Opinion by Jim Denney, author of Battle Before Time,
Christian time travel adventure for young readers
In Parts 1 and 2 of this four-part series, we looked at the research of Dr. Catherine Posey — research which showed that good books nurture a child’s soul and encourage spiritually sensitive children. In Part 3, we explored five ways to use these insights in our own conversations with our children to build lifelong habits of reading good books and thinking deeply about eternal values. Here are five more “key” principles for using children’s literature to encourage your child’s spirituality.
Key No. 6: Develop a taste for children’s literature. Read children’s books — not just for your children’s sake but to nurture the child within you. Become a connoisseur of children’s literature. C. S. Lewis observed, “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty — except, of course, books of information. The only imaginative works we ought to grow out of are those which it would have been better not to have read at all.” Discover new children’s authors and rediscover childhood favorites, then introduce them to your children. Enjoy a second childhood of brand-new reading pleasures.
Key No. 7: Attract your children to great books — don’t push them. Your kids may not gravitate toward the same books you loved as a child. They may not be ready to read certain books that are beyond their years. As parents, we want to encourage our kids to broaden their horizons — but if we push too hard, we risk turning reading into a chore.
Some books that thrilled us when we were young may seem dated or hard to relate to for kids today. And beware of didactic books in which the story is just a flimsy container for a heavy-handed message. Kids sense when a book is preaching at them — and preachy books make kids suspicious of literature.
Key No. 8: Encourage your child’s literary loves. If your children are fascinated by the Bible or animals or outer space or sports, help them find books to feed that interest. If your children want to read books that are a bit beyond their reading level, cheer them on!
As a boy, I often checked out grownup books at the public library. On one occasion, I took a classic book by Robert Louis Stevenson to the checkout counter, and the librarian said, “Oh, this book is for grownups. You wouldn’t be able to understand it.” Though disappointed, I let the librarian talk me out of checking out the book. I eventually read it — when I was sixty-two years old. Having read it, I know I would have understood it and enjoyed it as a boy.
As Madeleine L’Engle observed, “A children’s book is any book a child will read.” She also said, “When I have something to say which I think is going to be too difficult for adults, I write it in a book for children. Children are excited by new ideas; they have not yet closed the doors and windows of their imaginations.”
Key No. 9: Use books to address hard questions, like death. A child may find it easier to talk about the death of a character in a book than the death of a beloved grandparent. Children may ask, “Why do people die?” or “Where do people go after they die?” Good books give us openings to talk about real-life issues: loss, sorrow, suffering, and troubling events in the news.
Use good books to prepare children to do good works, such as visiting the elderly in a nursing home. Before your visit, sit with your children and read books such as Eve Bunting’s Sunshine Home or Cynthia Rylant’s The Old Woman Who Named Things. The discussions these books provoke with your children will help you prepare them for the visit.
Key No. 10: Use books to reinforce character qualities. Good books are an invaluable ally in highlighting character traits so we can discuss them with our children, including such traits as:
Honesty: “Which character in the story showed what it means to be honest? What would have happened if she had made a dishonest choice?”
Compassion: “Who was the kind person in the story? Who was unkind? Why is it better to be caring instead of mean?”
Courage: “Who was brave in the story? Do you think he was scared? Have you ever been scared like that boy?”
Perseverance: “Which character wouldn’t give up? What would you do in that situation—give up or keep going?”
Children who read get to be vicarious heroes. The more good books they read, the more they tend to pattern themselves after their storybook heroes.
As Dr. Posey says, “Books are good for a child’s soul.”
“What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time.”
Just released: My new book with Orlando Magic founder Pat Williams, Character Carved in Stone. Overlooking the Hudson River on the campus of the United States Military Academy at West Point are 12 granite benches, each inscribed with a word representing a key leadership virtue: Compassion, Courage, Dedication, Determination, Dignity, Discipline, Integrity, Loyalty, Perseverance, Responsibility, Service, and Trust. These benches remind cadets of the qualities that lead to victory and success, not just on the battlefield, but in all of life. In Character Carved in Stone, Pat Williams shows us how to develop these 12 essential virtues in ourselves, our children, our teams, our students, and our churches. Foreword by Coach Mike Krzyzewski.
And if you’d like to learn more about how to write faster, more freely, and more brilliantly than you ever thought possible, read my book Writing In Overdrive, available in paperback and ebook editions at Amazon.com. —J.D.