I was raised a reader. Though I don’t have many clear memories of being read to, my dad opened his bookshelves to me and kept a steady supply of good books on the shelves in my room. My mom gave me books at almost every birthday. That I would pass this love of the written word on to my children seemed inevitable, but how I would do it and why, exactly, it was so important were harder for me to articulate when I first became a mother.
So today I thought I would share with you some of the titles that helped shape our family’s reading life, either by supplying us with specific titles or by encouraging me to try again when a read-aloud flopped or a child waded stiffly through a reading lesson. This is a broad list, and one that I hope gives you some inspiration as you build your family’s library. It’s not an exhaustive list, though, because I have a pile of books about books that I’ve yet to read, and it’s almost as long (or longer!) than this one. Perhaps this post is only the first in a series?
When it comes to books about books, this one must be the standard: it’s the first I read when I discovered the genre, it’s the first that crops up any time someone asks a blogger or interviewee where to find good books, and it continues to be a favorite since its publication in 1969. Gladys Hunt shares a beautiful vision for reading aloud as a family, some practical tips for how to do it well, and chapters upon chapters of wonderful recommendations divided by age and topic. This is one to own and dog-ear thoroughly.
As parents we are concerned about building whole people—people who are alive emotionally, spiritually, intellectually. The instruction to ‘train up a child in the way he should go’ has enormous dimensions. It is to teach a child to think, to influence character, to give high ideals, and to encourage integrity. It is to provide largeness of thought, creative thinking, imaginative wondering. How large are your goals for your children? . . . Young children, fresh with uncluttered minds, the world before them—to what treasures will you lead them? With what will you furnish their spirit?
— Honey For a Child’s Heart (p. 23)
In For the Children’s Sake, Macaulay distills the educational philosophy of Charlotte Mason down into a slender, inspiring book. This is a great introduction to the work of Charlotte Mason and to homeschooling in general, but best of all, it introduces the concept of “living books.” (If you’re not familiar with that term but you enjoy reading this blog, then read this book posthaste!) Macauley also gives a beautiful portrait of the life of a family, as well as some really great parenting advice. I reread this one every few years and come away each time refreshed and reminded that it is a joy to explore this world (both in person and in story) with my children.
If we begin by choosing the tried and true, the best of literature, we will give the child a love of excellence and the really ‘good.’ As we go on reading he will find that there are distressing happenings, stories which need discussion. Literature can help children think about what life is like before they live it as adults.
— For the Children’s Sake (p. 115)
Sarah Clarkson’s lovely book views childhood as a narrative arc with an exposition, rising action, crisis, falling action and denouement. She dedicates a chapter to each part of the story and peppers her book with book recommendations that suit each age and whose great and timeless stories can shape the hearts of young readers.
Stories challenge us to see our lives as the narrative in which we have the chance to live all the beauty and bravery we can imagine. What hero will I become? What great thing have I been created to accomplish? I believe those questions of heroism are the driving force behind a life of virtue, creativity, and purpose . . . Search deeply enough into the history of any real life hero and I am convinced that you will find a story, imagined or actual, on which that hero’s life is largely based, a narrative that opened their eyes to the part they were called to play in the story of the world.
— Caught Up in a Story (p. 5)
Though this book was first published in 1985 as an examination of how television was transforming the way our culture learned, thought and reacted at the time, it has turned out to be eerily prophetic: what Postman had to say about the advent of TV could easily be said about the introduction of the internet, smart phones, and social media today. (To test this theory, I read a passage aloud to Mitch, leaving out the references to TV, and asked him what the author was talking about. “Twitter,” he said. Oh my.)
Postman’s contrast between the printed word and image-based learning made me want to read a lot more and cancel my Facebook account. This is a fascinating book, folks.
This book is an inquiry into and a lamentation about the most significant American cultural fact in the second half of the twentieth century: the decline of the Age of Typography and the ascendancy of the Age of Television. This change-over has dramatically and irreversibly shifted the content and meaning of public discourse, since two media so vastly different cannot accommodate the same ideas. As the influence of print wanes, the content of politics, religion, education, and anything else that comprises public business must change and be recast in terms that are most suitable to television.
— Amusing Ourselves to Death (p. 8)
Jamie Martin provides us a booklist with a slightly different vision: in Give Your Child the World, she takes us around the world, chapter by chapter, sharing a different global region at each stop. I hadn’t realized that our home library was a bit thin when it came to multi-cultural titles, but that quickly became apparent (and was quickly remedied) before I finished the first chapter of this book.
Martin’s enthusiasm for introducing her children to many cultures (or deepening their connection with their own) is contagious, but it’s also timely: listening to the news each morning, I’m reminded of the importance of teaching our children to value and respect everyone they meet, regardless of race or culture, and books are a beautiful way to do that. (Read the full review.)
Parents naturally get concerned when we look at the state of the globe today. And it’s true—your children and mine will one day inherit a world filled with unique issues and problems. But that is no accident. They have been chosen to lead their generation through its difficulties. Destined for this moment in history. With love, faith and compassion firmly rooted in their spirits thanks to the power of story, they’ll be able to see the people beyond the headlines . . . Our job is to fill their lives with that love, faith and compassion today—so they can rest their feet on a story-solid foundation in their tomorrows.
— Give Your Child the World (p. 24)
The Read-Aloud Handbook, by Jim Trelease
Jim Trelease was one of the first people to write a popular book on reading, a book that made its way into the hands of teachers and parents and brought out the importance of not just teaching kids to read, but of reading to them. This book is full of research (some of it pretty astonishing) on the benefits of reading to kids little and big, and it includes a treasury of read-aloud titles at the back of the book.
I found this book inspiring and helpful, but deliberated about whether or not to include it here. Trelease’s tone can, at times, put pressure squarely on the shoulders of parents and teachers in a way that might be discouraging, were we to forget that we do not raise our children without God’s grace. I am including it here, though, because The Read-Aloud Handbook is full of so many practical ideas for including stories in the daily life of families and classrooms, I just couldn’t pass it by. This one also includes a list of great read-alouds.
Reading is the ultimate weapon, destroying ignorance, poverty, and despair before they can destroy us. A nation that doesn’t read much doesn’t know much. And a nation that doesn’t know much is more likely to make poor choices in the home, the marketplace, the jury box, and the voting booth. And those decisions ultimately affect an entire nation—the literate and the illiterate.
— The Read-Aloud Handbook (p. xxvi)
When Alice Ozma was in the fourth grade, her father set out to read to her for 100 consecutive nights. But when they reached that goal, Alice and her dad decided to keep going. This sweet memoir about a reading streak that ended only when Alice left for college is charming, yes, but it’s also deep and, at times, quite sad. I loved Alice’s perspective and her way with language.
The greatest gift you can bestow on your children is your time and undivided attention. As the years advance, you may reflect upon your life and see that in some areas, you have regrets about what you took to be a priority. No one will ever say, no matter how good a parent he or she was, ‘I think I spent too much time with my children when they were young.’
— Alice’s dad, from the foreword of The Reading Promise (p. xiv)
In every episode of Read-Aloud Revival, Sarah MacKenzie inspires and motivates listeners to “build your family culture around books.” To that end, she introduces guest after amazing guest and fills our wishlists with rich and beautiful books. I have bought many books on her recommendation and can’t think of a single one that fell short of my expectations. Listening to the podcast is a sure way to revive my waning enthusiasm for reading as a family. (Read the full review.)
What about you? Which books have shaped the way you read?