When You Can't Read Books Fast Enough
- 2010 13 Jul
Recently while hosting a younger family for dinner, I was reminded of a major aha! moment in my early homeschooling days. It happened years ago as I met with a veteran homeschooling mom and fellow Christian, who happens to have her PhD in Developmental Reading and now works full-time to tutor children with reading disabilities and counsel homeschool families in curriculum selection. She was conducting a year-end assessment of my daughter, looking at samples of her work in all subjects as required in my state. Because I was paying this assessor for her time and expertise, I asked her near the end of our appointment the question that had been gnawing at me for some time.
"How can I possibly read fast enough to pre-read my daughter's books?"
My then 9-year-old daughter had become a competent, capable, even voracious reader. The previous summer, much to my delight, she had read all the books in the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Throughout that school year, I conscientiously read late into the evenings to keep a few pages or even a chapter ahead in whatever fiction she was reading. I wanted to learn alongside her and guard her heart and mind from what might be objectionable. But now, one year later, with two younger children and other homeschool subjects for which to prepare, I was simply running out of time. Call it pre-reading, selecting, or even censoring books, I didn't physically have enough time to get through the increasingly longer books she was reading. And yet, what a wonderful dilemma to have!
Sitting in that appointment, I asked my assessor, "How can I offer my daughter good books without reading them myself to make sure I approve of them?" After she wiped the been-there, done-that smile off her face, this wise, veteran homeschooling mom and educated reading professional gave me her two-part answer. First, the practical answer: "Find authors you like and stick with them." Then the more challenging reply: "Eventually you'll have to teach your daughter to discern what she's reading and trust God with the outcome."
Wow. That was a big moment of letting go. I began to realize that I needed to equip my oldest daughter to think in a Christ-like manner as she read on her own. So much more than just handing her a book to read, I needed to teach her to read with God's perspective!
I didn't grow up in a Christian home, had never applied God's Word to my own studies, and did not have Christ's perspective to lean on long before becoming a wife and parent. The assessor's answer to my question began a time of personal growth, learning, and reliance on God in my life, as first, I needed to learn how to read with discernment myself. I needed to let God show me what He thought was a good book. Only then could I train my daughter how to read with discernment, whether for school or for pleasure. What follows is what I have since learned.
What Is a Good Book?
First, I had to learn to evaluate books. What makes a good book is a much disputed topic, even among homeschooling Christians. Entire books have been written on the subject. Certainly personal preference is involved; sometimes I just enjoy one book more than another. But philosophical choices are a larger component. For instance, some Christians discount the value of using historical fiction in education; others don't pursue the fantasy genre.
Not wanting to determine those values for your family, my suggestion is to read the different perspectives, pray about your decision, and discuss it with your spouse until you reach a unified decision. Some of my favorite resources are Honey for a Child's Heart by Gladys Hunt and Honey for a Teen's Heart. Other related titles are Books Children Love and Who Should We Then Read?
Another litmus test for many homeschoolers is whether a book has endured the test of time. Classical homeschool curriculums are based on such enduring titles. In my opinion, there is merit in this: many books written since the 1960s aren't worth the paper they're printed on due to author bias. Even though I don't base all our schooling on classics, I apply the principle that older may be better by selecting library books with an older publishing date. For example, even if I'm looking for books about U.S. westward expansion or nature study, I prefer older publishing dates to something printed in the 2000s because the author is usually influenced by fewer politically-correct biases. On the other hand, newer books can be just as good if the authors walk with God and write what's true. (Note that older doesn't always guarantee wholesomeness, especially for older books that were originally written for an adult audience. Discernment is still needed even with older titles.)
Classic book lists are abundant. For younger children, visit www.AmblesideOnline.org. If your students are older, try www.TheGreatBooks.com (a Christian worldview resource), www.TheGreatBooksList.com, or for college-bound high school students, www.CollegeBoard.com/student/plan/boost-your-skills/23628.html. A book I highly recommend for older students is Invitation to the Classics.
Find Authors You Like, and Stick With Them
Selecting books for your child to read can be as simple as identifying an author you like and providing your student with his titles. If your son enjoyed C.W. Anderson's Billy and Blaze, have him read Anderson's other books. To get young readers started, I'd recommend Robert McCloskey, Cynthia Rylant, Holling C. Holling, the D'Aulaires, and Laura Ingalls Wilder. For stronger readers, try books by Robert Lawson, Marguerite Henry, and Elizabeth Enright. This age also thrives on series books, like The Hardy Boys, The Littles, or The Boxcar Children. For teens, try G.A. Henty, Barbara Willard, and Brian Jacques titles.
To find favorite titles, I ask my homeschooling friends what their children are reading, and I also rely on reading lists in Christian curriculum catalogs. For example, TruthQuest History, Sonlight, Beautiful Feet, and Far Above Rubies all offer excellent book lists. I appreciate the thoughtful book suggestions listed in their curriculums and have grown to trust the authors they recommend.
Teach Your Children to Discern as They Read
Those who aren't Christians can only evaluate a book in terms of literary analysis: character development, setting, conflict, and resolution. But as believers, we can ask deeper questions as we read. Gradually my daughter is learning to ask tough questions about the books she is reading.
- Does the story present a biblical worldview?
- Do the characters act, speak, and think in a Christ-like manner? If not, do they reap what they sow?
- Do the characters handle, and eventually resolve, conflict with others or within themselves in a biblical way?
- What sort of moral or lesson does the story imply?
- If this is a nonfiction book, does it present its facts accurately?
Even if a book doesn't meet all the criteria above, I've learned that it can still be a worthwhile read—if and only if my child can see its shortcomings and know when a character or situation falls short of God's best. That's the discernment I strive to teach, whether my child is in a real-life encounter or reading a book.
As my daughter matured, I introduced her to Francis Schaeffer's "Big Two" discernment questions. When he studied a culture, a work of art, a government, or a piece of literature, Dr. Schaeffer often asked, "Who is God?" and "Who, therefore, is mankind?" As she reads, I want my now-15-year-old to ask herself how the characters in the book would answer those two questions. In other words, who does the main character think God is? The answer to that question determines how the main character treats other people. Or, more simply said, "Does the character do what Jesus would do?"
My husband and I are learning to train our children in discernment as they read. After that, it's time to trust them to God. It all paid off the other day when my daughter handed a recommended book back to me, saying she didn't agree with the direction it was headed and didn't want to finish reading it. I am grateful for the godly discernment she showed, and I pray it will only increase.
Melanie Hexterloves a good book, but with a newborn plus the five older children she is currently homeschooling, she rarely gets enough time to read the books of her choice. Melanie and her husband of 20 years, Matthew, live in central Ohio, where they offer workshops for families considering homeschooling. You can get her free "Tips for Literary Analysis" through their Web site, www.LemiloePublishing.com.
This article was originally published in the May/Jun 2009 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. Sign up now to receive a FREE sample copy! Just click here: http://homeschoolenrichment.com/magazine/request-sample-issue.html