Books to Shape a Child’s Life

[previously guest-posted on Holly Michael’s Writing Straight blog.]

When you read a book as a child it becomes part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your life does.” — Kathleen Kelly, played by Meg Ryan in the 1998 film, You’ve Got Mail

Anyone who read a book as a child, or was read to as a child, knows this is true. Childhood books shape our imagination and inspire our dreams of who we want to be: adventurous, noble, wise, kind, brave, strong, or funny.

Children's Books

(picture taken from Literacy, families and learning)

It’s because of this that my wife and I made it a point to read to each of our three children during their early years. As Christian parents, we wanted to shape their lives with a love for God, people, life, family and learning.

We chose classic books, average books, and books we just plain liked from our own childhood. It didn’t matter much if a book was really on their level or not; they simply enjoyed the read-n-cuddle time with Dad or Mom, and learned a lot as we explained concepts, vocabulary, and story lines. (I think our oldest was only four when I read Peter Pan to him.)

Books We Read to Our Kids

Here’s a selection of the books that shaped my kids (not in any particular order, nor in proper bibliographic form), and I recommend them to any parent.

•    Anything by Dr. Seuss — no one does silly-talk funner or betterer ;)
•    The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis — My kids loved these allegorical tales and they provide lots of opportunities for God-centered conversation.
•    Out of the Silent Planet, Lewis
•    Perelandra, Lewis – Believe it or not, this sci-fi take on the nature of evil provided a fascinating opportunity to discuss human sinfulness with my kids.
•    The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Beverly Cleary — my childhood favorite
•    The Trumpet of the Swan, E.B. White
•    The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
•    The Call of the Wild, Jack London
•    The Westminster Shorter Catechism in Modern English — I scheduled regular time to read and teach this wonderful summary of the Christian faith. No regrets.
•    The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien — another childhood favorite
•    A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula Le Guin
•    Dinotopia series — James Gurney. These are beautifully illustrated.
•    The King Without A Shadow — Christian allegory by R.C. Sproul
•    The Priest With Dirty Clothes — same as above, a wonderful explanation of the biblical teaching on the atonement Christ accomplished.
•    Plus these well-known titles: The Swiss Family Robinson, Robinson Crusoe, Stewart Little, Charlotte’s Web, Robin Hood, Pilgrim’s Progress (child’s version), Peter Pan

Books Our Kids Read to Us

In later years, our kids took to reading to the family during road trips. A good book makes the drive between Minneapolis and Atlanta go a lot faster! Here are a few that we enjoyed as a family.

•    The Gideon Trilogy, Linda Buckley Archer — British kids time travel to the past and meet up with bad guys  (cool!)
•    The Percy Jackson series, Rick Riordan
•    The Hunger Games series, Suzanne Collins — yes, we read them before we knew there would be a movie ;)
•    The Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling

Books We Want Our Kids to Read

I also give each of our kids a few books as High School graduation gifts (two down, one to go!). These books are gifts from my heart and represent my fatherly hopes for how they might understand the world and their place in it, how they might live life well, and find God ever-present and faithful in it.

•    Behind a Frowning Providence, John Murray — a short pamphlet dealing with suffering and God’s providential guidance of His world. Everyone suffers sooner or later, and I wanted my kids to know how to trust God’s fatherly care when the time comes.
•    Science and Evolution, Chuck Colson — an enlightening investigation of the Creation/Evolution debate.
•    The Life of a God-made Man, Dan Doriani — for my son, on a Biblical view of manhood.
•    Desiring God, John Piper — the most influential modern book of my life. It’s a treatise for a biblical worldview on this theme: “God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him.”
•    Knowing God, J. I. Packer — also 10 out of 10.
•    The Mark of a Man, Elisabeth Elliot. For my son and daughters.
•    Let Me Be a Woman, Elliot. For my daughters.

Books Will Shape A Child’s Life

What should reading to a child be, after all, other than an investment of love and wisdom in a young heart and mind? Of the many ways to shape a child’s life, and build a relationship with them, the selection and reading of good books is surely among the best.

I hope some of these books will enrich the children in your life as they have ours.

What are one or two books you can recommend for shaping a child’s life?

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