Great books are a source of moral, intellectual, and emotional development.
A couple of years ago I joined my local chapter of the “Well-Read Mom” book club, whose motto is simply “Read more, read well.” It’s a wonderful group of women who meet together regularly to discuss a book that is challenging in some way — perhaps in the moral dilemma the protagonist is facing, exposure to an unfamiliar genre, or just the challenge we all face to find the time and mental wherewithal to get through a meaty read! It’s a big-hearted, stimulating group where friendships develop and imaginations are stretched.
One unexpected result of reigniting my own love of literature — a love that lay dormant for quite a few years during the early stages of raising babies and toddlers — is that I’m finding myself more attuned to what my own kids are reading. I’ve become more sensitive to the need for my kids to be nurtured by good literature, too.
Many parents are happy if their kids are just reading, period. But there’s a case to be made for guiding them to be selective in what they read. It’s not enough to just read; what they read matters.
I remember my own childhood and the happy companions I found in Winnie the Pooh, Ramona and Beezus, Laura Ingalls, and others. As I explored literature more deeply in college, I was challenged by new ideas, and exposed to fascinating worlds I would never experience in my own life.
Good quality literature — even at the children’s level — can be a great source of moral, intellectual, and even emotional development. The late professor Alan Bloom, in his book The Closing of the American Mind, put it this way:
“The refinement of the mind’s eye that permits it to see the delicate distinctions among men, among their deeds and their motives, and constitutes real taste, is impossible without the assistance of literature in the grand style … It is a complex set of experiences that enables one to say so simply, ‘He is a Scrooge.’ Without literature, no such observations are possible and the fine art of comparison is lost” (pp. 61,64).
With options like Junie B. Jones, Captain Underpants, Barbie Fairy Princess and tween romances vying for our kids’ attention, it’s important to balance these types of selections with richer offerings. It’s true that graphic novels and popular movie-based books can be a good way to get reluctant readers to turn more pages. And reading just for the purpose of sheer entertainment or a good laugh can be a lot of fun. But a great book can offer so much more to a young person — a chance for a bigger worldview, greater sensitivity, and awareness of the diversity of people and life situations. It offers exposure to wild imaginations, as well as an intimate glimpse into the hearts and lives of others beyond our own immediate families.
Older kids and teens may resist attempts to read what mom or dad wants them to. (A great reason to introduce quality titles early on!) But even then, I think it’s worth trying to encourage some good titles. The right book at the right time can be life-changing.
My 14-year-old and I participated in a “mom & me” book club last summer, where I picked a title for us both to read, and then she picked one. She read Pride and Prejudice. I read The Hunger Games. The experience of just reading the same book and being able to discuss it together was enjoyable and strengthened our bond. She expanded her literary tastes, and I got a better understanding of what she’s drawn to. At any age, sharing the experience of a good book together with a child gives fuel for great conversation. Reading it aloud together is even better.
One of the perks of parenting is that you get to revisit old loved stories alongside your kids, and come to love new ones too! If you’re wondering how to find more great options for age-appropriate children’s books, there are some good resources available. Gladys Hunt’s beautiful Honey for a Child’s Heart and Honey for a Teen’s Heart, Vigen Guroian’s Tending the Heart of Virtue, and William Kilpatrick’s Books that Build Character offer many suggestions.
Many more book recommendations, and reviews, can be found on the websites listed below: