Of her own accord, my six-year-old daughter has just graduated to chapter books. We’ve dappled in them here and there over the past year or so, but now that she is a self-declared “BK”, or “Big Kid” (i.e. about to be Kindergarten graduate), she recently announced to me that she “doesn’t need a lot of pictures, mom.” She greatly delights in reading a chapter or two from a book a night. And I am enjoying the regimen immensely.
For one, it has been great fun to return to the beloved classics of my youth, to read them afresh from a different point of life experience and to cherish now, particularly, the story telling techniques and details. I find my appreciation for them has only grown over the years, and that I glean from them more and more truths relevant now to my “adult” life. This is one of the greatest gifts of good children’s literature: that it plants seeds which continue to grow and provide sustenance, refuge, sanctuary, healthy challenges, reference points and relevance for a lifetime.
And for another, nothing beats coming together (especially as a family) over books. It’s much like coming together over meals. Actually, the metaphor of sustenance is the same. And I find that after sharing and growing together in the Bible as a family, it is such a wonderful and deep experience to do the same with great works of literature, in age-appropriate steps.
It is also an exciting adventure to open new books, ones that have been recommended or discovered, but which I did not read as a child. Tucked beneath the covers, cricket song loud outside on these soft spring-into-summer nights, I savor the journey with my children.
In celebration of our family passage into the children’s chapter book, then, my children and I recently began our tradition of rummaging through book sales as a concerted effort together. We are particular suckers for tucked away bookstores, school fairs, bargain bins, garage sales and used book deposits. To our eyes, these are not mundane places or events to be nonchalantly passed by. Rather, they represent potential portals into magical kingdoms … rabbit holes and looking glasses, swirling cyclones and wardrobe doors … to be dropped into, to pass through, to emerge from … transformed.
The boys have taken to collecting spare change in tin cans, which they rattle noisily with great relish. They have yet to enter the chapter book attention span quotient (perhaps by college?) but they still manage unbridled glee at bringing along their carefully collected, if not exactly hard-earned cash (gathered from couch cushion and car floor sweepings, as well as administered by Grandpa and usually topped off by Grandma).
My more self-sufficient daughter now has a regular revenue stream from the tooth fairy. Her gapped smiled delight at spending her “earnings” on stories is contagious to see.
So, a few days ago, we visited our nearby Goodwill store, which (oh so happily!) has just accumulated a new and very extensive book section.
Here is a snippet about the thrift store chain that I overheard between my daughter, Victoria, and my one twin, William:
William: “Why do they call it the Good Will, sis?”
Victoria, matter-of-factly: “Because that’s where you find good stuff, Will. So it’s called the Good Will.”
William, very gravely: “Ohhhh.” Then he adds one of his usual hugs (he’s a big bear of a hugger), “Thanks sis!”
While the boys raced toy motorcycles they found on a nearby shelf, my daughter and I were on our hands and knees (an appropriate supplicant position, I think, for the scouting of reading to edify one’s soul) on the dusty floor of this indeed very Good Will, ferreting out children’s titles that appealed. Victoria, who is still at the stage of “judging a book by its cover,” naturally gravitated toward gilded print and intricately embellished designs. In particular, anything with a princess on it has her jumping up and down in glee. Toss in a unicorn, and, well, she’s positively drooling.
To our great fortune, a copy of George Macdonald’s The Princess and the Goblin surfaced from our digging … and with, yes, you guessed it … a princess on the cover. The copy contains copies of the original Victorian illustrations. An absolute treasure trove for 50 cents!
We remain in search of the ever elusive unicorn …
Victoriously with Victoria, I also brought home a copy of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and an absolutely beautiful hardback edition of Louisa May Alcott’s Eight Cousins. These were supplemented by The Chronicles of Narnia thoughtfully given to us as a baby gift and now unearthed from storage with much anticipation. Anne of Green Gables and Black Beauty also bedeck our bunk beds.
With ceremonious care, my daughter stacked her newly acquired treasures on her nightstand, nestling them among countless horse artifacts, a couple Barbie mermaids, and the remains of her hoarded Easter chocolate stash.
“Hey, look, mom!” she smiled at me, lisping through her missing bottom teeth, “I have books by my bed like you.”
“You’ve always had books by your bed, honey,” I laughed, pointing out her little shelf on which we keep some children’s books handy for reading, and the rotation of books borrowed from school and the library.
“But these books are different, mom. They are like yours and dad’s. They are BIG. They have chapters!” she breathed the exclamation with a certain holiness – not only the effect, I would say, of missing teeth.
Chapters. I love how they build suspense. How they careen you into and through a story. I love how they segment the action into bite-sized pieces, to be savored and swallowed, and fully digested. I love how they dole out the pleasure one delicious spoonful at a time. I love the opening of that fresh first chapter into a new world … how that final chapter – oh! – brings it all together and makes you close the book with a satisfied sigh, a natural slowing emphasis of the voice. How it leads to a feeling incomparable to anything else, and that can only be attained by having been earned … through the patience, compassion, diligence, discipline of reading to the very end.
How the act of reading a book itself promotes the fruits of the spirit.
Finishing a book, indeed fulfilling the righteous longing for story, is sweet to the soul (Proverbs 13:19).
And the delight is such a wonderful reminder of God’s good will.
My invitation to you:
Whether or not you have children … whether or not the children you have are of this young chapter book reading age or not … I invite you to join our table (or, our nightstand) as summer crests on our family reading horizon.
Each week, for the next few weeks leading into summer, I will post a reflection, thought, favourite passage or line, for our consideration as we read these children’s classics but glean truths edifying for all ages. I hope you will join us in enjoying them with your own inner or outer child J
If you’ve read it before and/or enjoyed it with children to boot, I would love to hear your comments, the tale we are featuring that week, or wish to revisit it, join us for the adventure and I will share our journey through the pages together here.
I would also appreciate any tips for riveting squirmy younger children (insert twin boys here) without as many illustrations to fall back on.
And if you have additional suggestions for good children’s chapter books – classics you’ve cherished, or lesser known treasures you’ve discovered and enjoyed – please share them here! I will compose a master list for summer chapter book reading with our little-ones-their-way-to-being-big-in-God. Then I will post it here.
God bless as you grow chapter by chapter in His great story!