*Note: these notes/blogs are usually written in third person. This one, however, is personal in nature and therefore is written as a conversation with you, the reader. May the book suggestions bring you and your family at least as much joy as they have brought to mine!
Welcome to my backyard. Have a seat on my bench, and let me read you a story… Oops, maybe I should clear it off first!?! It is covered in dear friends: favorite books that our family has read aloud and loved. Some of them we’ve read more than once. Most of them have been read (and re-read) by my kids after we read them aloud to the family. I’ll tell you what: let me introduce you to them as I move them!
First, I’d like you to meet some of our family’s favorite picture books. From before my children were born, and throughout their childhood, I have read to them with great frequency. Even though both of my kids are teens now, they still enjoy hearing a great story. Once in a while, we even *still* read picture books together. Here is a sampling of our favorites:
It is great fun to learn about other cultures through their stories. I am especially drawn to folktales from those other cultures, so my kids have heard hundreds of folktales. Here are just a few examples of ones we have enjoyed:
Our family loves to laugh. We like the clever use of words in silly poetry. Here are a few of the books we’ve giggled over again and again. Some of them we still quote on a regular basis!
We have always read stories from the scriptures with our children. Books like these have been helpful to bring the stories to the kids’ level, telling them in ways the children were able to understand. Now that the children are teens, we daily read the Epistle and the Gospel as well as a saint’s story from a spiral-bound calendar from http://livesofthesaintscalendar.com/. Here are a sampling of Bible story books we read together when the children were younger:
We have read many Orthodox Christian books together along the way. Unfortunately for you, dear reader, we tend to lend these books out when we finish them… So, favored tomes such as “Facing East” and “The Scent of Holiness” are gracing other homes at the moment and could not be included in this photo. But we do currently have part of our great Orthodox read-aloud material still at home. Here are a few examples:
Probably the best loved of all the “friends” in that first picture are the chapter books. These have been read, re-read, and discussed from the time when our children were little through the present. These are stories, yes, but they also become springboards to discussion. Chapter books provide opportunities to delve into the lives of others and point out what they’ve done right and wrong, without judging another person. They offer the chance to strengthen our children’s faith as together we read about, discuss, and thereby learn from the characters and what happens to them in these books. (And apparently we are not alone! Listen to this podcast about how quality literature led an atheist into the Faith: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/recollectingglory/interview_with_holly_ordway!) Many of the friends pictured here are just one part of a series, all of which we have inhaled and lingered over. Have we loved them? Look at their book covers and decide for yourself:
Aaah! Now we can see the bench! Have a seat (pardon the sap drops from our pine tree)! I’d like to read you a story.
Which one should we read first?
Below are recommendations of individual books in each category. Which ones have you not yet read? Maybe you can get further ideas here:
Picture books are fun to read aloud, regardless of age. Adults enjoy them as much as kids do. Picture books are short and sweet, but they touch on themes from cause and effect to being yourself to “let’s just do something fun!” Pink and Say is a tender story of how true friends treat each other, regardless of their cultural background. Tacky the Penguin, Chrysanthemum, and A Porcupine Named Fluffy are examples of picture books about being the best you that you can be; even if your very NAME is different from others. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day allows the reader to see how to (or not to?) handle what you do when things go wrong. Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear? reassures children of their parents’ love and protection. Guess How Much I Love You? gives parents and children the opportunity to try to outlove each other. The myriad of “just for fun” books simply provide an opportunity for parents and kids to be together and laugh. Reading picture books aloud strengthens vocabulary and allows children to hear language; but best of all, it provides time for family bonding.
Folktales have been used by people of all cultures from the earliest times to explain things, teach history, and/or teach lessons. Folktales provide families with a delightful way to learn via story. For example, The Mitten is based on a Ukrainian folktale with the lesson that there’s always room for one more… maybe. Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock is one of a myriad of African/Caribbean stories about Anansi the spider-man and how he always tries to trick people (but does he succeed?!?). A great folk tale will teach the reader about the culture from which the tale comes while also entertaining the reader. Best of all, though, is the fact that folktales always teach a lesson of some sort!
Children’s poetry gives kids the opportunity to listen to and play with language. It also offers fun ways to learn things that kids need to learn. For example: Chicken Soup With Rice offers silly verses for each month of the year. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom includes the letters of the alphabet playing themselves, as main characters in the poem. Where the Sidewalk Ends is a goofy gathering of poetry that is so typical of Shel Silverstein; poems that border on ridiculous, full of clever wording and unsuspected endings. As a whole, cleverly written children’s poetry will expand the listeners’ vocabulary, help them to use their minds to anticipate forthcoming rhymes, and it will often make both the reader and the listeners laugh!
There are many Bible story books available to read aloud. For example, The Little Girls Bible Storybook for Mothers & Daughters (or the one for fathers & daughters; or the little boys’ Bible storybooks for each parent to share with their son) are a sweet way for individual parents to read and discuss Bible stories with their children. Find many other Bible story books at http://www.christianbook.com/page/bibles/childrens-bibles/bibles-storybooks. You could also read some Bible stories together online at http://theminiark.com/. Or let me read a Bible story to you: listen to this week’s Gospel re-telling or reading, voiced by the author of this week’s note/blog, at http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/letusattend.
The list of wonderful Orthodox Christian children’s books available to be read aloud keeps growing. Chief among them are stories about the saints. For example, Sweet Song, the Story of St. Romanos the Melodist is a beautiful picture book about the saint whose sweet voice was a gift from God one Christmas Eve. Many beautifully illustrated books about more recent saints such as St. Nectarios, St. John Maximovitch, Elder Paisios, and St. Seraphim of Sarov can be found at http://www.stnectariospress.com/st-nectarios-press-publications/. Other wonderful Orthodox read-alouds include the brand new From God To You: the Icon’s Journey to Your Heart, a wonderful read-aloud that helps Orthodox Christians of many different ages to learn about icons. Chapter books that make great Faith-enhancing read-alouds for Orthodox families include Basil’s Search for Miracles, the story of a middle school boy who finds his way to the Church through a series of articles he writes about miracles, for his parochial school’s newspaper. There are many wonderful Orthodox Christian books that families can read aloud together, and the list keeps growing, as Orthodox authors share their talents for God’s glory!
Great chapter books to read aloud as a family include The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; The Hobbit; and The Book of Three. Each of these books is but the first in a series, features characters on journeys, and has deep spiritual parallels. (Interestingly enough, the authors: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Lloyd Alexander were all friends!) Another chapter book to read aloud is Many Waters, a story in which modern-day twin boys are sent back through time to Noah’s family. Chapter books that exhibit great love among family members include The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, The Boxcar Children, and Sarah Plain and Tall, to name a few. There are far too many great read-aloud chapter books to list here: these are only a suggested starting place for the family who has not yet read them aloud yet!
As the Nativity season approaches, Orthodox families may want to consider reading aloud books that will help them to prepare for the Nativity. Here are a few Advent/Nativity books that can be helpful to that end:
Happy reading, everyone!