If you know me at all, you know I love to read. And one of my aims as a mom is to share this love of reading with my children, and to hopefully pass it on to them, too. I take the view of Strickland Gillilan:
You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be —
I had a Mother who read to me.
And so we read together a lot. I love it. But I’m also pretty choosy when it comes to purchasing books. I don’t care to have the equivalent of Doritos and doughnuts lining our shelves; I’d rather fill them up with rich and beautiful tales that will feed and nourish our kids’ imagination.
So when I buy books, I look for three things: books that are written with vivid, beautiful language; books that tell wonderful stories; and books that show what it is to live virtuously.
Here are some of our favourites.
1. St. George & the Dragon by Margaret Hodges
The wonderful tale of Princess Una, who finds a courageous knight to fight the dragon that has been laying waste to her parents’ kingdom.
Arenda: “This is such a good story. Like Chesterton said, fairy tales give children a Saint George to slay the dragon. This story shows what evil looks like, but also gives children a noble victor over evil. And that truth – that good is stronger evil – is so beautiful! Plus the illustrations are gorgeous.”
James: “I like this book because Saint George fights the dragon, and the dragon breathes fire out and there’s lots of struggles.”
(Note: The Kitchen Knight by Margaret Hodges is a good companion book to this one.)
2. The Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall
The ox-cart man brings the fruit of his land to Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Arenda: “This story’s plot is pretty tame, but the great thing about it this book is the way it beautifully shows the resourcefulness of a pilgrim family. The ox-cart man’s and his family turn flax to linen, knit shawls from wool from their sheep, make candles and grow all sorts of food. There’s so much to admire!”
James: “I like that they pack up and that he sells his ox!”
3. Virginia Lee Burton books
This Virginia Lee Burton treasury includes Mike Mulligan (the story of a hard-working, old-fashioned steam shovel), The Little House (which I fondly remember from my childhood), and Katy and the Big Snow (the story of an industrious snowplow).
Arenda: “James likes these stories more than I do. But what I like about them is they have a fondness for the way things have been, instead of only appreciating what is flashy and new. And they show what it’s like to work hard.”
James: “Katy is my favourite. She has a bulldozer and a snowplow. Interesting!”
4. Obadiah the Bold by Brinton Turkle
Obadiah is terribly fond of his new brass spyglass and thinks he’d like to be a pirate when he grows up – until his father teaches him about true bravery.
Arenda: “Obadiah is a little Quaker pilgrim living on Nantucket Island. I like the formal but oh-so-loving relationship between Obadiah and his father who tells him about his courageous grandfather.”
James: “I like that Obadiah gets shoved into that closet.”
5. Little Red Riding Hood by Trina Schart Hyman
Little Red Riding Hood encounters a wolf on her way to her grandmother’s house.
Arenda: “We read lots of fairy tales to our kids! This is a somewhat grim version of Little Red Riding Hood seeing as the big, bad wolf eats her and her grandmother. But good triumphs in the end, plus there’s a great line about children obeying their parents (James has repeated LRRH’s line, “Yes, mother, I will do just as you tell me” quite often!). You can get lost in the lovely illustrations.”
James: “I like that the wolf eats Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother and that he doesn’t even say hello or anything, and that the huntsman kills the wolf.”
6. Beauty and the Beast by Marianna Mayer
Another lovely book that tells the tale of hard-working, kind-hearted Beauty, her lazy sisters, and a gruesome beast.
Arenda: “I just wish this version had illustrations on every page.”
James: “I like where he says, ‘I prowl for my food.'”
7. The Water of Life by Barbara Rogasky (based on a tale by the Brothers Grimm)
Three brothers search for the water of life to heal their dying father.
Arenda: “A tale of two wicked brothers and one good brother and their search for the water of life. Quite a neat little story with wonderful pictures.”
James: “I like that the dwarf tells the youngest one how to get the water of life because he is not too proud like his brothers were.”
8. My Book House series edited by Olive Beaupre Miller
Arenda: “The first book in this series is full of nursery rhymes, the sort that I could read to Alice. And the rest have stories and poems that grow increasingly complex and end with sections from Dickens and other wonderful writers. A series to grow up with.”
James: “I like that the fairies had given Ellie two wings and that every Sunday she would fly away.”
We’ve started reading a handful of longer chapter books as well, just reading a chapter or two a day. As long as they have illustrations on every other page or so, James is happy to listen to the story.
1. Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
Arenda: “This is the original Pinocchio story and it’s far different than anything I remember! It’s downright grim at times, like the part where assassins hang Pinocchio from a tree. But it’s quite a moving story, one that shows the slow progress of regeneration. Pinocchio is ‘born’ selfish and lazy, but he develops into a real boy, one who honours his father, is diligent in his studies and cares for others.”
James: “I like that he gets swallowed up by the whale!”
2. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
Arenda: “A lovely story of true friendship.”
James: “I like the part where Avery swings on the rope swing in the barn!”
3. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
Arenda: “Some of the best children’s books ever written. Beautiful language, romping adventures, plus sacrifice and honour and courage. Absolutely recommended, especially The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.”
James: “I like Aslan the best.”