Summer Reading for Kids
Turn off the electronics and turn your kids on to summer reading. Authors Barbara Rainey and Tracy Lane help capture the imagination of far-away places as they share their favorite reads and offer practical tips on how to engage young children as well as teens.
About the Guest
Barbara Rainey and Tracy Lane help capture the imagination of far-away places as they share their favorite reads and offer practical tips on how to engage young children as well as teens.
Summer Reading for Kids
Bob: Does your family ever turn off your gadgets / turn off the TV, sit down together, and listen as somebody reads from a book? Barbara Rainey says when she was raising her children—that was a family highlight.
Barbara: We sat on the couch. I was in the middle, and I had two kids on my right and two kids on my left. We read our way through all of those Little House books. I remember, I would read a chapter and the kids would go, “Can we read another one?!” I just—that memory is one of my favorites of our time raising kids, because we were all participating in the same thing. It’s a real treasure to me; and I think it was a treasure, at the time, to our kids, too; because we all participated in the same thing.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, June 1st. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. As you’re beginning to make plans for how you will spend the summer together, as a family, where is reading on that list?
We’ll talk more about it today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I have a quiz to start our program today, and it’s for you and for our guests. Do you want to introduce our guests?—and then I’ll get to the quiz here.
Dennis: Yes; Tracy Lane joins us. Tracy works with Ever Thine Home®, which is a ministry of FamilyLife. She’s been working with us, here, for five years—working with Barbara. She has two children, ages five and three. She’s our resident expert on the younger generation coming up. Tracy, welcome to the broadcast.
Tracy: Thank you. I’m happy to be here with y’all today.
Dennis: And my wife Barbara also joins us—mom of six; actually, 12 now, because we’ve grafted in a bunch—[Laughter]—through marriage.
Bob: Barbara, welcome back.
Barbara: Thank you, Bob.
Bob: Okay; here’s how our quiz is going to work. It’s open competition. I’m going to read—
Dennis: So this is competition?
Bob: This is competition. We’ll see who can get it first. I’m going to read—
Barbara: Do we have a buzzer?
Bob: Just buzz in with a “Bzzzz!” when you know. [Laughter] I’m going to read the first part of a book that I think everybody in the room has read before. I’ll see how many words it takes before you can identify the book I’m reading; okay?
Bob: I’m going to start reading—I’m just going to read a line at a time. When you think you know, buzz in. Here we go: “In the great, green room—
Tracy: Oooh! Me!
Dennis: Was that a buzz? [Laughter]
Tracy: That was a buzz!—“Bzzzz!”
Dennis: That was an “Oooh!”
Bob: Wait! Both of you are getting it? [Laughter] “In the great, green room”—you know the book I’m talking about?
Barbara: Yes: “…there was a telephone and a red balloon.”
Bob: “And a picture of the cow jumping over the moon.”
Barbara: “…over the moon”; right! [Laughter]
Dennis: Good Night, Moon.
Barbara: Good Night, Moon!
Bob: That’s right. Well, it took you more than the first line!
Dennis: I beat them! I beat them!
Bob: They had it on the first line. [Laughter]
Tracy: We have three copies of that in our house.
Barbara: Yes; we do too. [Laughter]
Bob: It has got to be the universal—don’t you think everybody in America has read Good Night, Moon by this point?
Barbara: I hope they have. If they haven’t, they’re missing out on a lot. It was one of my favorite books to read to my kids.
Dennis: When I read it, I often wondered, “Why has this become an evergreen?”
Tracy: I know; right?
Bob: Why did you love it so much?
Barbara: Well, I love the simplicity. I also love the fact that the little, tiny mouse moved every single page—he’s always in a different place. Each consecutive spread of the pages, it gets a little bit darker and a little bit darker so that, at the end, it’s dark; and the bunny is asleep.
Bob: Well, we’re not here to celebrate the virtues of Good Night, Moon, although we could do that. We could wax poetic on that for a while.
Bob: But we’re here to talk about the value / the importance—the need for more reading going on at your house this summer; right?
Dennis: Turn off the electronics, open a good book, and lead your children in reading some great literature.
If I have any passion about this, I have to say it was grafted into me through marriage more than 44 years ago by my bride, Barbara. This is really something that she feels strongly about.
Bob: Were you read to, as a child, growing up?
