Reading . . . the Glue That Binds

“Just one more story, please!” This was often a plea to postpone bedtime when my children were small. Despite the ulterior motives I suspected, I was glad my toddlers and pre-school children loved books and would listen attentively while I read.
Like many parents, I understood the educational value of reading. It is the cornerstone of education, and as home school parents, it is our primary concern—particularly in the kindergarten and elementary years. We, therefore, begin to instill a love of reading in our children many years before they are able to read for themselves. We want to prepare our children for a quality education, and we do this by reading to them.

But are pre-reading skills and a love of stories and books all they are gaining? Should parents stop reading to children who know how to read and love books? Is there something more to be gained from reading aloud together?

Gladys Hunt, author of Honey for a Child’s Heart, says, “Parents who read widely together with their children are going to be those who most influence their children, who have the largest worldview, who have an uncommon delight in what is good and true and beautiful and an uncommon commitment to it.”

The value of good literature is simply too important to be taken lightly. Books can shape the lives and character of our children and our families. Mrs. Hunt goes on to say, “Books, the right kind of books, can give us the experience of words.” This experience of words can often be the glue that truly binds a family together.

How do we connect with our children, with our spouse, or with others? We connect with the use of language. We connect with words. Words. Of all the living things He created, God gave only man the power of cognitive thought; to man alone He gave the power of language to convey that thought. Words have the power to express thoughts, excite emotions, and arouse convictions. They are powerful. They make concrete the abstract and give life to thoughts that are inanimate. Words communicate to others—and to ourselves—who we really are within.

Literature is a powerful use of words. Reading together on a regular basis with both elementary- and teen-aged children can provide parents with unlimited ways of discussing their opinions and beliefs—especially when they appear within the context of a good story. Children express their feelings and fears more readily when shared by a character in a story.

My children and I have enjoyed so many good books together that it would be difficult to name them all. Nevertheless, a few of our favorites have been the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, The Willows in Winter by William Horwood, The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, the Little Britches series by Ralph Moody, and Freckles and A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter.

These books have provided countless opportunities to discuss a wide range of topics important to our family. The books by Laura Ingalls Wilder gave us endless discussions on the importance of family. After the death of my children’s own father, Ralph Moody’s books opened the door for many discussions concerning death and the loss of a parent. My boys loved the whimsical tale of The Wind in the Willows when they were younger, but when we read it again for the benefit of my daughter, they gleaned touching lessons concerning the value of friendship from Kenneth Grahame’s beautiful passages. The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which took us several months to finish reading, also had great lessons on friendship, nobility, honor, and duty, just to name a few.

Sharing a good book is sharing a memory that will last forever, and it can bind families closer than ever. My children relate to many major events in our lives through the stories we have read. Events are recalled and referred to by what we were reading at the time. I often hear comments such as, “Oh, I remember that book. That was the first book we read in our new house.” Or, “Remember the winter it snowed right after Christmas? We read almost all of The Long Winter that week.”

Knowing the same characters in a story is like having the same friends. When my daughter shows us a moth she has found and wonders if Elnora might have that one, we talk as though Elnora were a neighbor and not a fictional character, although we all know the difference. My children love to quote and make reference to the many characters we have met together in books. Even many of our family jokes have their origins in books, such as having Hank the Cowdog’s “deep, rich, manly aroma.”

Of course, I cannot speak of family reading time without mentioning the most important book we read together. Family Bible reading is a daily occurrence in our home. Sometimes we simply read a passage of scripture, other times a scripture passage and a short devotional. Scripture is not only understood better but is also remembered longer when it is read aloud and discussed together.

Sharing time reading together does not have to be a chore. Stop and talk about the characters and events in the story, or have your children tell the paragraph or chapter back to you in their own words. Talk about how the characters feel and why. Relish books and time spent together. You may wish to reread a particularly beautiful passage and ponder the words. Be patient; this type of reading takes time, but the object is to enjoy the book and the experience together—to connect with each other and not just to finish the book. If you are bored with a book, chances are your kids are too. Not every book has to be finished once it is begun. C.S. Lewis once said, “No book is really worth reading at age ten if it is not equally worth reading at age fifty.” So pop some popcorn, gather around the fire, and enjoy a good book together.