In our house, it’s not often our boys pick up books unless it’s a last resort. Our eldest in particular leans more toward audiobooks. But we keep giving them books. We go to the library and bookstores, we listen to audiobooks on road trips, and I ask what they are reading regularly. Diverse perspectives are critical to our children’s growth (and ours, too!), so their dad and I encourage and model reading as just another thread in the fabric of daily life that can be expected at home.
Common stories, common hopes, common heroes. These are not strangers to the church. Bible stories, Godly Play, Sunday school, coffee hour, formation, sermons, the lectionary. Wherever you find them, the sharing of stories creates belonging, plants seeds of truth, grows empathy, and expands our understanding of the world, not only by showing us how the world works but what life feels like to others living in it.
Our lower school participated in a One School One Book this spring, and the experience of sharing a story so broadly was as magical as “Grinch Day,” an anticipated pajama day in December. We read Gooseberry Park over three weeks in February. Three-year-olds to eleven-year-olds, our faculty, and ideally the parents, too, all read the same text. We got to know Kona and Murray, Stumpy and Gwendolyn, and held our breath with every turn of the page that the baby squirrels would be reunited with their mother. For three-ish weeks, our campus shared a common hope. As the story resolved, we shared a common hero.
Movies do this for us too. A friend of mine taught a class on Film and the Bible. One of his lectures focused on the value of watching a movie with others: laughing together, crying together, cheering r for the same heroes and leering at the same villains. It feels good to feel with others. (This is part of why the echo chambers of social media and extreme views of politics today continue to attract and hold interest, but that’s a whole other post.)
Book recommendations with relatable stories to share:
The Lemonade War – Sibling rivalry, economics, and an integrity struggle spun into middle grade fiction
Because of Winn-Dixie – Loneliness is hard, but sometimes there’s some sweet in life to help us get through it
Hothead – Self-discipline is a struggle for all of us #amiright
Long Way Down – We live in a reactive world in a time when we need connection to help us respond to tragedy.
Books, sports, tv dramas, tragic disappearance… narratives are what bring us together. The marketing world will be the first to tell you that a good story sells. Stories throughout childhood help train our littles how to hope. They’re gonna need it; this is a hard and scary world.
The stories we share with kids or the stories they discover on their own also start to show them that life is full of challenges. After Jesus’ crucifixion, the disciples were faced with disappointment, shuffling around in despair. “Now what?” was the common refrain. Slowly, in the days between Easter and Pentecost, Jesus resurfaced again and again, sharing his story, fortifying hope for the disciples who could then pass on the story of their Messiah. The liturgy of our days is filled with hope. Oftentimes that is hope for others, and when we fall into harder times, hope for ourselves too.
I love the idea that part of church membership is being to be together in faith, but then also to havinghave a community who is there for your faith when you are struggling with it. Stories do this for us too—they remind us of dreams realized, battles won, challenging times seen through.
Book recommendations with hope that makes you hold your breath:
The Boys in the Boat (Young Readers Adaptation): The True Story of an American Team’s Epic Journey to Win Gold at the 1936 Olympics
Words on Fire – The banning of books isn’t a new idea
The broadening diversity of our literature both helps us to find heroes that look like us and also shows us that there isn’t one kind of hero. Heroes come from all faiths, geographies, families, and come in all sizes, of all ages, and speak many languages. Jesus was not the hero the Isrealites were looking for.
David vs. Goliath was our original underdog story. When we read, we meet new heroes we want to cheer for and support in their journey. As we encounter new friends in real life, we can cheer them on and support them in their life journeys too.
These characters also let us peek at a more vulnerable side of humanity than we often get from classmates and friends. I’m reading a book right now where the main character’s father loses his job, and we hear her inner dialog managing her expectations for her 10th birthday and family dinners weighed against the understanding that money is tight at home now.
Another character from a book I read recently lives at home with parents reminiscent of Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood, Matilda’s parents, from Roald Dahl’s Matilda. She spends the duration of the book trying to discover, “What are people for?” after realizing her parents may not be telling her everything there is to know about the world.
Heroes on a journey worth taking:
The Lightning Thief (and subsequent books in this series)
The Ghost’s Grave (Note: This book includes the use of guns on two occasions: 1-An eccentric relative shoots a bat. 2-A criminal threatens the main character with a gun. This book was written in the 1990’s when the idea of a gun was absurd rather than an everyday news story.)
Author’s Note: I have read all titles linked in this post. I linked to Barnes & Noble as they have made some strides recently to more closely market and run themselves as a local bookstore. When you can, buy small and local. They are also largely middle grade fiction, appealing to anywhere from 3rd graders on up- a couple of titles are skewed a bit older. These are also excellent read alouds if you can find time to do that as a family.