Barbara: Yes; I was. My mom read nursery rhymes, and she read a lot of books to us when we were little. I don’t remember her reading to us once we learned to read on our own. I remember, however, when I was in elementary school and in junior high, walking to the library in the summer; because we lived in a small enough town I could walk in to the library and walk back home. I would come home with arm-loads of books, week after week after week. I would perch myself up on the carpeted stairs, leaning up against the wall with my knees bent. I would read, and read, and read. She would climb over me, going, “I’m coming down with laundry!” And then, I had another place on a favorite chair that I would sit, with my legs hanging over the arm of a chair, and I would read, and read, and read.
It was just my happy place—it was a way to imagine another world. I just loved reading. So when I had our kids, I couldn’t wait to start reading to them.
Bob: You sound like Belle from Beauty and the Beast; right?—with her armful of books going home.
Tracy, were you read to, as a child?
Tracy: Yes; we were read to daily and nightly. That was something that my mom did all of the time with us. She loved to read, and she thought it was important for us to learn to read. Even from the time I was young—I am the oldest girl of seven—and so it was my job to read to the younger ones as they came along. That was a really sweet experience for me too. I loved reading so much that I got an English degree in college. What my mom did for us really influenced—even my career today.
Bob: And I would have to say: “I think that people who are writers—both of you are writers—you don’t start being a writer. You start being a reader before you’re ever a writer.” Anybody who’s a good writer is a good reader; aren’t they?
Barbara: I think that’s really true.
I wouldn’t have thought of that when I was reading books, as a child; because I had no ambitions, ever really, of being a writer; but I did love to read. When I read really good books, they inspire me to want to write; and to want to craft really well-written sentences; and communicate thoughts in interesting, creative ways. Reading does that for me.
Bob: Why do you think reading was such a big deal for you, as a child? Why did you crave it so much? Why weren’t you watching TV?
Barbara: I much preferred going off into the world of a book and imagining the scene, and the people, and what it all looked like. That was much more entertaining to me than something on the screen.
Bob: And for you, Tracy?—same thing?
Tracy: Yes; I mean, TV is fine—we watched some TV, growing up; but in reading a book, you get to create your own reality. In a TV show, it’s created for you.
Tracy: When you’re turning the pages, you’re wondering how it’s going to end. You can make up some of that in your mind as you read. You can picture what those characters look like.
The book really allowed me to be imaginative and creative and be more a part of the story as it unfolded.
Dennis: You have to wonder, today, with children growing up with so many entertainment options—
Bob: —so many screens.
Dennis: Yes; that you wonder if their imagination doesn’t really have a chance to be cultivated and grown. I think it’s really healthy to take the electronics away—turn off the TV / turn off all of the noise—and just say to a child, “Why don’t we just sit and read a book together?” or “Why don’t you go to your room and enjoy a good book?” Do you do that with your children?
Tracy: Yes; I do. I learned that from my mom. What she did with us was really great. We would have to read 30 minutes to earn a 30-minute TV or screen ticket. There weren’t iPhones® and all of that when I was growing up in the ‘80s; but 30 minutes of reading equaled 30 minutes of some type of electronic use.
Bob: If you wanted Full House, you were going to have to read for 30 minutes to watch Full House. [Laughter]
Tracy: Right! And I very much enjoyed Full House—so I would read for that. [Laughter] Saved by the Bell—I sure would turn in my reading tickets. [Laughter]
Tracy: But a lot of times, what happened was—I would get too into reading and, by then, I didn’t care about what was on TV.
Dennis: I would like to suggest that both of you, as moms, make a list of the top ten books that you would read to children: maybe pick a few for young ones, under five / five and under; and then elementary-aged children; and then teenage and junior high. We’ll put it on the website and point our listeners to a spot where they can get a summer reading list at that point.
Barbara: Tracy and I have been talking about that. We want to create some suggested reading lists for parents to use, because there are so many great books out there! I don’t know them all. Tracy probably doesn’t know them all. So we’re going to combine several different friends that we know.
We’re going to create some reading lists for kids who are five and under; for elementary kids; you know, middle schoolers; and high school kids.
Bob: Well, and that’s important; because there are some books out today that moms and dads need to be aware of. They may be very popular, but they may not be books that you want your kids to read; because there are some themes, particularly in what’s called “YA”—young adult literature—
Bob: —some themes that can be really dark—
Dennis: You think?
