Since this is a food website, we talk a lot about nourishing the body through food. But besides a love of feeding good food to our family, my husband and I also love nourishing the minds and imaginations of our children and one of the primary ways we do that is through books.
Books are so important for our children – both in the immediate present and for their futures! Every Christmas we give to our girls a clothing gift, a toy gift, and a book gift. Today I wanted to concentrate on that book gift and explain a little more why we think it is important to surround our kids with good books, and also give some book recommendations!
Why Christmas Gifts?
One of the reasons we like to give books as gifts on Christmas is because it signifies the importance and the joy of books. I am inspired to serve nourishing foods at holiday meals because of the message it sends to our kids – “This is special, celebration-worthy food”. In the same way, giving books as gifts sends a message to our kids that books are special, celebration-worthy things to have.
I was a late reader, struggling with even the basics for a lot of my early childhood until something clicked around the age of eight or nine. And then, suddenly, my world was opened, and I started devouring books. I would say that my bookshelf was my most important possession growing up. (Even though I had many other beloved toys and even a Super Nintendo!) But here’s the deal: When I finally was able to read well enough to get through books, I was fortunate enough to have books on hand to start exploring. I think that made a significant difference in fostering my lifelong love of books.
My Husband’s Story
My husband learned to read, and read well, at the age of three. Also being in a family with a lot of books on the shelves, he was able to delve right into a huge world of stories that entertained him and developed his language loving brain from an early age. (Our mutual love of books certainly was an attraction when we first met!)
So with our children, we are trying to also surround them with books, so that they are there and available. We live in a small house, but admittedly, we have a rather insane amount of bookshelves for the square feet available to us!
Why a home library is so important for your child’s future
Studies show that having a large library in the house gave, on average, a 3.2 year education boost to children, regardless of the educational status of their parents. When studies first linked home libraries to better education futures for children, it was assumed by some that it was merely because those who had better incomes and better educations (and thus, able to give their children more advantages) also had more books in their household. But that assumption has not proven true as research has continued, finding that it was children from disadvantaged families that gained the most benefit from home libraries. This research now spans 42 countries.
Building a home library is one important way, yes, to give your children a better future. But I also think that books hold their own reward in helping children explore the world, learn to sort through the complexities of life, figure out their own opinions, and get a glimpse outside their own little world. (Read more here and here.)
The enemies of reading
In a world dominated by instant gratification, however, there are very real enemies to the future of reading for our children. My husband and I have taught music lessons since our high school years (I stopped a couple of years ago because of other responsibilities). It has given us an interesting glimpse into the lives of a lot of children. It became clear to me that children we worked with who were overly busy (often busy with very good things) had a really hard time focusing on the creative process.
I once taught a ten year old who was kept so busy at school, with after school clubs, and with sports, that it was incredibly hard for her to have calm moments after a hectic day to do anything creative or quiet, despite a lot of talent. This included the ability to sit down and play the piano, read a book (outside of her homework) or even spend quality time with her family. Home was for getting a good night’s sleep, and then leaving again in the early morning. It was rare for her to even eat dinner at home.
I think that children miss out on so much in life if they never experience any “boredom”. How many books would I have never picked up, games would I have never invented, or time would I never have spent doing crafts and art if I hadn’t had to learn to entertain myself?
Instant gratification and books
Instant gratification has been a problem in our society for a long time, but I think it’s only getting worse. As parents, however, we have the opportunity to choose what we allow in our homes.
One recent conversation I had with my husband was about how one of my children has obviously been affected by the months I’ve allowed them to watch a lot of new shows while I was bedridden with morning sickness. We did what we needed to in order to get through those early months of pregnancy. But we are considering a break from shows (especially new ones all the time). This is largely because it is obvious that they are starting to lose their patience for revisiting old favorites, but instead their itch to see or experience something “new” is dominating their desires.
If we raise kids who are easily bored by the normal, and always need something new to keep their attention, they are going to miss out on so much! Some of my favorite books as a child were read and reread many times, and it was through that process of rereading that my mind grasped the message of the book, understood literature better, and grappled with new ideas and thoughts. If I had been constantly moving on to something new, I never would have understood what I already had experienced.
So for us, we are attempting to both give our children calm enough lifestyles, and plenty of books to help foster a love of reading. Check back with us in ten years, and we will let you know how it is going. 😉
We have so many favorite books; it would be terribly long to list all of them. Instead, I wanted to share just a few of our family favorites, along with some new books I am exploring for the family! My apologies to other book lovers out there, as I realize how many fabulous books I didn’t get a chance to mention in this post. (Please, list your favorites in the comment section!) I am concentrating on books for the younger ages, simply because that’s where my kids are at still. (Links are affiliate, when appropriate.)
Baby/Board Books Recommendations
HUG: The ultimate board book for both of our girls was this one. With a grand total of three words, this slightly tear-jerker book is all about the love between a mommy and child, and, of course, hugs. I have read it to my girls hundreds of times.
