"My parents gave me the priceless gift of a life formed by story because they understood the crucial truth that to read a great story is to begin to learn how to live one. Life is a story, and each of us has but one tale to live as valiantly as we can."
I was in the library reshelving the mountains of books that had been returned, letting my mind wander over the 14 years since my dream of operating this library had come into existence. A thought suddenly struck me and I stood upright. I looked around me. Books on shelves, books on the floor, books in my hand...always in my hand. Where had this drive, this passion for the written word come from?
My mind drifted farther back in time, to the 60's, when I was a small girl. I was grasping for a memory...any memory...of books in my life. I could find none. I had no recollection whatsoever of being read to as a young child. I had dolls, and I remember the Christmas of my fourth year getting my beloved Raggedy Ann. She is still with me, nearly 50 years old now, and showing her age like I am. I recall long hours playing outside, turning hollyhock blossoms into lovely ballroom ladies and setting them to dancing on the water.
But no books...
I don't blame my parents for this. They both worked long hours just trying to put food on the table. They had not grown up with books themselves, being children of the Appalachian mountains where day to day thoughts were on survival.
1972, my 4th grade year, was a turning point for me. I had gotten perfect attendance and my teacher, Mrs. Elkins, gave me a copy of a Trixie Belden book. I still have the very copy of this book. I devoured it and wanted more. I read voraciously...Trixie, Ramona the Pest, Anne of Green Gables. I even remember the Landmark book on Old Ironsides. My 7th grade teacher, Mrs. Grabeel, would spend time every day reading to her class. I listened in rapt attention as she read, experiencing for the first time really, that anyone took the time to just read to me.
In high school, my quest for books did not diminish. I read as I had time between my studies (and playing Rook in study hall.) Thankfully I did have a couple of English teachers who assigned some decent literature which pointed me away from the twaddle and gave me a taste of beautiful words.
In my young adult years I always read...and read...and read...volumes upon volumes of Christian fiction...you know the ones that line the Christian bookstore shelves. Oh how I would love to have all those reading hours back!
Then...I had a child.
And the rest, as they say, is history. I began filling his life with the written word, discovering the treasures I had never known in my own childhood. As he grew, my knowledge and collection grew. The hours I never had as a child being read to, snuggled up on the sofa or in the bed, being taken away to other lands, we're being spent with my own child. And it was wonderful. His mind and imagination were being fed from the best of children's literature. It became part of our family culture. My boys have never known a time without books. They have been shaped and formed by story.
As my memories brought me to the present, I realized I had lost a lot from being book deprived as a child. Even though I had been privileged to unearth these treasures with my children, I knew I was missing that childlike faith in reading them. I was an adult and could never again know the wonder and excitement of really believing that everything is possible in books. It made me very sad.
But I have gained so much in sharing these gifts with my children. There is nothing in the world that equals reading to a child, to travel to those worlds with them, to see them being molded and equipped for their life's callings. And I am being re-made. I bring to the table more life experiences. My own future is made fuller because of these books.
And the joy I have of offering this collection to the young lives in the library is immense and so very rewarding. So I pick up another stack of books to shelve.
Our Streak, begun Thanksgiving Day, has awarded us many hours of lovely read-aloud time. We always celebrate the Christmas season by reading aloud from our collection of Christmas titles. This year we have enjoyed many treasures together.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens - Would you bellieve I had never read this book?!? I had seen movies, heard retellings, but I decided this was the year we were going to read Dickens own words. We all loved it.
A Tree for Peter by Kate Seredy - This book is a beloved yearly tradition in our home. One of our favorite gems of all time. What makes it so special this year is knowing that more families have been able to enjoy it! It has recently been reprinted! I call this a "don't even think about missing it" book.
The Christmas Stove by Alta Halvorson Seymour - This was also on my future list last year. This is a tender book full of hope, giving and sacrifice. Seymour wrote many Christmas titles and we've enjoyed them all.
The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by Amelia Houghton - We are currently reading this one. I hesitated on reading it since our children have never been taught that Santa was real but so many families in my library have loved it. My boys balked at first but it is such a well-told story, we are all enjoying it tremendously.
I don't think we've read so many books for the Christmas season! Granted these are all relatively short so if you haven't begun yet, there is still time to pick up any one of these and create a memory.
May the God of our Salvation bless you and keep you during this season and throughout the year to come.
We have begun a new challenge in our home. Recently I began The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared by Alice Ozma. I discovered this book from a podcast called Read-Aloud Revival, hosted by Sarah Mackenzie. This is an inspiring podcast which encourages us to "build our family culture around books". She has interviewed many wonderful guests, one being Alice Ozma.
Alice is the daughter of a children's librarian. When Alice was a young girl, she and her father decided to see how many days he could read aloud to her without missing. They set a goal of 100 days. The rules were simple. He would read aloud to Alice for at least 10 minutes by midnight. Occasionally conflicts would arise and they would find themselves up late reading but they met their goal. Over their celebration meal of pancakes, they decided to set another goal. One thousand nights. They called their reading challenge The Streak. The Reading Promise is filled with fun and often poignant anecdotes of the life they shared around the books they read.