Bob: —or really destructive.
Barbara: Yes; so it helps to have a suggested list, because that way moms and dads can look at a list and say: “Here’s an alternative. Instead of reading that book, I want you to read this book.” As Tracy’s mom did, she created tickets; and the kids got rewards. We paid our kids for reading books in the summer. I don’t remember how much. Do you?
Barbara: But we did. We rewarded them in some way. I remember paying them money, which meant a lot to them, to have extra spending money.
Dennis: To the point of literature being dark or inappropriate for kids, this means parents need to be involved, especially as the children check into grade school, junior high, and high school.
You need to pay attention to what they’re being asked to read.
Dennis: I’ll never forget having a parent-teacher meeting. I think we took our son to the meeting. In a way, it was for the purpose of making sure we were appropriately kind to the teacher. We didn’t go beat her up / we didn’t go pull out our Bible and thump her on the head, but we had a very healthy conversation there. She ended up giving our son a different book to read.
Barbara: And I think that’s really important; because it just illustrates that parents need to be engaged, and they need to be intentional. You don’t have to read every book with your child; but I think it’s important, if your child does get a book at school—a lot of schools have summer reading lists for the school too—you just need to look at what those are. If you’re not sure what the content is, pick it up and read it yourself.
Bob: So one of my kids sent me a video the other day.
Dennis: Now your children are all adults.
Bob: They’re all adults. All of them are married, and four out of the five have kids.
This was our son, John, and his wife Katie. They sent me a video of their son, John, who was sitting on his Uncle Tim’s lap—Tim’s not a real uncle / he’s just kind of a pretend uncle. Uncle Tim was reading John a book, and John is just shy of his first birthday. Of course, I’m watching this. I’m watching my grandson, who can’t understand a thing that Uncle Tim is saying, as he’s reading this book. He’s just kind of grabbing at the pages, and Uncle Tim is having to fight his way through it. You think, “This is cute, but is that really accomplishing anything?” There’s something really being accomplished, even with a one-year-old sitting on your lap and hearing your voice read a book!
Barbara: Well, there’s a lot that happens in that moment. You transfer security, because you’re sitting with your child on your lap. You’re teaching him to be still. You’re teaching him or her to look at pictures and to pay attention to the rhythm, especially if it’s a rhyme.
Kids love rhyming books, and I did too. So there’s a lot to be gained from even those preschool, pre-reading opportunities to read to your kids, which is why we loved reading Good Night, Moon. The repetition of that—the pictures in that book—created a really great bond between me and our kids; and you, too, when you read it to our kids.
Dennis: Yes; the problem with Good Night, Moon, though—they became so familiar with the book that, when it was a long day, and I arrived home—
Barbara: [Laughing] You wanted to skip pages!
Dennis: I wanted a picture book so I could skip a page or two and get to the “Good night.”
Bob: Come on! Good Night, Moon has got maybe 50 words total! [Laughter] You couldn’t hack 50 words?!
Dennis: I’m telling you!—I was tired, Bob!
Bob: It had been a long day! [Laughter]
Dennis: I was tired!
Bob: Alright; alright.
Barbara: Yes; you did like to skip pages occasionally.
Dennis: I did! What about you, Tracy?
Tracy: I’ve been there.
Dennis: Thank you! [Laughter]
Bob: But I used to have fun doing that, because our kids do become so familiar with these books that I would change words.
I would say, “And then the caterpillar came in…” And they would say: “No! No, Dad!”
Barbara: “It doesn’t say ‘caterpillar!’”
Bob: “There’s no caterpillar in this story!” So I’d have fun doing that. It is interesting—I had one of my kids write me, not long ago, and said, “I’ve started reading The Chronicles of Narnia to our kids.” This child said, “Every time I read it, I can hear you in my head, doing the character voices like you used to do at bedtime.” [Laughter]
That was—at our house, that was bedtime. I read to the kids every night at bedtime. I figured, by that time of day, if Mary Ann hadn’t had a break, that’s when the break needed to happen. So, from the time Amy was probably two years old, until maybe she was 12 or 13, pretty much every night was a chapter of something / sometimes, two chapters of something. I now know Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms. I now know Anne of Green Gables. I now know all the Little Women and the Little Men. [Laughter]
I’ve been through all of those stories, in addition to things like The Chronicles of Narnia and the great books by George MacDonald—the great fairytale books that he wrote as well.
