Author’s note: a few of my personal favorite chapter books and/or authors are represented in the photo. Many of them showed up again in the survey we conducted. What are YOUR family’s favorite chapter books and authors to read aloud together? Please comment below, and help our community meet some new book friends!
Orthodox Christian parents want to instill the values of our faith into our children’s lives. We desire to protect them from the deception that is so prevalent in our culture while also teaching them to live as Orthodox Christians in that culture. How can we do this? One way to work at this is by reading books together and guiding natural discussions that can come about as a result of that reading.
There are many wonderful Orthodox books out there for kids, and more are constantly being produced. We are blessed to be raising children in this time period, for there are more Orthodox Christian resources available to English-speaking children now than ever before. We need to take advantage of these helpful resources and provide them for our children!
It is also important that we not limit our reading to Orthodox books. We are not living in an exclusively Orthodox world, and we must teach our children how to live in the world without compromising their faith. One way we can teach them to do so is by reading together books that are not Orthodox, viewing what we read through the lens of our Faith, and then talking about it as a family. While we read we will have opportunities to show our children how we should always live our life: constantly bearing in mind what Christ taught us about how to live; what the Ten Commandments teach; what the Church Fathers have taught; and so on. We can then talk together about how the characters in the book are following or ignoring those teachings. These discussions can help our whole family learn how to apply the Faith through someone else’s (in this case, a fictional character’s) experiences. Nurturing our children’s Orthodox faith through books and ensuing discussions can help them to learn to look at all of life through the lens of our Faith, to evaluate their own life in its light, and to make choices that lead them towards Christ and His Church.
These discussions can happen with younger children and picture books. However, their value and importance increase as our children grow older. “Older children’s” books tend to deal with issues and characters’ choices that are even more conducive to these discussions. Bigger kids have bigger issues and tougher choices. Discussing those choices and issues in the context of a book character allows us to help our children shape their understanding of the Faith. Then, when similar situations arise in their own personal life, they already know what is the right thing to do.
The opportunity to teach our children how to apply the Faith intensifies the importance of finding time to read to them, even if they have “outgrown” picture books. We already know that reading to them increases their vocabulary and intelligence and that it is fun! But this may well be the best benefit of all: reading to our older children offers us a natural way to shape their understanding of the Faith by providing examples of how to apply it to their daily life.
Not sure what to read? Don’t worry! The respondents to our summer survey have given us a list of fabulous chapter books that can be read aloud to children. Some of these books are Orthodox, but many are not. We will share them below in alphabetical order by title. (Note: please bear in mind that you know what is best for your family, so some of these books may not be what they need to hear or what you wish to discuss with them. As always, please use your own best judgement for your family.)
“Basil’s Search for Miracles” by Heather Zydek is the story of a middle-school boy’s reawakening to the Faith through unusual circumstances related to an article he’s writing for his school newspaper. (Available many places, including here: http://bookstore.jordanville.org/9781888212860)
“Children’s Bible Reader” published by the American Bible Society. This Bible story book illustrated with icon-style pictures tells stories from the scriptures using words that children can understand. https://www.amazon.com/Orthodox-Childrens-Illustrated-American-Society/dp/1585168270
classic fairy tales – You can find fairy tales appropriate for children in the 398.2 section of the children’s department of your local library.
“The Five Little Peppers” (and the ensuing sequels) by Margaret Sidney tells the story of a family consisting of a mother and her five children who have fallen on hard times. They work diligently, love each other fiercely, give generously, and learn much as they rebuild their life together. https://www.amazon.com/gp/bookseries/B00CJDDPOO/ref=dp_st_1450558518
“Heidi” by Johanna Spyri is the story of an orphaned girl who goes to live with a crochety mountain man and turns his world around with her love for life. (Note: Spyri wrote many other wonderful children’s books as well.) https://www.amazon.com/Heidi-Childrens-Classics-Johanna-Spyri/dp/0517189674
“The Hobbit” and its sequels, including “Lord of the Rings” by J. R. R. Tolkien are all fantasy stories of an honest, “homebody” hobbit whose reluctant choice to join in on a quest begins a chain of events that lands him a very difficult, but very important, job. His adventures, (and the adventures of others after him that come about as a result of his adventures) enable him (and them) to help restore good and peace to their world. https://www.amazon.com/Hobbit-J-R-Tolkien/dp/054792822X
“Let the Little Children Come to Me” by Cornelia Horn and John W. Martens takes a look at childhood in the early church. http://cuapress.cua.edu/books/viewbook.cfm?Book=HOLL
“Miracles of the Orthodox Church” by Mary Efrosini Gregory is the story of Christ’s miracles and how they are continuing today. https://www.amazon.com/Miracles-Orthodox-Church-Original-Continue/dp/1933654244/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1476281097&sr=8-2&keywords=miracles+of+the+orthodox+church
“Mission in Christ’s Way” by Archbishop Anastasios of Albania is a collection of his essays on missions. https://holycrossbookstore.com/products/mission-in-christs-way?variant=697122139
“The Orthodox Study Bible” is the Bible, complete with footnotes written by Orthodox theologians. http://store.ancientfaith.com/osb-hardcover
“The Prologue from Ochrid” offers daily readings for Orthodox Christians, including the lives of the saints, homilies, and more. It can be found online at http://www.rocor.org.au/?page_id=925)
