E-journal March 4, 2008

Winter is a Time for Quality Family Reading

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by Ellyn Davis

(In our e-journal about Papa's Boyhood Winters, I shared stories of my father's childhood on the farm and how winter was a time for reflecting over the past year, thinking through what you did right or could have done better. It was a time of planning, of marshalling resources to be used in the next season of growth. It was a time of sharpening tools and fixing machinery, of undertaking special projects. And…winter was a time of having fun. This is the fourth in a series of articles about how winter could be a special time for home schoolers.)

The Importance of Reading Great Books

“A rule of thumb for predicting future success is to know the number of books in the home.”

What's the Big Deal About Reading Lots of Great Books?

Good literature is like beauty. You will never understand that unless you've read a truly good book written by someone who wields language like a great artist wields a paintbrush. Good literature does something healthy to the soul and spirit. A well-written book can transport you to realms that are not of this world - not just because of the story, but because of the way the words are used. Every really good book I've ever read has made me pause throughout the reading just to marvel at how the words were crafted.

And the more good books you read, the more that place inside you that appreciates truth and beauty and excellence is stirred. That's why certain books have taken on a "classic" quality. It's not just because of the plot, because often great books don't have the exciting plots that cheap fiction does, but it is because of the beauty of the way the language is used to develop the plot and how it can touch you to your very core.

In the movie, "As Good As It Gets," the leading female character (Helen Hunt) tells the leading male character (Jack Nicholson), to "Give me a compliment." After thinking through a lot of different answers he might give her, he responds with the ultimate compliment: "You make me want to be a better man."

Well, great books are like that. They make you want to be a better person.

C. S. Lewis once said, "We read to know we are not alone." What this means to me is that, through books, more than through any other medium, I can have conversations with the minds of other people--how they think, what they believe, what they value. And more important, I can find out more about myself. There is something identifying and affirming to realize that other people have thought the same thoughts, had the same struggles, felt the same longings.

Reading also provides a window on the world. Robert Lewis Stevenson wrote, "There is no frigate like a book," meaning books can take you to times and places that you could never go in real life. I can read Perelandra and be on Venus or Ben Hur and be in the Roman Empire at the time of Christ or Cold Sassy Tree and feel what it was like to live in a small town in Georgia in the early 1900s.

From an educational perspective, being well-read places you in the small percentage of people who have a broader perspective of life--the movers and shakers of the world. Why? Because readers have superior language and thinking skills. They also know about life outside their narrow slice of it. They can see both the "big picture" and the details and keep a sense of perspective because they have read enough to expand their minds beyond the parameters of their own lives.

What Do We Want to Communicate About Reading?

There are four main concepts we want to communicate to our children about reading: (1) Written words have value because they are a vital communication tool; (2) Written words can be personally enjoyable; (3) Written words increase understanding and power over the world; and (4) Reading is something most people can easily learn to do. We communicate these concepts through:

  • Having a print rich environment. This simply means our house is full of good things to read.
  • Reading aloud to the child from an early age, pointing out simple words, running a finger from left to right under the lines of print, and encouraging the child that soon he will be able to read these books himself.
  • Letting the child see you read. Children take their cues about what is worthwhile from their parents. If the parents seldom read, the children assume reading is not a valuable activity. Boys need to see their fathers read.
  • Letting the child see you attach value to books. This not only means that you have your own library of personal “treasures,” but it also means that the child sees you enjoy reading and go to books for answers to questions you have.

If books are to become an important part of your child's world, they must appear to be important to you. It is difficult to convince a child who never sees his or her parents with a book that reading a pleasurable activity, and self-education is a worthwhile use of time.

Many parents lament that their daughters become avid readers, but their sons are totally disinterested. Our question to these parents is: Do your children ever see their father read? Boys who only see Mom read begin to associate reading with feminine activities.

Fathers we have posed this question to give all sorts of excuses for not reading--they don't have time, they are slow readers, they can't find anything they want to read, they don't like reading, and so on. If you are a father who doesn't enjoy personal reading, consider reading aloud to your children books that they enjoy. This way they can see you interacting with books, even if you don't read much yourself.

