by Karen Boniface
March 9, 2020
We are experiencing unprecedented times. At Inkwell, we’re here to help. Surely your inbox has exploded with COVID-19 emails. Ours has. Everything from alarmists spreading rumors, spammers preying on people’s panic to buy over-priced products promising protection, closure alerts, and redundant announcements of what businesses are doing to sanitize their facilities and prevent the spread of the virus. Rather than living in fear as families, let’s practice peace, gratitude, and solidarity by reading aloud.
Like it or not, we’re being socially distanced. That’s not all bad. Going against the cultural norm of social busyness in our lives may just be a very good thing. Instead of stressing over our frenetic schedules, eating on the run, and spending hours in the car chauffeuring kids to myriads of activities, we can all take a breath and focus on what’s really important—family and close friends.
We’re going to be spending a lot more uninterrupted time together, especially with schools closed and employees sent home to work remotely. What do you do with all that time? May we suggest one activity of merit?—reading aloud together. Sharing books promotes meaningful communication and powerful bonding.
During the homeschooling of my children when they were in primary school, I read aloud to them Ralph Moody’s Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers. It’s an autobiographical account of the author’s early life in Littleton, Colorado in the early 1900s. When I reached the pivotal point in the plot when 11-year-old Ralph’s father dies, I could not continue reading.
I choked up. We all teared up. No one said a word. In profound silence my children and I experienced together the grief of that dear young boy’s loss. I think it was the first time someone they “knew” had died. That shared empathy for a character we’d come to love knit our hearts together.
Count precious the opportunity you have now to experience those kinds of moments with your children. Curl up with them and a good book. You don’t even have to enter the library. Use the drive-through pickup if your library has one, check out an e-book, order delivery from Amazon, or choose from over 60,000 free titles on Project Gutenberg online: https://www.gutenberg.org.
While reading together, discuss the characters and ideas in stories. Pause from time to time and pose questions like these that require children to process a text …
- What do you think will happen next?
- Why do you think the character said, did, or thought that? Would you have said, done, or thought that?
- Does this remind you of anything? (Encourage them to make connections.)
- What do you think that word means?
- Can you tell me, in short, what just happened? or Catch me up on the story. Tell me what’s happened so far.
- What did you like best about this chapter or book? What did you dislike? What would you have changed?
- What character do you most identify with?
- Why do you think the author wrote this story? What is the story’s overall message?
- Did the problem in the story get solved? How?
- How did the author surprise, delight, or speak to your heart?
And the best follow-up question to any of the questions above is Why? If children can provide evidence from the text to support their ideas, they demonstrate not just comprehension but also critical thinking skills.
As we slow down our hectic schedules, may we read more. Here is a short list of recommendations for young readers. These are books that even adults can enjoy because they are rich in thematic content. So grab your tots, teens, and in-betweens and spend some quality time together enjoying well-written literature!
Of the scores of books we highly recommend, we’ve detailed a few below. Inkwell has materials that we use in teaching some of these books. If you would like more support or guidance, contact us.
|In a train station, a family meets a lovable bear who has traveled all the way from Peru. Their lives are transformed when Paddington makes ordinary things extraordinary. Michael Bond went on to write more books about Paddington’s sincere intentions but humorous misadventures.|
|A Newberry Honor book, Charlotte’s Web is a story of a pig named Wilbur and his barnyard friend Charlotte, a spider. Although treating life and death, the book is filled with warmth and the humor of silly characters.|
|In print for over fifty years, this classic picture book by award-winning artists delights children with fascinating stories and also acquaints them with mythology as a part of Western cultural heritage. The tales of gods and goddesses, of heroes and monsters continue to enthrall young readers. The D’Aulaires have an entire collection of illustrated books that merit reading.|
|Andersen’s fairy tale classics include “The Little Mermaid,” “The Snow Queen,” “Thumbelina,” “The Princess and the Pea,” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Stories of foolish emperors, lonely mermaids, icy queens and clever princesses, they are essential reading. At least once in their lives, all children should hear them.|
|A little orphan girl in the Swiss Alps is sent to live with her grandfather. Although the villagers are all afraid of him, Heidi grows to love him and her life in the mountains as she plays among the goats and birds. Later, however, her selfish aunt forces her to live with a new family in town. Heidi struggles to find a way back up the mountain and to understand where she really belongs.|
|Kipling originally spun these imaginative and hilarious origin tales to his children as bedtime stories. They relate with fantastical explanation how animals came to have their most distinctive traits. Stories include the perennial favorites “The Elephant’s Child” and “How the Camel Got His Hump.” Each illustrates a life lesson. Check out other books by Kipling as well.|
|good vs. evil
|The first children’s novel Lewis wrote, but the second in the series of seven chronologically, this fantasy narrates the adventures of four children sent away from their home during the bombing of London in World War II. They must save their brother from an evil witch in the land of Narnia, which is ruled by the lion Aslan. The original illustrations by Pauline Baynes are delightful.|
|Based on the author’s experiences growing up on the Western frontier, the award-winning series begins in 1871 as four-year-old Laura lives in a cabin on the edge of the big woods in Wisconsin with her family and their lovable dog. This book presents the hardships of pioneer life in the context of strong and loving family bonds. It is the first of nine books in a series.|
|When Jane and Michael, the two children of an uptight banker, are faced with the prospect of a new nanny, they are surprised. From the moment Mary Poppins arrives at Number Seventeen Cherry-Tree Lane, everyday life at the at the home of the Banks family is forever changed. Because the stern and sensible Mary can do things like talk to animals and step into pictures, the children experience wonderful adventures. Five other books follow in the series.|
|good vs. evil
|The free-spirited and mischievous Peter Pan along with Tinker Bell fly the three Darling children over the London rooftops to Neverland—an island where lost boys play, mermaids splash and fairies frolic. Magic and excitement are in the air, but a villainous gang of pirates lurk in the docks, led by the terrifying Captain James Hook. If Captain Hook has his way, someone will soon be walking the plank and swimming with the crocodiles.|
|In Beatrix Potter’s most popular and well-loved tale, a mischievous bunny encounters troubles in Mr. McGregor’s vegetable garden. It is one of 23 delightful picture books illustrated in watercolor by its remarkable author, who grew up in the English Lake District and brought to life in stories and paintings the animals she adored in her childhood.|
justice / mercy
|Two siblings set about retelling for children all-time favorite Shakespearean comedies and tragedies. Twenty plays are represented in the style of the original, preserving much of the bard’s own language. Reading prose summaries of basic plot lines helps children better understand the complexities of the actual plays when later they read them or attend a performance.|
|A swashbuckling adventure tale—highly appealing, especially to boys—Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island recounts a perilous sea journey, mutiny, and search for buried treasure. With interesting characters and lots of action, it presents something unusual for children’s literature—ambiguous morality, as displayed in Long John Silver.|
|These delightful tales began as a series of bedtime stories for the author’s son but became more complex than that. A group of friends–Mole, Rat, Badger–and a well-intended but often mischievous Toad–retain their distinctive animal characteristics but are meant to be interpreted as humans. They drink and smoke, steal cars, escape from jail, eat ham and eggs for breakfast, and write poetry.|
|Basing his human character on his own son, Christopher, whose stuffed teddy bear and other toys are the basis of many other characters, Milne has created an enchanting world in the Forest surrounding the Hundred Acre Wood. There live the good-natured Pooh and his companions—among them, Eeyore, the gloomy donkey, and the energetic Kanga and the baby who lives in her pouch, Roo. The stories are full of comic moments and silly verses.|