“Where the Red Fern Grows” by Wilson Rawls is the heartrending story of a boy and his coon dogs and their adventures in the Ozarks. https://www.amazon.com/Where-Fern-Grows-Wilson-Rawls/dp/0440412676
“A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeline L’Engle is the story of a family who works together across space and time to try to save their father. Sprinkled with science, this book allows its readers to learn while suspending disbelief. It is a true work of science fiction, and is the first in a series. https://www.amazon.com/Wrinkle-Time-Quintet/dp/0312367546
The following authors, publishers, and chapter book series were also recommended by those surveyed:
Beatrix Potter wrote and illustrated a delightful series of books about animals, from the animals’ perspective. https://www.amazon.com/Beatrix-Potter-Complete-Tales-Rabbit/dp/072325804X
The Chronicles of Narnia books by C.S. Lewis are beautifully told tales of high adventure and quests with strongly Christian overtones. https://www.amazon.com/Chronicles-Narnia-Box-Set-Lewis/dp/0061992887
George MacDonald was a prolific writer who “wrote for the child-like.” He wrote for all ages, but his children’s books can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_fb_1_25?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=george+macdonald+children%27s+classics&sprefix=george+macDonald+children%2Cstripbooks%2C285
The Harry Potter series of books by J. K. Rowling follows an orphaned boy through his wizard-schooling years as he learns how to surrender his own safety/security and use the gifts he’s been given for the good of others. http://harrypotterbooks.scholastic.com/books/original-series
Patricia St. John wrote many children’s books that bring the adventures and learnings of children in other parts of the world to life, in the context of Christian (though not Orthodox) life. Find one of her books, “Rainbow Garden,” (and links to others) here: https://www.amazon.com/Rainbow-Garden-Patricia-St-John-ebook/dp/0802400280/ref=sr_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1476285820&sr=1-7
Spiritual Fragrance Inc.’s books: This Orthodox publishing company features children’s books about Our Lord, His mother, and the saints. Find them here: http://spiritualfragranceinc.com/home/
Lois Lenski wrote (and illustrated) period-appropriate regional books that give the readers a taste of life in different regions of the USA in different time periods. Favorites include “Strawberry Girl” and “Indian Captive.” https://www.amazon.com/s?field-keywords=lois+lenski+books
“The Little House” books, semi-autographical books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, offer the readers a taste of life in the American frontier. “Little House in the Big Woods” introduces the reader to the Ingalls family and their adventures as they decide to leave Wisconsin and head west. The other books follow as the Ingalls girls grow up. http://www.littlehousebooks.com/
Thornton Burgess’ books about animals: especially “Jimmy Skunk”, “Bob White”, and “Peter Cottontail.” These simple chapter books were written with the intent of helping children appreciate nature and wildlife through stories in which the animals can talk and share their adventures. (Find a thorough list of his books here: http://www.thorntonburgess.org/PDF’s/Thornton%20Burgess%20Books.pdf)
Author’s additional recommendations:
This just in: this sweet chapter book tells the story of a boy named Sam who doesn’t want much to do with church or monasteries, and a corgi named Saucer who lives to herd, and how their stories entwine. The story is so believable (as long as the reader is willing to imagine that animals try to communicate their thoughts) that the reader feels as though she’s watching it unfold. The book has just the right touches of humor. The illustrations are few, but fit the book perfectly. This book is a great addition to any Orthodox Christian family’s bookshelf! http://store.ancientfaith.com/shepherding-sam/
“A Bear Called Paddington” and the ensuing sequels by Michael Bond. Paddington bear is found by the Brown family in London’s Paddington station after his Aunt Lucy cannot care for him any longer, so she ships him away from “deepest, darkest Peru” in hopes that he will have a better life. He gets into all sorts of mischief, usually completely by accident, throughout his life but is forgiven again and again, and remains much-loved by the Browns. https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062312181/a-bear-called-paddington
“Betsy Tacy” and the rest of the series by Maud Hart Lovelace offer readers the opportunity to grow along with Betsy and Tacy in small-town America at the turn of the 20th century. https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062095879/the-betsy-tacy-treasury
“The Bronze Bow” by Elizabeth George Speare offers its readers the opportunity to join a young man, Daniel bar Jamin, who is involved in the rebellion against the Romans in the time of Christ. What happens when he and his needy sister Leah come into contact with Christ Himself has the potential to be life-changing for them if they allow it to be. http://www.christianbook.com/the-bronze-bow-paperback/elizabeth-speare/9780395137192/pd/137195 (All of Speare’s historical ficion books are a wonderful way to learn about history in the context of a story.)
“Facing East” by Khouria Frederica Mathewes-Green gives readers a glimpse into the life of an Orthodox mission across the time span of one year. https://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0060654988/?tag=holycrossanti-20
The Prydain Series by Lloyd Alexander take readers on an adventure with Taran, a boy who knows little of his personal history except that he is an assistant pig keeper who dreams of grand adventure. Thrown into the journey of a lifetime in the very first book, “The Book of Three,” Taran learns the value of friendship and how to do the right thing even when it is impossibly hard. https://www.amazon.com/gp/bookseries/B00CKCWI2O/ref=dp_st_0805080481
“Queen Abigail the Wise” by Grace Brooks offers Orthodox girls a chapter book they can read and relate to! Abigail learns how to handle life as an Orthodox Christian, helped by her friends and her priest through all the adventures an Orthodox girl of today encounters in life. https://www.amazon.com/Queen-Abigail-Wise-Grace-Brooks/dp/1518600115/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=
Want even more ideas? Find a purely secular list (you will notice that some of them overlap with our lists) of the top 25 chapter books to read aloud here: