Matt and Annalise sprawled on the floor surrounded by Dover books, a pile of colored pencils and clean paper. Everybody settled, I put my finger in at the bookmark and opened to the day’s chapter.
This was at least the fourth time I’d read through The Chronicles of Narnia with my children. We were now on The Horse and Its Boy and I began to read about Shasta, an orphaned boy, who was meeting the Great Lion Aslan for the first time. It didn’t matter that I’d read this before because I saw with fresh eyes the beauty of C.S. Lewis’ allegory.
I’ve choked up more times that I can count when reading aloud to my kids. Try as I might, Aslan’s words caught in my throat:
“I was the lion.” And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. “I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”
“Then it was you who wounded Aravis?”
“It was I.”
“But what for?”
“Child,” said the Voice. “I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own.”
Thinking about my own story and my own wounds, I was really fighting the tears now. I let those words linger as Matt traced an English clipper ship and Annalise added an orange bird to her drawing.
Over the years, I’ve continued to read aloud to my kids even when they were reading on their own. In fact, we’ve read aloud all the way through high school.
Reading aloud has been one of the best things we’ve done. I owe it to my oldest’s kindergarten teacher, who suggested it in our first parent-teacher conference. I eventually read Jim Trelease’s classic The Read-Aloud Handbook who says reading aloud has multiple benefits.
Even aside from the academic perks, two reasons keep me reading aloud as a family:
First, reading books aloud gives us a shared experience.
We’ve explored foreign countries and cultures, historic battles and revolutions. We’ve looked at injustice, poverty, bitterness, grace and redemption. We’ve seen heroes and heroines triumph, discover, and overcome. Some books made us laugh, some made us tear up (mostly me) and most all have given us life lessons.
Second, read alouds can build character.
Books are the quietest and most constant of friends: they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers. ~ Charles W. Eliot
I’m choosy about our read aloud books. My favorites are those with themes of grace and forgiveness, pulling together as a family, overcoming hardship and blooming where you are planted. As we’ve grieved over the last three years, books have been another tool to help us deal with loss and suffering.
So I want to share our very favorite read aloud list. The books on this list met two criteria: we enjoyed them immensely and they have uplifting messages of grace, redemption, family, triumph or contentment.
Best Read Aloud List for Character
Heidi, Joanna Spyri (Unabridged. That goes for all on the list but especially Heidi. Abridged versions have edited out the forgiveness and redemption.)
Missionary Stories with the Millers (and all the Miller series), Mildred A. Martin
The Children’s Book of Virtues, William Bennett
Calls to Courage, Tim Kennedy (selected stories @ contentment, courage, responsibility. We read one each evening to the youngest.)
Little House in the Big Woods and the entire Little House series, Laura Ingalls Wilder
Swiss Family Robinson, Johann David Wyss
Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, Margaret Sidney
Freckles, Gene Stratton Porter (and other Gene Stratton Porter books)
Where the Red Fern Grows, Wilson Rawls
Carry on Mr. Bowditch, Jean Lee Latham
The Martyr of the Catacombs, Anonymous (Don’t let that stop you. Excellent book about the 1st century Christians of Rome.)
The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis
The Basket of Flowers, Christoph von Schmid
Mary Jones and Her Bible, ed. by Mark Hamby (this book inspired founding of British and Foreign Bible Society)
Hinds Feet on High Places, Hannah Hunard (second only to Heidi as my favorite on this list)
The Bronze Bow, Elizabeth George Speare
Twice Freed, Patricia St. John (fleshes out account of Philemon)
Treasures of the Snow (and others by Patricia St. John)
The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, Maria Von Trapp
Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
Christy, Catherine Marshall
The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom
Silas Marner, George Eliot
And for pure fun:
By the Great Horn Spoon, Sid Fleischmann
Cheaper by the Dozen (unabridged non-Disney version)
Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang (written by Ian Fleming of Bond fame, but gloriously different from the movie version)
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