Indestructibles: Wiggle! March! These beautiful books are truly indestructible! I have put them through our wash even, and they are nontoxic! They get our vote because they have beautiful artwork, are incredibly durable, and are fun to make up your own story for (they are wordless books). If you have a child who likes to chew on books, these books will easily survive the treatment. We love the whole series.
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?: We love all of the classic Eric Carle books, and this board book version of Brown Bear, Brown Bear is a favorite because of the sliding doors (we got it last year for Aria, then three, and it’s been a favorite!).
Picture Book Recommendations:
The Bear Series: I love how lyrical this book series is. Bear is friends with lots of cuddly creatures in the woods, and these sweet little stories (with lovely artwork) are all about friendship, silliness, and a beautiful reading cadence. We have many of the books in the series, but one of our favorites is Bear Wants More. They are also now in board book form (check out this set of three books from the series, for example). We have some in board book form, and some in the large picture book form.
Mr. Putter and Tabby: This delightful series is all about an elderly man and his cat, and I love it! It is a great example of how children don’t just need books that talk about their world (that is, books about kids and “their problems”) but ones that help them think about other people, like old men and their cats. Our now eight-year-old especially loved this series when she was around the age of three or four. (I am going to bring them back out again for her to read herself now!)
Should I Share My Ice Cream? (An Elephant and Piggie book): Oh my goodness, these are hilarious! We love all of the series, though this one is a favorite. They are so funny that they really encourage early readers, but they are simple enough that toddlers love having them read aloud to them as well. Oh, and parents. Parents like reading them, too.
Read-aloud Book Recommendations/For Readers Book Recommendations
Because my husband and I are such book lovers, it has been an easy choice to read out loud to our children. It’s a lovely way to instill a love of reading in your children and to help them experience books together as a family. We do often have a hard time fitting in our “book time”, but it’s been worth every minute.
Tintin: Yah, who would have thought of these as good read aloud books for families? Will you be surprised to find out that I have read through the ENTIRE series with my oldest THREE times? If you are so eager to introduce your kids to the amazing classic books, like a favorite Charles Dickens, your attempt to introduce them to literature above their level may turn them off from books altogether. I can almost guarantee you that reading books such as the Tintin books together will help solidify in your child’s mind how fun books are! Plus, they are great fun to read as an adult too! Parental warning: Drugs (as in opium) and an alcoholic sea captain ARE part of the storyline, but neither are ever portrayed in a good way. In fact, the main character, Tintin, refuses to drink. There is also mild violence (shooting at, or being shot at, but no blood and gore – something my girls are sensitive to). Just for your information. Here is the first volume to get your collection started.
Ralph Moody’s Little Britches Series: This book series is amazing for so many reasons. Based on the author’s growing up years in the early 1900s, this book series is all about the love of family, hard work, and making it through many struggles together. They make wonderful books to read as a family because they are entertaining and gripping for a wide range of ages. It’s hard to say enough good things about this series.
Edward Eager Books: These whimsical books all have some sort of magic in them, but without darkness, violence or scary things, and are perfect for a young reader. Both of us loved the series when young, and it has been fun introducing them to our oldest. Start with Half Magic.
The Bracken Trilogy: A princess book that isn’t fluffy and silly! This wonderful series is all about loyalty, strength, trust, friendship, and rising to your responsibility. This book series definitely deserves to be better known, but can be a little hard to track down. Right now Amazon has the first and second books secondhand from other sellers (The Bridge and the Crown and Jewel). They do have the third book (which I read first as a child) in stock right now – The Two Collars. It was and is a personal favorite of mine.
And of course, these are so well known that I almost didn’t mention them, but The Chronicles of Narnia series should be on every child’s bookshelf, in my opinion. (Start with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.) The Tolkien series, starting with The Hobbit and then the Lord of the Rings trilogy, also deserves a sacred spot. Wonderful read-aloud books for the whole family as well! You can see the Tolkien set here.
Why Graphic Novels?
Graphic novels are becoming very popular, and we are considering delving more into that world this year! Many parents and teachers love them because they help open up the world of reading to reluctant readers. Kids love them for the obvious reason that they are a really fun format (like the Tintin books mentioned above).
What I didn’t realize until recently was that many classic books have also been made into graphic novels, which is pretty fun. Graphic novels aren’t the same as comic books, by the way, Here is one helpful definition: “’Graphic Novel’ is a format, not a genre. Graphic novels can be fiction, non-fiction, history, fantasy, or anything in-between. Graphic novels are similar to comic books because they use sequential art to tell a story. Unlike comic books, graphic novels are generally stand-alone stories with more complex plots. Collections of short stories that have been previously published as individual comic books are also considered graphic novels.” Source
We aren’t really into scary books for our young kids, more as a philosophy than being concerned about them getting scared, so it’s nice to know that there are other options! I can’t give personal recommendations yet, but here are some that caught my eye. (Please note that many graphic novels are not intended for children, so don’t assume simply because of the format it is child-appropriate!)