“When we focus exclusively on paper scores, we need to remember that the most educated nation in nearly two thousand years led the world in math and science in 1930. It also became the Third Reich. The Holocaust could never have happened if the German heart had been as well educated as the German mind. So how do we educate the heart? There are really only two ways: life experience and stories about life experience, which is called literature. All the great preachers and all the great teachers of the heart have used stories to get their lesson plans across—Aesop, Socrates, Confucius, Moses, and Jesus—stories about mustard seeds and shepherds and vineyards and prostitutes and fishermen and travelers. It is the power of story to educate upstairs as well as downstairs.”
-Jim Trelease, The Read-Aloud Handbook
A day late, but hopefully worth the wait: today’s giant “Living Literature” List is part of an action-plan outlined in Wednesday’s post; taking our role as parents and/or teachers perhaps a lot more seriously than we currently do. It focuses on committing everything we have to our calling to raise up our children, the next generation, in sound wisdom and strong morals. If you missed Wednesday’s post, you may want to click below before diving into today’s.
“Carrots first, then cake!” (and sometimes “Carrot Cake”)
Our kids are good eaters; a fact I am thankful for, and also a feat I am pretty proud of. Of course, we have had it easier than a lot of parents in that our kids are naturally pretty game to try new foods and eat their veggies. But we’ve also never allowed for anything short of that. For starters, we don’t do the whole “kid food” versus “adult food” thing. Food is food. Eat it or be hungry. That’s basically the dish over here. Even still, I can’t tell you how often I find myself saying “soup first, then more bread” or “broccoli then more rice with soy sauce.” Even though our kids like soup and broccoli, they would still rather opt for a double helping of bread or rice if that were an option. To be fair . . . so would I. And then there’s dessert, which is a whole other matter entirely.
Seriously, if dessert were on the table at dinner, would any of our kids eat another vegetable ever again? Ours certainly wouldn’t. But dessert definitely has it’s place. First of all, let’s be honest . . . it’s yummy. And it makes us happy. And it really sweetens our overall impression of this whole food thing. Also, it really comes in handy as a last-resort insurance-policy (or blackmail) for our kid’s consumption of veggies. Of course I’m referring to the good old-fashioned, never-fail-you “if you want dessert, you must first finish your peas.” This method isn’t super popular anymore, but I think it’s grand. If our kids have eaten their carrots, I have no problem watching them enjoy their cake. All those smiles and smacks really make a mama happy. There’s just nothing quite as satisfying as enjoying dessert as a family after having finished a delicious and nutritious meal together. Somehow all that brown rice and all those green vegetables makes dessert just that much sweeter.
But of course, I’m not actually talking about food at all today. Well, at least not food that is served on a plate or in a bowl, but rather on a shelf. I’m talking about food for the brain, the heart, and the soul. I’m talking about BOOKS.
As a society, the way we read is really a lot like the way we eat. Of course, there are a lot of us who don’t read to ourselves or to our kids at all (as discussed Wednesday) just like there are a lot of us who don’t truly eat real food. We tend to eat a whole lot more junk (tv, media, video games) than we do acceptably nutritious food (books, various reading materials, and literature of all kinds). Among those of us who do read (hallelujah), even we tend toward the butter, bacon, and brownie book aisles at the library a whole lot more than we browse those brussels, barley, and broccoli sections.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not hating on brownies! Trust me, chocolate and I are on a first-name basis. But I’m suggesting we adopt a “carrots first, then cake” policy both at the table with our children and in the Cozy Corner book nook. Don’t cut out the sugar that makes the medicine go down! Let’s definitely still read all those yummy dessert books with our kids (unless they are truly just junk). We can still read all those favorite picture books that make our little loves giggle with glee. We can still read those fun chapter-book series our crazy kids can’t get enough of . . . Judy Blume and Boxcar Children and all the lovely Beverly Cleary books we adore so much. But first, we can read them a fable, parable, allegory-story, or a chapter from a living literature masterpiece.
Start with the carrots, those beautiful root vegetables that help us see with more clarity, taste with a more refined palette, and savor our dessert with more satisfying joy. And when we can, let’s seek out “Carrot Cake” . . . those extra special books that hide a little dinner in the dessert. By doing this we will ensure that we are raising a child who will be healthy (in mind, body, and spirit) as well as happy . . . and in the end, don’t both depend entirely upon each other?
Salt-of-the-Earth-Storytime: our giant “Living Literature” List to grow our children in sound wisdom and strong morals!
I invite you, if you haven’t already, to begin today and everyday in reading wisdom-building, character-strengthening, discernment-conditioning “living literature” to your children, students, or kids in your community.
*Please note: this list, despite it’s size (whew!), is by no means comprehensive. In fact, each section of this list could be expanded to stand alone as it’s very own post, or even series of posts! In the upcoming months, I plan to do just that, so please subscribe below to receive notifications on more wisdom-building literature lists! Today’s list, however, is more than enough to get us started. In fact, it provides us with more than enough “carrots” to feed our kids for at least a year or two.
I’ve included in each section below our family’s favorite “living literature” titles that celebrate truth, plant seeds of sound wisdom, and honor what is truly good and worthy of praise.
QUICK TIP; How our family makes it easy to consume our “carrots” before our “cake”:
As a Homeschool mom, I book-end our school day with reading; once upon waking and again at the end of the “school” day. In addition, our son listens to two hours of pre-approved “free choice” audiobooks during rest time. My husband or I then read again to our kids at bedtime. Having these three set reading blocks each day makes it easy for us to vary the content and ensure a well-rounded, nutritious and delicious book diet for our kids.
- In the morning, we eat our carrots. I read our kids a Bible story or parable from one of our favorite children’s Bible or Bible storybook series, as well as one Aesop’s fable.
