Toddlers and Stories

My daughter and I started a “family preschool” class this fall, and as part of the class we get to listen to a gifted storyteller share a Bible story a la Godly Play or Young Children and Worship.  It’s been an incredible experience thus far, and has provided me with lots of food for thought regarding how young children interact with stories in general and Scripture stories in particular.

For instance, after each story is told, the children (ages 2-4) are given the opportunity to do an art response.  The first week we heard the story of the circle of the church year, and in response my daughter drew a bunch of circles.  “A fluke!” I thought to myself.  I mean, come on, she’s barely 2 1/2.  The next week we heard the story of the creation of the world; my daughter drew a bunch of scribbles.  I figured she was just, well, scribbling, but I asked her anyway what she was drawing.  “The whole world,” she replied.  I was shocked – and I also realized that my assessment of her first drawing was wrong.  Another week, after hearing a story involving Abraham and Sarah, she told me she was drawing Sarah and God.  Yes, it all looks like a bunch of nonsensical scribbles.  But it’s not.  It means something to her, and now that I know that, it means something to me, too.

Being part of our family preschool class has given me a much greater respect for what’s going on inside my daughter’s young soul.  She may only be 2 1/2, but she’s really paying attention.  She listens.  She thinks.  She remembers.  She interacts with books and stories on a level much deeper than I usually giver her credit for.  Knowing this helps me pay more attention, not just to her art responses at preschool, but to the workings of her mind and soul day in and day out.

When we realize that children – even very young children – truly are whole persons, it affects all sorts of parenting and educational decisions.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on how it’s affected your own family.  One of the ways it’s affecting me right now is to (surprise, surprise) reinforce my desire to expose her to the very best that the world of kid lit has to offer.  If we think our kids as not being deeply engaged in their world, it won’t matter as much what they read.  If we assume it goes in one ear and out the other, who cares what goes in in the first place, right?  But if we know that they’re paying attention and reflecting on what’s going on around them, then it certainly does matter.  It’s why I tuck great booklists into our library bag and it’s also what keeps Sarah and I motivated to continue working on the Aslan’s Library project.  Our children are paying attention to what they hear; let’s honor that by giving them the very best stories we can find.

Stories Jesus Told

Stories Jesus Told - New Edition-001

Favorite Parables from the Bible: Stories Jesus Told
Nick Butterworth & Mick Inkpen
Zonderkidz, 2005/2012

I’ve been looking forward to this day for a long time.  It’s the first time we’re reviewing a book that was unknown to us until a reader brought it to our attention!  (Are you still there, Lynn?  If so, thanks!)  It’s a great opportunity to remind you all that Sarah and I love hearing from you.  Don’t hesitate to email us, especially if you know of a great book we should check out!

Stories Jesus Told is a compilation of 8 parable retellings that were originally published separately. The text is simple yet meaningful, which makes this small book (barely 7″x7″) a good choice for early readers ready to tackle books on their own.  It is equally good as a read aloud to toddlers and preschoolers; it’s a delight to read, not least because of illustrations done by award-winning illustrator Mick Inkpen (best known for his Kipper books).

“The Precious Pearl” is perhaps my favorite chapter in the collection.  Its illustrations are fun and whimsical without being irreverent and the storytelling is right on par.  Even though I knew how the parable ends, Nick Butterworth writes in such a way that piqued my curiosity and kept me turning pages.  Like Ella Lindvall, he does a great job of translating Christ’s parables for a young audience and yet this book felt as relevant to me as to my toddler.  That very quality is one of the things I love most about excellent theological kidlit, so you can be sure that this book is one of my new favorites!

Stories Jesus Told is out of print (it was reprinted in 2012!), but don’t let that stop you because there are lots of used copies available for very reasonable prices.  Below are links to the  individual volumes of the stories in this collection in case you’d prefer to buy them in that format.  I haven’t seen the shorter books in person, but I bet they’d be a great addition to the quiet bags that some churches set out for young children to peruse during services.

Food for Thought

As bloggers we alternate between book reviews of theological literature for kids and what we call food-for-thought posts, which is our format for thinking well about and discussing the intersection of faith, books, and children.  We touch on everything from celebrating the church year to spiritual formation to reading with children in general.  Below is an index of some of our favorite posts!

Aside from the topic of theological books for kids, we love to write about celebrating the church year at home.  Below are links to posts in that ongoing series.

Advent – Christmas – Epiphany

Lent – Easter – Pentecost

Ordinary Time

Podcast!

Read Aloud RevivalToday we’re over at the Read Aloud Revival podcast chatting with Sarah Mackenzie about reading with toddlers! Hop on over to hear what we sound like in real life, and if you’re not already familiar with that podcast you’re in for a real treat. Sarah has interviewed some great folks (Jim Weiss, Melissa Wiley, Sarah Clarkson…) about reading aloud with kids and I’ve loved listening to each episode.

If you’ve found us via the podcast, welcome! Our links at the top of the page are the best way to get to know us, so feel free to poke around a bit. We have over 100 reviews of theological kidlit in the archives as well as lots of “food for thought” posts. We mostly write about the dual importance of truth and beauty in books about God for children, but our second favorite topic is celebrating the church year at home. (Speaking of which, Lent starts soon and we have some great resources for that season here if you scroll down.) We’d love to have you join the ongoing conversation here, so please make yourselves at home.

On the podcast we didn’t talk much about reading distinctly theological books with toddlers, but if you’re curious about our favorites here’s a list to get you started.

