By Sarah Rees
Oh, for a booke and a shadie nooke,
Eyther in doore or out;
With the grene leaves whispering overhead
Or the street cryes all about;
Where I maie reade all at my ease,
Both of the newe and olde;
For a jollie goode booke whereon to looke
Is better to me than golde.
—W. R. Inge
This little poem never fails to make me smile. It presents such a picture of pleasure that I want to be instantly transported to that shady nook with a book tucked under my arm, a cup of tea nearby, and the sounds of the busyness around me fading into a quiet murmur. As long as I have known how to read, this poem has painted a beautiful picture of a scene that I desire to re-create. I suppose my parents birthed this vision soon after they gave birth to me and now, a few decades later, my own son is just the right age for learning to sit up in Mommy’s lap with a brightly colored board book. The privilege of passing the book baton has me asking the questions that maybe you’re asking too right now: What kinds of books should I encourage my kids to read? What benefits can I look forward to through investing in reading time? Why is it important to proactively encourage my children to read?
Why Pick Books?
- Choosing quality books “adds to our voice” as parents.
Proverbs 11:14 says, “Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.” Imagine that each good book you tote home from the library or make a home for on your bookshelf is a counselor to help you parent well. Choosing to surround our children with good literature is choosing to help ourselves—strengthening our hands and multiplying our voice in our children’s lives.
- Choosing quality books points the way to Jesus.
I think I still have the torn page somewhere, probably tucked between my first haircut clipping and photos from high school graduation. It’s the page from the children’s Bible verse storybook that God used to open my eyes to my need for a Savior. I was 5 years old and learning to read the verses. Next to each page of text was an illustration. Mom and I flipped to the page that showed a little girl kneeling with her mother in prayer. God reached my heart through that verse and that picture. I asked my mom if I could pray to ask Jesus into my heart, like that little girl in the picture was doing. As parents, it isn’t our job to save our kids, but the faithful parent’s job description includes pointing his or her children to the Savior. Choosing to read good books to our kids—especially The Good Book—is necessary as we fulfill this calling.
- Choosing quality books provides an active antidote to an electronic lifestyle and modern cultural tastes.
Are you one of those parents who are wringing their hands over our TV saturated culture, plummeting U.S. test scores in certain educational fields, and the electronic overload you see around you? Stop wringing and start reading. You have an opportunity to shape your home’s culture, and a good place to start is to encourage reading and outdoor activity time. C. S. Lewis famously depicts a child who reads “none of the right books” in the character of Eustace Clarence Scrubb. Eustace is ill prepared for the adventure of real life because his reading consists of “exports and imports and governments and drains.” His lack of imagination and taste for modern, socialistic imagery humorously provides Lewis’s readers with a model to . . . avoid.
- Choosing quality books opens the door to self-teaching.
If your homeschooling family is like mine was when I was growing up, you have ten children of all different grade levels and learning styles and two parents trying to manage crowd control and promote actual education. As a parent, I can now discern one of my parents’ wise tactics: hand a child a book like A Tale of Two Cities and discuss it with him or her after the child reads it. Reading the assigned book would get me thinking and . . . it would also give my parents time to give attention to the other children’s needs. Voilà. Easier homeschooling.
What Kinds of Books?
“But,” you say, “what kinds of books fall into the category of ‘quality books’?” The criteria with which to respond to that question are endless. For the purposes of this article, I’ll briefly mention just two.