Barbara: Yes; I remember very well reading the Little House on the Prairie series to my kids when they were all elementary and maybe middle school ages. I have this mental picture, because we sat in the same place every afternoon—and it was one summer. We sat on the couch. I was in the middle, and I had two kids on my right and two kids on my left; and we read our way through all of those Little House books. I remember—I would read a chapter and the kids would go, “Can we read another one?!” And I would go: “Yes! Let’s!” because I liked it as much as they did.
As long as the two youngest ones were still napping upstairs, we could read until they woke up. That memory is one of my favorites of our time raising kids, because we were all participating in the same thing. We were all experiencing the same emotions. I mean, I remember crying through those books together, and talking about why these things happened and how they felt.
It’s a real treasure to me; and I think it was a treasure, at the time, to our kids, too; because we all participated in the same thing.
Dennis: And the literature that you introduced them to—there are some classics—you mentioned George MacDonald; wasn’t that the guy who wrote The Princess and the Goblin?
Bob: Yes; yes.
Dennis: I remember reading that out loud. I was kind of where you were, Barbara—I was going: “This is really clever.
Dennis: “This is really amazing—how this guy thought this up.” This guy—wasn’t he a mentor of C.S. Lewis?
Dennis: He helped C.S. Lewis develop his imagination. You don’t know, but you may be training the next C.S. Lewis or Beatrix Potter to speak to the next generation of children.
Tracy: I think that’s what’s important about reading. It’s about a lot more than just the reading. We’re talking about the time together; and that’s what we’ve made it about in our home, especially since our kids are younger. That’s the rhythm of our day—when they go down for a nap, we read the books together / right before bedtime, we have three books.
They get to pick three books each time, and then say the same prayer. That’s what they’re used to—you know, that’s our family time. That sets their expectations. That’s the time we all snuggle together on the bed—we all four get in the same bed. That’s what they look forward to.
Sometimes, I overlook that importance. If we miss it—if I say, “One book tonight,”—“Oh, no! [Laughter] That is not right! It is three books.” My husband works late some nights during his season—he’s a coach. If he’s not there, it’s not right. That’s really neat to see our kids accept that time and look forward to that time so much. Of course, they love the stories; but it’s about our family time together—making that a priority.
Bob: So if you were coaching a young mom with kids, anywhere from one-year-old up into the teen years—summertime is here—they’re heading into these months, and they would like to make sure reading is a part of what goes on in the summer. With younger kids, what would you recommend?
Barbara: One of the things I did is—I always put books in my kids’ beds when they went to bed, when they were still napping in the crib. Laura always went to bed with two or three books, and so did all of her older siblings when they were that age. They were familiar with books from the time they were little-bitty. They could sit up and look at those board books until I could come get them after they were awake. Start out letting them be around books. Let them have their own books. Let them turn their own pages, and become really familiar with the sensory experience of having a book and turning the pages.
I would also say, on the other end of the spectrum, when you’ve got teenagers—I just want to challenge parents that it’s not too late to read out loud to them. We tend to think that, once kids learn how to read on their own, that they can read on their own and we move on to the younger ones; or we just say: “Here’s a list of books. Go read on your own.”
I remember very, very clearly—another one of my favorite memories is reading to Laura and Deborah, our two youngest ones, when they were sophomores and juniors in high school. I read them The Hiding Place at night before bed.
I would read a chapter every night. I mean, they could have easily read the book on their own; but I climbed into bed, leaned against the headboard with them, and I read The Hiding Place. I have read the book myself three or four times before—so it wasn’t like it was a new book for me—but it was an important book for me. It was one that had marked my life when I was in college. I didn’t want to just hand that off to my kids and say, “Here’s a book you have to read.” I wanted to experience it with them! I wanted them to talk to me about it and ask questions.
So it really doesn’t matter what ages your kids are—whether they’re little-bitty and they’re still in the crib or whether they’re teenagers and in high school—I think reading together out loud—sitting on the couch, sitting on the bed, on a bean bag / it doesn’t matter—I think reading out loud together and sharing the experience of a book is an invaluable experience that you can’t get any other way with your family.
