hadn’t either until a friend recommended it at a wedding reception dinner. But Treasures of the Snow is a beauty worth seeking out: in it, you’ll find the gospel faithfully represented in a fictional setting, as a feud rises up between two families that needs the wisdom of a grandmother and the power of the gospel to resolve. (Read the full review.)
The author of Bridge to Terebithia tells an old-fashioned tale of an arrogant prince who cannot assume the kingship until he finds a wife who is “his equal.” (He thinks himself so wonderful that this must be all but impossible.) The King’s Equal is available as either a very short chapter book or a rather long picture book. In either format, it’s a joy to read. (Read the full review.)
Okay, so you probably have heard of this one. It isn’t as famous than its celebrated cousin, The Secret Garden, but if I’m perfectly honest, I liked it better. Sara Crewe—wealthy and petted, but gentle and kind—suffers a fall of fortunes and determines to be a true princess throughout her trial. Unlikely friendships, unexpected blessings, and a satisfying conclusion spring from this decision. (Read the full review.)
Sheltered and newly orphaned Rose meets her uncle and eight boy cousins for the first time, finds them bewilderingly active but ultimately endearing and goes on to forge the best sort of friendship with them. This book is funny, charming, and beautiful all at once, and sparkles with the same delight in story and language that fuels Alcott’s Little Women. (Read the full review.)
I recently discovered Read-Aloud Revival (through Aslan’s Library, of course) and after listening to an episode or two was smitten. “I’ve found my people!” I told Mitch over dinner. He then pointed out that he was my people, as were the three little people around the table. Fair point.
So I found my other people, the bookish ones, the ones to whom phrases like “build your family culture around books” serve as rallying cries and who read poetry at lunch and read books about reading books. I found those people. And I love them.
What is Read-Aloud Revival? It’s a podcast about reading aloud to your kids. But wait—I can hear your skepticism brewing. How can someone devote a single hour-long episode to talking about reading aloud, let alone several episodes? What could there possibly be to talk about?
If any of those questions hit that soft spot in your heart that brings you back to this blog more than once, then I think you’ll love Sarah MacKenzie’s podcast. Sarah MacKenzie is the charming host of Read-Aloud Revival, the one who has such engaging conversations with her guests that I find myself, at the end of each episode, wanting the conversation to go on for just a little bit longer.
Some podcasts are great for listening to while I cook dinner, when the kids are up and running amok, but not this one: this is the treat that I save for myself, the one that I listen to on the front porch during nap time, sketchbook open, paintbrush in hand. (My logic: if my hands are busy while I listen I’m less likely to impulsively purchase every other book mentioned on the program.)
Hi, I'm Théa! I review classic literature, poetry, nonfiction, fantasy, picture books—children's books luminous with grace and beauty. These are books our family loved and that I think you'll love too. Thanks for stopping by!
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