I have always believed that it is very important to read to children. However, when Mr. Picciottoli recently asked me to respond to a request for books that help teach biblical values to grandchildren whose parents are not receptive to the Gospel, I was reminded of just how important it is. Reading picture books can both teach language skills and open doors for conversation about important things.
Here are a few of the books I recommended and why:
The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper teaches perseverance. Life is not always easy. Even as children, we learn this pretty early. In this book, we see the Little Engine refuse to give up even in the face of difficulties. There are children who come to first grade who have to work hard for everything they learn, and other children who come in already knowing a lot of the material. In some important ways, I think the children who come in already knowing that they have to work hard to learn are at an advantage over those who can coast through. Perseverance is both a virtue and an important ingredient for success in the long run, and this book can open up great discussions with young children about never giving up.
The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf teaches kids to be themselves and not go along with the crowd. Everybody wants to have friends and sometimes we even want friends enough to do things we don’t want to because others expect it of us. Ferdinand wasn’t like all the other bulls, and he didn’t think that was such a bad thing. God created everyone in His image as unique individuals. Children should understand from a very early age that it’s okay to be different. This book offers an opportunity to discuss this with children and to remind them that not everyone likes what they like or wants to do what they want to do. Just like Ferdinand preferred to sit and smell the flowers, which was very different from the other bulls, not every child likes to or has the ability to do the same things as other children. That doesn’t mean they aren’t as smart or as talented. It means that God created them differently but still in His image.
Corduroy and A Pocket for Corduroy by Don Freeman are about friendship. Corduroy is a teddy bear who has “always wanted a home.” His friend, Lisa, spends her hard-earned money to bring him home, create a cozy bed, and mend his overalls. This book shows children a true friend. Lisa loves Corduroy and does all she can to make him comfortable in his new home. Children are not always that kind of friend to each other. If we’re honest, neither are we as adults. If your child ever struggles with friendship, this book can give you a chance to talk to them about their role in friendships.
The Poky Little Puppy by Janette Sebring Lowrey is about obedience. This book was one of several books that I remember my grandparents keeping from my father’s childhood, and it has definitely stood the test of time. The Poky Little Puppy disobeys his mother by digging under the fence. He’s pretty sneaky and gets away with it for a while, but eventually he learns that disobedience comes with consequences. Most children would rather do what they want than obey their parents’ rules, especially when their parents are not directly watching them. This book provides opportunities to talk about disobedience and its costs.
Reading with children has so many benefits. Children who are read to build their vocabularies, often learn to read more easily, and learn to love books. Most importantly, they also learn to think. They learn to think about the world they live in and their relationship to it. When parents (and grandparents) take the time to read and discuss even simple picture books like these, they are helping their children to see their world through the lens of God’s Word.