Choosing Good Books: An Interview with Family Vision
- 2010 5 May
Ask just about any homeschooling mom, and she'll tell you it can be a challenge to keep an avid reader supplied with good books. Despite the fact that there are more books available to us than ever before, it seems harder than ever to find anything worth reading. How can parents exercise discernment when choosing books for their children? After all, there's a lot to think about—unbiblical worldviews, poor role models, worldly philosophies, and more. How do you sort through it all without handing your child a book that would cause any concerned parent to raise his eyebrows?
To share some insight with us, we'll be talking with John Thrower of The Family Vision. John is a homeschooling dad I had the pleasure of meeting in 2008 at a homeschool conference. It didn't take me long to realize that John has a passion for homeschooling and for seeing families grow stronger in their relationships with each other and with the Lord. He is the president of The Family Vision, a unique lending library in the Greater St. Louis area dedicated to providing family-friendly resources to more than 2,000 patrons, most of whom are homeschoolers. Sharing a part in selecting the over 8,000 resources currently on the shelves at The Family Vision, John has some experience in discerning between good and bad when it comes to books. Let's see what insight he can share with us.
Jonathan Lewis: First of all, let's take a look at the problem. We all know that many homeschooled students are avid readers who can consume a surprising number of books in a remarkably short period of time. That can pose a challenge to concerned parents who don't want to hand their child just any book off the library shelves. But are these parents being too concerned? After all, we're talking about literature for children and young people—is it really that bad?
John Thrower: Sadly, Jonathan, it is that bad. Parents can't take their children to the library and allow them to freely browse and select books from the shelves without facing some real dangers. As a parent you cannot be too concerned. Books have a powerful influence, one which can encourage your child in positive ways or destroy your child with negative thoughts and behaviors.
The public library systems across this country are rapidly changing. At one time the library was a family-friendly environment with books that, for the most part, were healthy for all readers, adult or child. However, if you go into your typical public library today, you are confronted head-on with materials that you would not (or at least should not) allow in your home. The young adult section for 12-18-year-olds is a cesspool of debauchery. This section contains rebellion, sensuality, occultism, gender issues, and more. The children's section is usually more subtle, but still the messages of role reversal, rebellion, and changing social mores are being published and distributed to young, impressionable ones.
The goal of The Family Vision is to provide solid Christian worldview materials so that parents can be sure the books and resources their family reads or listens to are safe. Guarding the hearts and minds of ourselves and our families is a job that requires diligence and vigilance.
Jonathan: In her article "Avoiding Literary Landmines," Derri Smith noted many of the same concerns you just mentioned. She pointed out that even looking at the titles and covers of books isn't enough to protect our children anymore. She shared about one book entitled The Geography Club. She wrote, "Skimming The Geography Club cover, for example, would have you thinking this is a nice book to encourage your children's interest in learning the continents, countries, and landforms of the world. In reality, this book is about a group of ‘out of the closet' homosexuals who designed a club ‘so boring' that others would leave them alone."
It appears that concerned parents have to be more vigilant than ever in finding suitable reading material for their children. Let's talk about some specifics. What should parents look for in a good book? What should be the standard?
John: As a concerned Christian parent and president of The Family Vision, I know it can be overwhelming dealing with the flood of books that threaten to harm our children's minds and souls. Having said that, I am so grateful that we have God's Word to set the standard and give us direction for selecting quality literature for our family.
The first thing I do when selecting books for me and my family is to apply the standard of Philippians 4:8: "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." When this first standard is established, it becomes much easier to weed out the harmful and to embrace that which is edifying.
One question that I ask when looking at a book is, "Do you know where your children are?" I'm showing my age here, but up until the 1970s the local television stations would ask this question: "It is ten o' clock. Do you know where your children are?" The times have sure changed. Children can do as they please in many homes at whatever hour of the day they please. Because of this, it's important that the books we select for our children have a home-based perspective. Find books that show the parents being "in the know" as to where their children are, and with whom. As wise parents, we would not allow our children to be companions of fools, nor would we be so naïve as to think that our own children do not have hearts of foolishness. The Bible tells us that "foolishness is bound in the heart of a child" (Proverbs 22:15) and that "a companion of fools shall be destroyed" (Proverbs 13:20). As careful parents, we need to select books that reflect the same care and concern we exercise in other areas of our children's lives.
Closely related is to look for books that have a heart for home—books that have a home-centered purpose. I know that not every family is intact and that there are many issues affecting the home, but we need to give our children books that represent what God's plan for the home is—a married father and mother who love their children, children who have a positive relationship with their parents, siblings, and extended family. You get the idea—homes that are based on the Bible, not a politically correct "anything goes" home. A popular book here at The Family Vision is A Horse called Willing by Rebecca Martin. The children's activities are known, and the love of the family is ever present. It is not a Pollyanna view of life. There are disobedience and hard hearts, but these attitudes and behaviors are dealt with in the way many families would deal with them.
Jonathan: With the decline of modern literature for children and young adults, many homeschool families are discovering the benefits of literature from the 1800s. Publishers such as Lamplighter, Mantle Ministries, Salem Ridge Press, and others have brought dozens of old titles back into print for a new generation of readers. What are your thoughts on these books from yesteryear? Are they good choices? Any cautions?
John: What a treasure has been rediscovered by Lamplighter, Mantle, and Salem Ridge, as well as the others! I wish I'd had this quality of books when I was growing up. The positive character values are rich; the godliness of the characters is inspiring and challenging. Parents really need to put these books in the hands of their readers. Many of them feature the themes of hard work and the rewards of diligence. Self-sacrifice is another shining quality in the books from the 1800s and early 1900s. One of my favorite books is The Bishop's Shadow by I.T. Thurston. This story is about an abandoned boy named Theodore Bryan. He befriends another street orphan and her little brother, and we watch a young street kid follow the example of a godly man as he gives his life to Jesus and to others. After you read that, you will want to read its sequel, Theo, The Big Brother.