The Streak finally came to an end...3,218 days later...when Alice left for college. In those 3,218 days, Alice and her father cemented a bond that could not be broken.
Our family has decided to have a Streak of our own. Now we obviously already have a family culture built around books being that we live with nearly 18,000 of them and we rarely miss a day reading aloud. But sometimes we do allow conflicts to interfere or we decide to head off to bed after a busy or stressful day without reading.
To give us a reachable goal, especially around the holidays, we decided to try to make it through the end of the year. We began on Thanksgiving and we will see if we can read aloud every single day until December 31. (Of course, I have every intention of starting again on January 1 with the goal of the full year.)
I have found that, even though we already read aloud most every day, we have become more intentional about our reading. It has become even more of a priority to enjoy books together as a family. It would be a beautiful thing if my boys have a bond with us that cannot be broken because of the books we've read.
As this year draws to a close, consider building your family culture around the books you read in the coming year. Maybe even consider starting a Streak in your family. At the very least, share a book together today.
"Something was crawling. Worse still, something was coming out. Edmund or Lucy or you would have recognized it at once, but Eustace had read none of the right books. The thing that came out of the cave was something he had never even imagined - a long lead-colored snout, dull red eyes, no feathers or fur, a long lithe body that trailed on the ground, legs whose elbows went up higher than its back like a spider's, cruel claws, bat's wings that made a rasping noise on the stones, yards of tail. And the lines of smoke were coming from its two nostrils. He never said the word Dragon to himself. Nor would it have made things better if he had.
Most of us us know what we should expect to find in a dragon's lair, but, as I said before, Eustace had read only the wrong books. They had a lot to say about exports and imports and governments and drains, but they were weak on dragons."
The Voyge of the Dawn Treader
Books serve many purposes. I read to learn a new skill, learn a new fact, uplift me, challenge me. I travel to distant lands, make new friends. What, then, would be the wrong books? The books I choose to read to my children should prepare them for life. The way they cope depends largely on the books they've read. Often we look to realistic stories--non-fiction, biographies, historical fiction, etc., to give them the tools necessary to find their way in the real world, and while these are wonderful, one type of book we tend to neglect and even shy away from is fairy tales. How can we possibly learn to deal with what life challenges us with through fairy tales and fables?
Quoting C.S. Lewis again, "Perhaps I had better say a few words in its defense, as reading for children. It is accused of giving a false impression of the world they live in. But I think no literature that children could read gives them less of a false impression. I think what profess to be realistic stories for children are far more likely to deceive them. I never expected the real world to be like fairy tales. I think that i did expect school to be like the school stories. The fantasies did not deceive me: the school stories did. All stories in which children have adventures and successes which are possible, in the sense that they do not break the laws of nature, but almost infintely improbable, are in more danger than the fairy tales of raising false expectations." (From an essay entitled "On Three Ways of Writing for Children")
This past summer I was blessed to hear Nancy Kelly on the topic of imagination. The importance of cultivating an imaginative nature in our children cannot be underestimated. In fact, I will be so bold as to say that, without imagination, it is impossible to have faith. "For faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (Heb. 11:1) Many of the things we ask children to believe from Scripture are pretty fantastic-- parting of a sea in which millions of people walked across on dry ground, a talking donkey, a Man rising from the dead. Could it be that the rise of athiestic belief might be linked to the wrong books? When we only give our children books such as those Eustace had...exports, imports, governments and drains...but not books on dragons and their ilk, we end up with materialistic pragmatists who cannot recognize the miraculous. They will never understand that there is a difference between real and true. The best stories may not be real...but may reveal truth.
Give your children the gift of imagination through books. As C.S. Lewis said, "Although fantasy might not help a boy to build a boat, it would help him immensely if he should ever find himself on a sinking ship." (The Taste for the Other)
I am SO excited to share some news with you! Believe me when I say that this has been the hardest secret I've ever had to keep. :)
If you have been in my library or known me for any length of time, you know that two of my most treasured books are by the wonderful author/illustrator Kate Seredy (pronounced Share-edy.)
The Chestry Oak has been enjoyed by many of you, some returning with tears and saying, like I, that it was one of the most beautiful books you have ever read. This book impacted me very profoundly. When I found my first copy, I was in desperate need of a new winter coat. I bought the book instead. I now own three copies, one for each of my boys.
A Tree for Peter has been called by my friend, Emily Kiser, The...Perfect...Book. Enough said. I also own three copies of this magnificent treasure.
FINALLY, thanks to the tireless work of the Cottrill's, owners of Living Books Library, these books are being brought back into print!!! Purple House Press is reprinting these gems in paperback. A Tree for Peter will be released in early November in paperback for $10.95 just in time for Christmas giving as it is the perfect Advent reading. The Chestry Oak is due out in January in paperback for $12.95. (IOU's for Christmas gifts?) One note about paperbacks. I know many are disappointed that these books are being reprinted in paperback. However, it is VERY expensive to print in hardcover AND modern methods of printing are extremely inferior to the old days. Hardcover books are now, for the most part, glued rather than stitched which causes them to easily crack. Hardcover books are very susceptible to this since the cover is not flexible like the soft covers are. There are many times that I will choose a soft cover over a new hardcover. At least these books will be able to be enjoyed by many more children.