C.S. Lewis wrote that “a children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.”
I have spent a great deal of time reading to the kids this summer, so I thought I would share a few of my favorite children’s books with you. During each story, we learned about (on a kindergarten level, of course) plot and foreshadow by trying to guess what would happen next, as well as tried to understand and empathize with the characters and discern what lessons could be learned from the story. We read far more than the books on this list, but these were the ones that particularly touched my heart and that I thought were very well written and/or illustrated. Enjoy!
You are Special, by Max Lucado
- A sweet story relating God’s love for us and the importance of finding our value in Him. The kids appreciated the giving of stickers because they receive stickers for good behavior.
Just In Case you Ever Wonder, by Max Lucado
- These are the words of a parent to a child telling the child how valued and loved she is. It was actually really heartbreaking to read this to children whose birth parents are either dead or could not take care of them. In fact, a few of our kids are abandonment cases. I didn’t want the children to hear these words and feel like they weren’t loved in the same way. We discussed how they are loved by their aunties, the Morrow family, and above all by God.
The Adam Raccoon Series, by Glen Keane
- I’d never heard of Adam Raccoon before I came to Zambia, and now I am absolutely in love with him. The stories feature an unruly little raccoon who children can easily relate to and who lives in the Master’s Wood, which is ruled by King Aren, a lion who symbolizes God. King Aren perpetually proves his love to Adam by rescuing him from his own messes and teaching him important lessons. It is absolutely adorable and so, so sweet.
I Love My New Toy, by Mo Willems
- This picture book doesn’t have a Christian theme, but is lots of fun to read aloud. It provides an opportunity for discussing emotions and social interactions.
I’ll Always Love You, by Paeony Lewis
- Again, this story is about a mother confirming her love for her child, even when the child does something wrong. We discussed how the aunties, the Morrows, and God loves us even when we do something wrong, and how we should love others in the same way.
Olivia Saves the Circus, by Ian Falconer
- The Olivia series is just cute all of the time. The illustrations are very well done, with bright reds contrasting with grays, whites, and blacks. We talked about imagination and lying.
The Giving Tree, Shel Silverstein
- This has long been a favorite of mine, although I’m not sure they kids were huge fans. We talked about different stages of life and, as usual, love.
- Any and all Dr. Seuss I could get my hands on. Hop on Pop, The Cat in the Hat – I even recited “What Was I Scared Of” from memory, having learned it by heart after reading it to my 4-year-old sister every night for a month straight. We talked about rhyming and made up rhymes of our own.
I Promise I’ll Find You, by Heather Patricia Wood
- I can’t get away from these stories about love! This one makes me cry every time. The mother tells the child that she will always find him, no matter what.
I also read to the first graders at naptime every day. We made our way through chapter books and learned, in more detail, about characterization, plot, and foreshadowing. Being read to aloud also builds language skills.
The first book we read was Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White. I’d never read it before and fell in love with the characters. I had no idea it was so funny or sweet, or so deep. The discussion on the brevity and point of life is far beyond the grasp of a first grader, but I loved it. Living around goats, chickens, ducks, pigs, rats, and lots and lots of spiders made the book relatable to the kids.
We next read two of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books. You can read about The Horse and His Boy here. We also read The Silver Chair, which was a bit too complex for their reading comprehension level, but which they still enjoyed. Johnny is obsessed with princes, and they all loved the chapters with the giants.
But my absolute favorite book to read to the kids was Sally Lloyd-Jones’ children’s bible, entitled The Jesus Storybook Bible. Every parent’s shelf should boast this work of art, in my humble opinion. The illustrations are simple and precocious, but it is the writing that makes this book so valuable. The stories are divided into chapters and Sally Lloyd-Jones paraphrases the stories, translating it into ways that small children can understand, sometimes quoting directly from scripture. She highlights the underlying theme of Bible that points to Jesus by finishing each story and connecting it to a greater story of God’s redemption of his children. Frankly, many adults could gain a deeper understanding of theology by reading this book. And yes, it made me cry.
I hope and pray that these kids grow up craving literature in the same way I did. It is just about the best thing that can be done for their education.