In regard to having any cautions about these books: content-wise, I have none. Comprehension can be difficult if the reader has not been exposed to the older style of writing. Reading aloud is a great way to introduce these books and whet the appetite for more. Once readers get into it, they typically want to read all that you can get them.
Jonathan: You're so right. My brother and I certainly enjoyed reading many of those older books when we were younger, and now there are more than ever back on the market after generations of being out of print.
In addition to these books from the 1800s, do you have any suggestions for other reliably wholesome sources of reading material for families today?
John: I use part of every week looking for resources that are family-friendly and uphold a conservative Christian worldview. They are not always easy to find, but I keep looking. Here at The Family Vision Library, my commitment is to provide quality books and resources that are "safe" for the entire family. For other resources (beyond just books for children), Vision Forum of course comes to mind. Christian Light, Rod and Staff, Dr. S.M. Davis, and Scripture Memory Fellowship are just a few of the many publishers I order from, both from their Web sites and catalogs.
You used the word wholesome, and I like that. Wholesome really reflects the "whole body and mind and spirit." I am reminded of Colossians 2:8 in relation to wholesome books: "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ."
Too many books—even some Christian ones—do not portray godly character. The self-centeredness in many books leaves out the opportunity for children to emulate character qualities that will transform them into the image of Christ. Many books today reflect the disintegrating culture of America and the corresponding decline of morality. We can be sure that our children will follow someone. We need to give them characters of strength and moral virtue to follow.
Jonathan: Let's talk about what you're doing at The Family Vision. Give our readers a quick summary of what TFV is all about.
John: TFV is a unique ministry. We are a Christian lending library, a fully functioning library that operates just like the public library in your community except that it is exclusively Christian.
TFV is privately funded, and we offer only conservative Christian worldview materials. We are not denominational; we are Bible-based.
Our library is located in St. Charles, MO. It's very comfortable and tasteful, and we're meeting the very real needs of parents by providing quality, biblically sound resources. We have a great selection of children's books, biographies, history, healthy living, biblical finances, audio resources, conservative music CDs, and much more.
We are so committed to building up families in the Lord that besides our physical library, we also have The Family Vision Library On-Line. Families from anywhere in the United States can use these great resources by simply logging on as patrons and requesting the resources they want. TFV ships the materials free of charge to and from the patron's home. Our ministry is to assist parents in catching and keeping the multigenerational vision that embodies The Family Vision. We are committed to vision for generations to come.
Jonathan: So you're saying that with The Family Vision Library On-Line, homeschool families can borrow books from your library anywhere within the United States? Tell us more about how this program works.
John: The way the Family Vision Library On-Line works is that a family from outside the St. Louis metro area signs up as a Patron Subscriber on our Web site and selects their Subscriber Level as Family, Generations, or Visionary. That gives them the opportunity to check out resources from our library. The Family Level gives them six annual checkouts of up to ten materials at a time for a three-week checkout. The Generation Level gives them nine annual checkouts of up to ten resources at a time for a three-week checkout period. The Visionary Level allows the patron to check out as many materials as often as they like annually for a three-week checkout. The FVL pays the shipping to the patron and back to the library. We are a 501c3 Private Foundation that is dedicated to the restoration of the biblical family, which means we exist to serve our Lord Jesus in helping families grow in His grace.
When a family considers the richness of the materials in our library for their use, the value of The Family Vision really becomes evident. My family has benefited greatly by having these resources to build us up in the Lord.
Jonathan: That sounds like a great value! The Web address, for those who are interested in signing up, is www.TheFamilyVision.org (just click on the "On-Line Subscriptions" link near the top of the page). Before we wrap up, I'd like to zero in on the heart of everything we've been discussing. When it comes right down to it, the ultimate purpose of everything we do is to bring glory to God. The purpose of homeschooling—and the purpose of providing our families with quality resources—is to help us draw closer to God and closer to each other, and to equip us for the work He has called us to do. What final words of encouragement can you offer other homeschooling moms and dads seeking to raise up a generation for the glory of God?
John: There is no greater joy than having the privilege of raising daughters and sons for the glory of God. The Family Vision desires to equip parents in this by giving them the best resources available in parenting and family life. We also want children and young people to have godly materials to read, listen to, and watch. The culture of our world undermines every value we teach our children, but The Family Vision strives to uphold and complement the biblical standard of Christian parenting and family life. I encourage your readers to allow The Family Vision to come alongside and assist them in raising up a godly seed for generations to come.
Thank you and your family, Jonathan, for publishing Home School Enrichment. My family has been blessed greatly by your magazine. May our Lord continue to bless your efforts for His glory!
Jonathan: Many thanks for those kind words, and for taking the time to talk with us. We appreciate your efforts to serve the Christian homeschooling community!
*This article published May 5, 2010.
Jonathan Lewis, 27, is a homeschool graduate, and glad of it! In 2002, he helped start Home School Enrichment Magazine with his familiy, and now enjoys writing and speaking from his perspective as a homeschool graduate. If you would be interested in having Jonathan speak to your group (or to get in touch with him for any other reason), drop him a note at jonathan@HomeSchoolEnrichment.com. He would love to hear from you!
This article was originally published in the Mar/Apr 2010 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. Sign up now to receive a FREE sample copy! Visit www.HSEmagazine.com today!