One more thing! During the podcast I neglected to mention one of my favorite read aloud strategies for toddlers: tantrum intervention. We read aloud when everyone’s happy, of course, but I’ve also found that when I have a young child melting down, one of the best ways to encourage calming down is to simply pick up a book and start reading. If you ask if they want to read a book they’ll scream “Noooo!” but if you just do it… Magic.  🙂

RAR 19

I Heard Good News Today

I Heard Good NewsI Heard Good News Today
Cornelia Lehn
Faith and Life Press, 1983

We’ve reviewed a number of biographies here in the past; it seems as though it’s one sub-genre that we Christians do well.  My daughter and I are reading I Heard Good News Today as part of our homeschooling this year, and even though we’ve not yet finished the book I feel very confident in recommending it.  If you have children ages 5-10 I think your family would be very glad to own a copy!

Through 93 short stories, Cornelia Lehn introduces us to missionaries and Christian workers from all over the globe and throughout history.  The theme of the book is the spreading of the good news of Jesus, so it aptly begins with a few Bible stories of the first men and women to share the news of the resurrection: Mary Magdalene, Philip and the Ethiopian, Peter and Cornelius, Paul and Lydia.  The stories continue with early missionaries (from the first few centuries AD) and then modern missionaries are presented in groupings according to their country or continent.  I’ve found there to be a great mix of people I already knew and those who are new to me, and each one’s life is a compelling reminder that we, too, long to be part of bringing the gospel to those who have not yet heard it.

The length of the stories lend themselves well to daily devotional material.  My daughter and I share one chapter together most days after reading a Bible story, and I can also envision them being read aloud at dinnertime as a family (by those who don’t have squirmy babies and toddlers at your table…) or read alone by an upper-elementary aged child.  I love that the stories are grouped according to geographic region because it connects the individuals together into a larger story about the people living in a specific place.

Lehn’s writing is clear and straightforward, neither overly embellished nor sparse, and I really appreciate the lack of comprehension questions tacked onto the end of each chapter.  Being a fan of Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy I would rather let the child’s own mind interact and wrestle with the characters and storyline.  We tend to do our own re-telling and then talk about what stood out to us – and there is always plenty to ponder and discuss!

[If you’re interested in tracking down this book one good source is Sonlight, a homeschool curriculum that includes it in its kindergarten program.]

Baby’s First Christmas: Great Board Books to Give

If you have any babies (or toddlers, for that matter) that you’re buying gifts for this Christmas, why not consider giving board books instead of toys?  For the first few years, kids are given so many toys but they actually don’t need many at all.  On the other hand, can a child ever have too many books?  We’ve compiled a list of our very favorite favorite board books for the first few years of life.  We’ve linked to board book editions here, but many of them are also available in hardback and paperback.

You’ll notice that there’s not a theological title in the bunch; for the next few Wednesdays we thought we’d branch out a bit and share some of our favorite non-theological books.  But of course we also recommend the theological books we’ve reviewed here on the blog (all of which are listed in our Library List and at Aslan’s Bookshop).

Just-for-Fun Books

These are books that we as parents loved as much as our babies did!  They’re fun to read, well written, and wonderfully illustrated. 

Books for Cuddle Time

These books are great for when your little ones are winding down for a nap – or just when they need some extra love and cuddles.

Bedtime Stories

Every baby’s book basket needs at least a few bedtime stories in it!  These are our children’s favorites.

Baby’s Hug-a-Bible

Hug a BibleBaby’s Hug-a-Bible
Sally Lloyd-Jones & Claudine Gevry
Harper Festival, 2010

One of my major frustrations with Christian books for kids is sub-genre of board books.  To be sure, there are many to choose from, but most of them fall into at least of one three traps: poorly illustrated, too much text, or ceasing to be about God.  Just when I was about to throw up my hands in surrender, Sally Lloyd-Jones (of Jesus Storybook Bible fame) came to my rescue and published Baby’s Hug-a-Bible. It has quickly become one of my favorite books to read my 1-year-old and I am so pleased to have a Bible storybook for babies and toddlers that I can wholeheartedly recommend.

The Hug-a-Bible is written in the best kind of rhyme: catchy but not annoying or forced.  There are ten stories in all (with 6-8 lines of verse apiece), and each of them conveys the heart of a biblical text in a way that is succinct and theologically rich.  For example, the story about Moses includes these lines: “Who loved that baby in the reeds? / Who knows just what a baby needs? / Who cares for you in just that way? / And gives you all you need today?”  One of the best things about this book is the way that all of the stories point to God (without getting sidetracked about animals like so many toddler Bibles do) and then give sincere application to the everyday lives of young children.

The illustrations by Claudine Gevry are a welcome departure from the lackluster pictures in many children’s Bibles I’ve seen.  They are bright and bold and, most importantly, my daughter enjoys looking at them while I read aloud.  My one initial concern about the Hug-a-Bible was the reason for its name: it has a soft, fleecy cover.  My daughter loves it (by the way she squealed and hugged it when I took it out of the box for the first time you’d have thought she was a paid advertiser!), but I feared it would get dirty and be difficult to clean.  However, we’ve had ours for several months and I can report that it still looks as good as new.  I now predict that it will hold up over time better than traditional board books because my daughter can’t sink her teeth into it as easily.

[Updated to add: There’s now a wonderful album by Rain for Roots called Big Stories for Little Ones that puts this book to music. Do check it out!]