The Benefits of a Print Rich Environment

It has been proven that children who grow up in homes where they have access to lots of good books for them to read whenever they choose have naturally superior language art skills.

For those reasons, we say READ, READ, READ; WRITE, WRITE, WRITE; and TALK, TALK, TALK. A child who hears English properly used at home and consistently reads well-written literature will automatically internalize correct grammar, word usage, capitalization, punctuation, and spelling and will also develop an extensive vocabulary.

If that weren't enough to convince you that reading is one of the most important activities your child can do, Cradles of Eminence studied common factors in the childhoods of 400 eminent men and women and concluded: “A rule of thumb for predicting future success is to know the number of books in the home.” With this in mind, you may want to slowly but surely build your own home library of proven favorites.

Although it may seem easier and cheaper to simply check books out from the library, children love to read and read and reread their favorites, and they take pleasure in having copies of books that have become their special friends. Also, if you have a large family, the books become an investment to be passed down to each succeeding child, and perhaps even to grandchildren.

The books we recommend are all proven favorites with children and are considered great children’s literature. You can find book lists by clicking on the appropriate age group in the left-hand column of this page.

What determines if a book is good for children?

There are three questions you can ask to determine if a book is good for children:

1. Has it stood the test of time?

2. Is it well written? Does the writer "talk down" to children, using jargon, modern language or a trite story line, or does he/she tell the tale well? C. S. Lewis said: "Any book worth reading at 10 should be worth reading at 50."

3. Does it touch the heart in a positive way? Does it reinforce noble desires or does it create longings that cannot be filled in a godly way?

What do we read?

To help Christian parents choose the best in children’s literature, the books below contain recommendations and annotated book lists. We've also prepared a list of our tried and true favorites for all ages as well as a list recommended by Valerie Bendt.

Reading Aloud to Your Children

Great Read-Alouds

Favorite Books for All Ages

Favorite Books for Preschool and Early Elementary

Favorite Books for
Late Elementary

Favorite Books for Middle School

Favorite Books for Upper Middle and High School

Caldecott Award Winners

Award Winners

College Bound Reading List

Valerie Bendt on Reading Great Literature to Children

Valerie Bendt's Book Recommendations, Preschool/Early Elementary

Valerie Bendt's Book Recommendations
, Elementary/Middle School

Valerie Bendt's Book Recommendations, High School

The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. This book not only convinces you of the critical importance of reading aloud to your children, but it also has lists and lists of the "best of the best" books that all ages can read aloud and enjoy.

Invitation to the Classics by Louise Cowan and Os Guiness. Subtitled, “A Guide to the Books You Always Wanted to Read,” the authors have prepared a history of literature by presenting, in chronological order, important literature in the history of Western civilization. They start with Homer, through the Greek poets, the Romans, the Middle Ages, and so on to the twentieth century. Each chapter analyzes a different author’s work from a Christian perspective, explaining his or her worldview, and summarizing the plot of some of his or her most important writings. A large, hardcover book. Young adult and up.

Books Children Love by Elizabeth Wilson is a wonderful book derived from the insights of Charlotte Mason who believed education should take place mainly through reading books that make a subject come alive. It lists hundreds of “living books” by subject area and grade level.

Books by Gladys Hunt
Honey for a Child’s Heart
gives many suggestions for making reading more rewarding and includes an 85 page annotated booklist of the best children’s literature by subject and age level. Honey for a Teen's Heart is the sequel to Honey for a Child’s Heart and has teen reading lists and lots of ideas for creating teen readers and keeping them reading. Honey for a Woman's Heart is another great reading compilation, this time for busy Christian women. Full of great summer reading ideas.

Reading Lists for College Bound Students
contains suggested reading lists from 100 top colleges, an annotated list of the 100 books colleges most often recommend, and suggestions for planning a high school reading program.

(See also the S.A.T.s recommended reading list for College Bound students.)

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Webpages about the importance of reading great books and booklists for children of all ages

Webpages about choosing teaching materials

Webpages about charting a course through high school

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