Bob: Okay; but I’m just imagining the mom, who says to her 15-year-old, “I’d like for us to read a book together this summer”; and the 15-year-old rolls her eyes—
Barbara: Of course, they’re going to roll their eyes!
Bob: —like, “Oh, Mom!” [Laughter] So the first night, the mom is there, reading. The 15-year-old is—eyes closed about half of the time.
Dennis: They’re listening.
Barbara: That’s okay!
Dennis: They’re listening.
Bob: And at the end of the chapter, the teenager goes, “Can I go now?” and you say, “Yes.” That mom’s going to think, “We’re not doing Chapter 2 tomorrow night.”
Barbara: Yes; but I think she needs to give it more than one night. [Laughter]
Dennis: I wouldn’t let the teenager bluff you out at that point.
Barbara: No! And if it’s a really good book like The Hiding Place or another book that’s equally exciting, or gripping, or raises questions about God and why He allows bad things to happen like the Holocaust—I mean, I just think those are really important conversations to have with your kids. A book is a great way to introduce that subject so that you can talk about those things, because your teenager is thinking about those questions anyway.
If you read a book together that addresses those questions, you may get some eye rolls for a few nights; but if the book is engaging enough, they’re going to start to pay attention; and they’ll start to go, “Oh, this isn’t so bad.” They might not say, “Thank you,” but—[Laughter]
Bob: You brought your copy of Honey for a Child’s Heart—
Barbara: I did.
Bob: —which you’ve had forever and ever.
Barbara: Yes; can’t you tell?
Bob: And—in fact, you brought two copies with you. Explain this book. We do have it available for our listeners—explain why they should get a copy.
Dennis: Not the original. We don’t have the original.
Bob: We don’t have the original.
Barbara: Yes; we don’t have the original. Yes; my original is pretty beat up and waterlogged from a few falls in the bathtub, probably. I loved this book when we were raising our kids; because, as I said earlier, I don’t know all of the good books that are out there. I know the books that I read—that I checked out of the library / I know the books that my mother read to me; but there were a lot of books that I missed when I was a kid, growing up.
I wanted to read some new ones to my kids that I didn’t get to read when I was a child. It was great fun for me to get this book and to get suggested titles. She talks a little bit about why she likes this [particular] book—why it’s good for kids to read it.
That’s a part of why I enjoyed reading with my children as much as they did, because I was reading books that I’d never read before either. We went on this journey together in reading books that I’d never read before.
Bob: Yes; I know you’ve recommended this book, for years, to moms. Of course, we’ve got it in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Our listeners can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com to get a copy of Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com.
You’ve written a whole series of books designed for parents and kids to read together / to read aloud, all designed to teach particular character qualities to your children. It’s the Growing Together series: Growing Together in Forgiveness; Growing Together in Courage; Growing Together in Truth. Again, our listeners can find these books available in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Go online to order at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-358-6329—
—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
The point of all of this—is find some good books / some good stories and read together this summer. If we can help point you to some great books and great stories, we’d be happy to do that.
I want you to know, we are encouraged, here at FamilyLife, by some of the trends that we have been seeing as folks are relating to our ministry. We’re seeing more and more people who are setting aside a weekend, joining us, attending a Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway. They’re seeing the importance of investing in their marriage, and they’re spending a weekend with us for the getaway. More people than ever are accessing articles and resources from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. There are more channels than ever / more ways than ever for folks to listen to this daily radio program—a lot of people listening on their devices / through the internet, streaming and downloading our programs.
What that tells us is that there is an increasing hunger for how to order your marriage and family around God’s Word—how to make it central to what your family is all about. That’s our goal here—we want to effectively develop godly marriages and families, because we believe godly marriages and families can change the world. And we’re grateful to those of you who support this ministry, who make all that we do here possible. More than 60 percent of the revenue we need to operate the ministry comes from donations from folks like you.
So, after you have set aside funds that you want to give to your local church—that ought to be your first giving priority—if there are additional funds available to help support ministry work, we hope you’ll consider supporting FamilyLife Today. It’s easy to do. You can donate online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY.
Or you can mail your donation to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; the zip code is 72223.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to talk—not about reading to your children—but about the importance and the benefits of taking time, as a grownup, to do a little reading. We’ll talk more with Barbara Rainey and Tracy Lane tomorrow. I hope you can be here for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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