The concept of “story” is vital to the human race. Mankind is the only species that can create and perpetuate tales and we have been doing so since the beginning of our existence. Today, stories have taken a different form than ever before. Many children’s first experience with story is not around a fire or a kitchen table, but from a screen. And when books are given and read to young children, they are often mediocre and fail to spark imagination or inspiration of any kind.
We have to recognize that story holds much more importance than we acknowledge. Through media, literature and even the supermarket tabloid, our culture is shaped by story. As our children hear, see and experience story everywhere they go, we have the beautiful opportunity (and responsibility) to provide them with excellent ones first. To reference the educator Charlotte Mason, we can lay before them a delicious feast that will make lesser stories seem like sawdust.
Today’s children are in dire need of stories of faith and true courage. Starting with the Bible and adding tales of bravery and purpose, we can give children a context for their future. Before they even recognize it, they will begin to have questions about good and evil in the world around them, even in themselves. In order to answer their questions, a book needs to come alive to a child. A textbook on church history would never do.
True, well-written stories of those who have gone before and proven that the battle can be fought in the strength of God’s might, that he has shown up in miraculous ways and he holds us in his hands to the end and beyond will nourish and strengthen their souls! I can imagine not only a well rounded meal, but a protein shake to pump up their soul muscles as well. I also personally believe that wonderfully written fiction can do the same. Story itself is a gift from God and I believe he intended word-craft to enrich our lives and serve his purposes.
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As a parent, I know that it’s easy to question whether a child is “ready” for the brutality and violence in some stories, especially in true stories of martyrs. I’m going to reference C.S. Lewis on this topic:
“Those who say that children must not be frightened may mean two things. They may mean (1) that we must not do anything likely to give the child those haunting, disabling, pathological fears against which ordinary courage is helpless: in fact, phobias. His mind must, if possible, be kept clear of things he can’t bear to think of. Or they may mean (2) that we must try to keep out of his mind the knowledge that he is born into a world of death, violence, wounds, adventure, heroism and cowardice, good and evil. If they mean the first I agree with them: but not if they mean the second. The second would indeed be to give children a false impression and feed them on escapism in the bad sense. There is something ludicrous in the idea of so educating a generation which is born to the Ogpu [State Police in the USSR] and the atomic bomb.
Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker. Nor do most of us find that violence and bloodshed, in a story, produce any haunting dread in the minds of children. As far as that goes, I side impenitently with the human race against the modern reformer. Let there be wicked kings and beheadings, battles and dungeons, giants and dragons, and let villains be soundly killed at the end of the book. Nothing will persuade me that this causes an ordinary child any kind or degree of fear beyond what it wants, and needs, to feel. For, of course, it wants to be a little frightened.”
I will admit that there have been times in our children's’ lives during which I had to sensor more cautiously. Sensitive periods of grieving, battling fear or stress on the family warrant some heedfulness to the individual heart. But abstinence completely from tales of faithful men to their faithful God will do more harm than good.
Before I share with you a list of books to get you started, I want to mention one more thing: age, specifically reading comprehension level. It is very difficult to tell you which of these stories is right for your child. Instead I’ll remind you of a few things that have helped me:
Okay, with no further ado: the books!
St Francis of Assisi by Joyce Denham
The Very First Christians by Paul L Maier Illustrated by Francisco Ordaz
Martin Luther A Man Who Changed The World by Paul L Maier Illustrated by Greg Copeland
Joan of Arc by Diane Stanley
Banner Board Books such as this one on George Whitefield are ok.
Little Lights on various church heroes. There are box sets of various Christian heroes, but also one each to inspire boys and girls specifically.
Christian Biographies For Young Readers
Dangerous Journey (Pilgrims’ Progress abridged)
What Would Jesus Do? By Mack Thomas Illustrated by Denis Mortenson This is a children’s version of In His Steps by Charles M Sheldon. It has simple discussion questions after each chapter. This was very influential in my childhood, learning to do the right thing when no one was looking. If the price isn’t great on Amazon, try thrift books or other used book seller. There is more than one version and the newer illustrations are gorgeous, but as long as you have the correct author it’s worth the $.
The Squire and the Scroll by Jennie Bishop illustrated by Preston McDaniels
Saint George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges Illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman
Smaller Chapter Books:
History Lives Series by Mindy and Brandon Withrow. I highly recommend these; each one covers a different period of history.
YWAM Christian Heroes Then & Now Series
Trial & Triumph by Richard Hannula
The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom et al
The People Who Couldn’t Be Stopped by Ethel Barrett (Written in a conversational style that might take some getting used to, but so worth it!)
Missionary Stories with the Millers
The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
Also several versions available to listen for free here.
Twice Freed by Patricia St John
The Promise Land series by Hope Auer
Victory on the Walls: A Story of Nehemiah by Frieda Clark Hyman or others in the living history library.
Larger/More Difficult Books
God’s Smuggler by Brother Andrew et al
Martin Luther and Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxis
Gay Girl Good God by Jackie Hill Perry This is book about a woman redeemed from homosexuality has difficult content and should be pre-read! If/when you are already discussing sexual issues with your older teenager, this is a beautiful story of redemption and purpose. The author is a modern hero of faith.
C S Lewis’ Space Trilogy (Spiritual Warfare)
"To introduce children to literature is to instal them in a very rich and glorious kingdom, to bring a continual holiday to their doors, to lay before them a feast exquisitely served. But they must learn to know literature by being familiar with it from the very first. A child's intercourse must always be with good books, the best that we can find.” - Charlotte Mason
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