Do you remember your parents reading aloud to you? I certainly do and I loved it. And in seventh grade, Miss Mahoney’s read aloud inspired us to be good-as-gold so as not to risk missing out on the latest chapter. Twenty-five kids would sit mesmerized as she read to us for fifteen minutes a day. Studies have shown that reading aloud increases the vocabulary and writing skills of young listeners in addition to creating an intimate experience for all participants. We didn’t know anything about that; we just knew that this was an oasis in the day where we were transported to someplace in our imaginations, and we loved it.
Parents should choose a book that is a above the reading level of their listeners with content that will interest them. This stretches the child beyond his or her own capabilities and inspires them to improve so that they can read more challenging books themselves. Often, children’s reading ability lags behind their intellectual capacity so they are bored by books available to them. By introducing them to more complex stories that are beautifully written, they develop a taste for excellence that will lead them to become lifelong readers.
Recently I came across a book I first enjoyed when my children were young, The Mysteries of Life in Children’s Literature by Mitchell Kalpakgian. The author explores themes in classic literature and parents can readily see how this opens up countless opportunities to teach their children about the most important things in life. Kalpakgian’s selections are older books with more complex language than most children’s books published more recently, but they are classics for a reason. The author argues that children’s literature changed as an effect of the sexual revolution because children are no longer valued as they once were.
As stories, children’s classics depict universal truths which apply to all people in all times in all places. Folk tales and fairy tales are the common heritage of all civilized cultures, and the experience of childhood links all nations. The themes in children’s literature – the home and family, friendships, and play – speak to all peoples. The moral truths found in Aesop’s Fables are as valid today as in the days of ancient Greece. The nursery rhymes that amuse Diamond’s baby brother [from At the Back of the North Wind] are the same ones that have delighted generations of children. The universality of great books and classics, however, is called into question in a “politically correct” environment that judges all experience in terms of gender, race, and class.
Another book with similar themes for parents to consider is Michael O’Brien’s A Landscape with Dragons. O’Brien discusses some of the ways in which literature instructs and informs young minds and how traditional symbolism is important. He is critical of some modern children’s books that intentionally challenge tradition, arguing that this blurs the line between good and bad, right and wrong. There is much food for thought in this book that will certainly have you taking a closer look at what your children are reading.
Reading aloud is time consuming when parents – and children – have full schedules. However, this is truly “quality time,” a special time for parents and kids to bond, and a time for parents to gently carry out their responsibility as first educators of their children. Perhaps you could take on the project of reading during Lent – dial back on TV and social media and use the time to inspire your children to great things through great books.
Authors to look for include C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkein, Robert Louis Stevenson, A. A. Milne, Christina Rossetti, George MacDonald, Natalie Savage Carlson… these are just a few that come to mind, but I have been out of this game for awhile. Do any readers have suggestions?