- The Eternal in Books
Amy Carmichael, the well-known nineteenth-century missionary to India, had this to say: “It is the eternal in books that makes them our friends and teachers— the paragraphs, the verses, that grip memory and ring down the years like bells, or call like bugles or sound like trumpets; words of vision that open to us undying things and fix our eyes on them. We are not here for trivial purposes, they tell us.”2 It matters not so much whether a book is fiction or nonfiction, old or new, “classical” or not, so much as it matters whether or not the literature is pointing us to the eternal. George MacDonald, a Scottish author, poet, and Christian minister, describes the influence of literature this way: “And yet, if I do so humbly as a child, I am free to imagine, for God gave us our imagination as well as our wills for his glory. . . . As I came just now through the fields, I lost myself for a time in the feeling that I was walking in the midst of lovely people of God that I have known, some in person, some by their books. . . . For who can distinguish the many ways in which God speaks to us by his Spirit?”3
- Fairy Tales
Each of us has preferences in literature, and mine run decidedly toward the Lewis and Tolkien side of life. In an age when fantasy was viewed as primarily a route to escapism, these authors spoke up in favor of the genre. G. K. Chesterton, an English journalist, novelist, and essayist, wrote in 1908: “If you happen to read fairy tales, you will observe that one idea runs from one end of them to the other—the idea that peace and happiness can only exist on some condition. This idea, which is the core of ethics, is the core of the nursery-tales.”4 Albert Einstein wrote these words: “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”5 And one of my favorite quotes on the topic is by C. S. Lewis in his 1956 essay “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to Be Said.” He wrote, “At all ages, if [fantasy/myth] is used well by the author and meets the right reader, it has the same power: to generalize while remaining concrete, to present in palpable form not concepts or even experiences but whole classes of experience, and to throw off irrelevancies. But at its best it can do more; it can give us experiences we have never had and thus, instead of ‘commenting on life,’ can add to it.”6 Of course, not all fantasy stories are worth reading. In recent years vast quantities of fantasy literature that are neither well written nor edifying have been produced. Still, the discerning parent need not throw the baby dragon out with the bathwater. Read on, and ask yourself what the book is teaching.
I love what Henry Drummond, author of The Greatest Thing in the World, says about what kind of books to read: To fall in love with a good book is one of the greatest events that can ence pouring itself into our life, a new teacher to inspire and refine us, a new friend to be by our side. . . . Whether . . . it be [biography, history, or poetry], or story-books, or religious books, or science, no one can become the friend even of one good book without being made wiser and better. . . . And we must each taste the books that are accessible to use for ourselves. Do not be disheartened at first if you like none of them. That is possibly their fault, not yours. But search, and search till you find what you like. . . . Do not be distressed if you do not like time-honored books, or classical works, or recommended books. . . . We have all different minds, and we are all at different stages of growth. Some other day we may find food in a recommended book, though we should possibly starve on it today. The mind develops and changes, and the favorites of this year, also, may one day cease to interest us. Nothing better, indeed, can happen to us than to lose interest in a book we have often read; for it means that it has done its work upon us, and brought us up to its level, and taught us all it had to teach.7 So, fall in love with a good book, and teach your children to do the same. You’ll be glad you did, and they will too.
Sarah Rees lives in Crestview, Florida, with her husband David and son Jadon. When Sarah’s not housekeeping or taking care of the baby, she’s usually making stuff to sell on Etsy, blogging, or getting ready for her next hike with her husband. Check out her blog at www.makingdoblog.wordpress.com. Porcelain painting is featured in one Etsy shop: www.etsy.com/shop/unwhiteart , while her love of books finds a creative outlet in her other Etsy shop: www.etsy.com/shop/araneldesigns .
- James Stuart Bell, ed., From the Library of C. S. Lewis (Shaw Books), 2004, page 311.
- Amy Carmichael, Gold Cord: e Story of a Fellowship (Christian Literature Crusade), 1999.
- Michael R. Phillips, ed., Knowing the Heart of God (Bethany House), 1989.
- Chesterton, G. K. All ings Considered. London: Methuen, 1908, 1915.
- SurLaLune Fairy Tales, www.surlalunefairytales.com/introduction/quotes.html .
- C. S. Lewis, “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to Be Said,” Of Other Worlds (Mariner Books), 2002.
- Henry Drummund, Addresses (Henry Altemus), 1893, www.books.google.com/books/about/Addresses_by_Henry_Drummond.html?id=R39TAAAAYAAJ .
Copyright 2013, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the February 2013 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.