Remember the stories your parents read to you at bedtime?

One of my favorites was, Are You My Mother?, by P.D. Eastman, a classic children’s book. Just seeing the cover sends memories flooding back. Now I get the privilege of reading it—and other favorites like Goodnight Moon or Blueberries for Sal—to my grandchildren.

Reading a good book with a child nuzzled underneath your neck is magical. The child hangs on every new word found on the pages, while the adult absorbs every moment of cuddling such innocence. It creates a bond that is enjoyed as tattered pages are turned and the wonder of imagination and discovery is sparked by words, hand-drawn illustrations, and creative story lines.

As Gladys Hunt puts it in one of my favorite books about reading to children, Honey for a Child’s Heart, “Children don’t stumble onto good books by themselves; they must be introduced to the wonder of words put together in such a way that they spin out pure joy and magic.”

The importance of a good book

Being intentional is a parent’s job. We intentionally plan healthy meals, choose the best school, church, and play activities for our children’s growth. Selecting and reading the best books is equally important.

To introduce our children to the pleasure of words goes beyond the pure enjoyment of reading. Good books spark imagination and creativity. They teach, guide, and model excellence in wise living.

Even Proverbs speaks of this truth, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” What a delightful, happy parenting task this is.

One of my favorite parenting memories is the year we read all eight of the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Most afternoons I put my two littlest ones down for naps and the four big kids and I piled on the couch. Rebecca nestled on my lap; the others leaned in with heads on shoulders, legs folded snuggly into couch cushions.

Every time we ended a chapter, they begged for just one more. I often agreed because I loved reading these remarkable stories as much as my kids enjoyed hearing them. We laughed and cried together. And we bonded in those hours.

The overwhelming majority of that season of my life was filled with the hard work of meals, laundry, discipline, training, and endless messes to clean up. But our afternoons of reading were pure pleasure. They were an escape for all of us into another time and another world. Our souls were fed together.

They’re never too old

Reading magic isn’t over once your child is too big to climb up on your knees. When my youngest two were teens I sat with them against their twin bed headboards and read The Hiding Place to them, a chapter every night.

The Hiding Place, by Corrie ten Boom, tells about a family that hid Jews from the Nazis during World War II. A story like this—of courageous faith, of making right choices no matter what the cost—not only helps your children make their own faith decisions, it puts their own problems and normal teen angst into perspective. It’s hard to stay grumpy when you’re snuggled in a warm bed with clean sheets while listening to Corrie describe sleeping in wooden barracks on flea-infested straw in the Ravensbruck concentration camp.

This book prompted discussions about all kinds of big ideas because of the characters and messages that were presented in the story. I didn’t have to ask, “So what do you think about trusting God when it feels too unfair and too difficult?” They got to watch and feel and hear and see a real person live out her faith when it felt impossible.

All thanks to a well told story, kept alive in the pages of a book.

The power to evoke emotion and a sense of spiritual conviction

The right kind of books can give us the experience of words, which have power to evoke emotion and a sense of spiritual conviction. Well-written books will reinforce the values and morals you want to impart to your children. They help you parent well.

A good book “introduces us to people and places we wouldn’t ordinarily know. A good book is a magic gateway into a wider world of wonder, beauty, delight, and adventure,” Hunt says.

And don’t forget audio books. For many summers on our annual road trips to see grandparents we listened to The Chronicles of Narnia as a family as we rode in the car for hours on end. Time went by more quickly and we had far fewer squabbles to settle because everyone was absorbed in the adventures of Peter, Susan, Edmond, and Lucy.

Summertime is a great time to emphasize reading.  Your kids are home. You have the gift of precious extra hours together. And I know you need something to fill that time!

Here are some of the favorite books I read to my children, divided by age group:

Books for children age 2-6

  • Goodnight Moon (0-3), by Margaret Wise Brown
  • The Tale of Peter Rabbit and other Beatrix Potter books (2-4)
  • Mother Goose nursery rhymes (2-5)
  • Blueberries for Sal and Make Way for Ducklings, by Robert McCloskey
  • The Cat in the Hat (2-6), by Dr. Seuss
  • Madeline (rhyming book, 4-8), by Ludwig Bemelmans
  • A Child’s Garden of Verses (poems and rhymes, 2-6), by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Alexander and the Terrible No Good Very Bad Day (4-7+), by Judith Viorst
  • Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel

Books for children 7-12

  • Dr. Seuss books (the more advanced reading levels)
  • Amelia Bedelia books by Peggy Parish
  • Little House on the Prairie (series of 9 books) by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • Charlotte’s Web, The Trumpeter Swan, Stuart Little, by E.B.White
  • The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • The Princess and the Goblin, and The Princess and Curdie, by George MacDonald
  • The Chronicles of Narnia series (wonderful as audio books too), by C.S. Lewis
  • A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle
  • Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates, by Hans Christian Andersen

Books for children 13-17

  • The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings series, by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • The Hiding Place, by Corrie ten Boom
  • Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery (the 1985 TV series is also good)
  • God’s Smuggler, by Brother Andrew
  • Byzantium, by Stephen Lawhead
  • Nicholas and Alexandra, by Robert Massie

For more ideas, order Gladys Hunt’s book, Honey for a Child’s Heart or the version for teens, Honey for a Teen’s Heart. And check out your local library for incentives they may offer, carefully guiding your child’s book selections. Not all books are good books.

Copyright © 2017 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.