"There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we spent with a favorite book." -Marcel Proust
When it comes to homeschooling, one of the main keys to developing children’s character and their desire for ministry is well-chosen books. I am not referring to thick, dull textbooks or "cotton candy" novels. I mean engaging, character building, can't-put-'em-down-'cause-they-are-so-good books. These stories will captivate you and your children to the extent that you will accidentally let them stay up a half hour past bedtime because you did not notice the time. Books so fascinating that your kids will beg you to continue reading even when their lunch is getting cold. Or a plot that is so interesting you will want to read out loud to them even when you are exhausted after a hectic day. A novel so compelling that your daughter will carry it around in her purse and you will discover her nose buried in it every time you turn around. A particular story that will leave such an impact on her that for a week or two after she reads it, you can still detect a hint of an Elizabethan speech pattern in her conversation. She will use phrases that are decades (or centuries) old, but they sound normal to her because she has gotten so involved in the conversations of the characters. Familiar books can help your children adjust to living in a new country because their imaginary worlds have stayed the same. My family lives in Indonesia now, but Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy moved here with my children. There are also the books that make children want to do chores, care for animals, or show compassion to the beggar they see on the street because a character they are reading about does the same. The books that depict a hero portraying honesty under extreme pressure or bravery in the face of danger are the same ones that build character in your children. Reading biographies about successful missionaries give your children a reference point as to why their parents do what they have been called to do. Through reading inspiring books, your children can develop into godly adults with character and purpose.
"Make it a rule never to give a child a book you would not read yourself." -George Bernard Shaw
What is the key to raising a reader? Be a reader yourself. One sneaky method that I found is to read a book in front of your child and let them observe you enjoying it. Then, tell them the book is too mature for them. Put it high on the bookshelf and make them wait a few months or a year before they can read it. Finally, declare that they are old enough to understand, to not be frightened by, or to be able to handle whatever made the book a little too mature for them. With a flourish, hand over the book. Be sure to warn them to let you know if the book is too difficult or scary. From my experience, this book will be devoured immediately. Of course, make sure that the book is enticing enough to deliver the promise that made it worth waiting for!
Another important step in raising a reader is to save books with more challenging themes until they are old enough to fully appreciate them. You can only read a book for the first time once. Make sure that the timing is right! If your child thinks that a book is too difficult or boring, let them put it to the side for a while. I introduced my eldest daughter to The Hobbit a couple of years ago. She did not like the book or the literature guide that went with it, so I gave her permission to put it away. Just recently, the book came back out, and she read all three hundred pages in four days! Next, she devoured The Lord of the Rings series because she enjoyed the storyline of the first book so much. Timing is everything.
When my kids were little, I did not require them to read books outside of their schoolwork. My two youngest children disliked reading in kindergarten and first grade. It was difficult and confusing for them. They enjoyed looking at picture books and listening to me read, so I read aloud to them and occasionally coaxed them to take turns reading with me. I did not worry because we were working on phonics in school and they practiced their reading then. Eventually both children developed the desire to read on their own, which accomplished my goal. Once my daughter “cracked the code,” she discovered the imaginary world that a good book could bring. With my son, it was peer pressure. He was the only kid in his Sunday School class who could not read aloud. Now he brings his children’s Bible to my bedroom and asks my husband to read with him every night. He practices constantly because he wants to. Human nature demonstrates that a child is much more likely to want to do something if the idea comes from within. A child should be enticed into reading, not forced into it.
"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 and beyond." -C.S. Lewis
Searching for quality literature must be your goal. Read some of your older child’s literature books ahead of them so that you can discuss the topics afterwards. If you find the book too distasteful to spend your time reading it, then question why you are requiring it of your child. Use a book list that has been approved by others who share similar views as you. Books such as Honey for a Child’s Heart contain recommended lists for safe and high quality literature as well. They also include short summaries of the books. Do not let your child loose in a library or allow them to read a book by an author that you are unsure of. If in doubt, read it first. Much harm can be done by a book written to entrap a child's mind. One of your jobs as a parent is to be vigilant about what your child reads. However, do not let this extra work deter you. It is worth the effort to make sure that your children are reading quality literature.
“What if I don’t like to read?” If this is your question, then you simply have not found the right books yet! Keep trying. If you do not have the time to read all of the books yourself, then enlist the help of family members or discerning people in your church who enjoy reading. My mother used to preview books for my daughter when I was too busy. The result of your diligent effort is a child with an active imagination, strong character, and a great work ethic. There is no greater reward than that.
These are the sources that I personally use to help me find good books for my kids. I have printed the lists out and carried them to bookstores, used book sales, thrift shops, and anywhere else I may find books. Do not limit yourself to these sources…there are many other good helps out there.
Honey for a Child’s Heart – Gladys Hunt
Classical Christian Education Support Loop – 1000 Good Books List
Sonlight Homeschool Curriculum Book Lists
Classical Conversations Book Lists (I use this for seventh grade and above. Go to the Classical Conversations Challenge section. Next, look for the literature section under each level. Here is the link for seventh grade, or Challenge A.) http://www.classicalconversationsbooks.com/chli.html
I cannot vouch for every book listed in these books lists, but these are the sources that I rely on to help me to choose age-appropriate, character-building literature for my children. When in doubt, I always read them first.
Written by Kristine Lien,
missionary wife and homeschooling mom serving the Lord in Indonesia.