- In the afternoon, our son reads to me from his readers, and then I read to him and little sister “world-wise” or cross-curricular history & science themed books and/or a favorite “living literature” picture book or seasonal picture book.
- Bedtime is for those beloved, silly sleepy-time picture book stories and a chapter out of whatever novel we are currently reading to our son.
BONUS TIP; stupidly simple shelves to cut out any confusion: we keep our “carrot” books separate from our “cake” books on different shelves that I have titled/named for our son. This only takes a little bit of time and effort but saves a lot of time and headache in the future. All I have to do in the mornings is tell my son to bring the Aesop’s Fables book and choose a story from his “Scripture Story Shelf.” For afternoon reading, I simply ask him to choose a book from his “World-Wise Book Shelf” and meet me in Cozy Corner.
I don’t care if we are reading about trains, bugs, dinosaurs, or Lewis & Clark. This shelving system still provides so much more structure than “what do you want to read this morning?” To which the answer is almost certain to be . . . “cake.” But it also provides our son with more choice and freedom within a literature section than my specifically choosing each and every title we read together. Not to mention, it saves me the time and effort. And of course, this also makes choosing a bedtime story that much easier, too. A Bedtime Book Basket is a life-saver when you are rushing to get little kids to bed. So, separate your books into collections (library books too!) either on shelves or in baskets, and you will be glad you did.
~STORIES FROM SCRIPTURE~
OUR FAVORITE PICTURE BOOK BIBLES
For kids 7 & under: we love The Jesus Storybook Bible
*We also love The Jesus Storybook Bible audiobook version! It’s great. Our son has parts of this Bible memorized in British dialect thanks to the amazing narration by David Suchet. Available on audible.com or on HooplaDigital for free through your local library.
For kids 8 & up: we love Egermeier’s Bible Story Book
A few of our favorite Bible Storybook series:
- Arch Books: I only recommend the vintage collections, but there are so many other great ones that are sadly out of print. We are fortunate enough to have my set from my own childhood. I highly recommend shopping for out of print titles on used book sites like Amazon used books or Thriftbooks. My forever favorite is “Sir Abner and his Grape Pickers.” It’s true Carrot Cake. But any Arch book dated early 1970’s or prior is pretty great.
- Ladybird Bible Books: oh what out-of-print treasures these are! You can tell that ours are very old and very loved. We just recently were given these handed down to the next generation from their original owners, my mom and her younger brother. This is the set that was read to my mom and all her siblings by my beloved grandfather who was a pastor, missionary, carpenter, and master-explainer of all things fascinating or otherwise. It is an incredible thing to read to your child a Bible book that has formed the early understanding of God’s word now unto a third generation. The only Ladybird Bible Book I can find still widely available is a collection of books in a whole Bible form. Otherwise, you would need to seek out individual titles on used book sites under “Vintage Ladybird Bible Stories.”
In addition to reading a Bible story with our children each morning, I have began reading to them an Aesop a day. I am fortunate enough to have a mother who read me all of the Aesop’s fables many times over as part of my childhood Homeschool reading, and I count them second only to the Bible as influential and transformative in my life.
My mom even used the Aesop’s fables prescriptively . . . you know, like your average mom uses fever reducer when her child has a cold. I can recall many moments growing up when my mom burst out saying “Ok!!! We need to read about “The North Wind and the Sun!” This would usually elicit eye rolling and a response something like “I know it mom, you’ve read it to me so many times!” To which she would reply: “Well, you need to hear it again!” And, dear reader, she was right.
Want your child to grow into an adult who can spot a wolf in sheep’s clothing? Or one who is willing to slow-and-steady win a race? Or one who understands that one in the hand is worth two in the bush? Or one who recognizes that unity is the only way to protect against a third enemy? Or one who knows from the mouth of Aesop himself, an islander slave taken to Greece, that freedom is worth more than all the riches in the world? READ AESOP’S FABLES.
OUR FAVORITE AESOP’S FABLES BOOKS:
I’m not claiming that Milo Winter’s Illustrated book of Aesop’s Favorite Fables is necessarily the best, only that it is our family’s favorite because it was the version that was read to me. The vintage illustrations are truly hidden in my heart along with the italicized morals that are spelled out succinctly at the end of each story.
Another fabulous choice, and one that may appeal more to the eyes of most children, would be Jerry Pinkney’s Illustrated book of Aesop’s Fables:
This is an inexhaustible section that I will certainly come back to for another post. Choices in this category abound, and most of the books in this category are so fun and silly that I would consider them “Carrot Cake” books. For very young children, fable-like fairytales is a fabulous section to start introducing your early listener to words of warning and wisdom. Many of these books can even be found in Board Book versions for toddlers. At only eighteen months old, Peter Rabbit was already a favorite of our youngest child.
Here are some of the most obvious, most famous, and most fable-like of the fairytales in some of our favorite versions. In general, we love illustrated fairytale books by Jerry Pinkney and Paul Galdone.
- The Little Red Hen (fantastically fun fable-like fairytale with a fabulous and forgotten message: “He who does not work, neither shall he eat.”) Here’s a version illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, and another version illustrated by Paul Galdone
- The Three Little Pigs, here’s a version illustrated by Paul Galdone
- The Three Billy Goats Gruff, here’s a version illustrated by Paul Galdone, and another illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
- The Gingerbread Boy, here’s a version illustrated by Paul Galdone, and another illustrated by Richard Scarry
- Little Red Riding Hood, here’s a version illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
- The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Anderson, this version adapted and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
- The Emperor’s New Clothes by Hans Christian Anderson, this version illustrated by the fabulous Virginia Lee Burton:
A section even more inexhaustible than the fairytales. “Living Literature” is a broad, beautiful category of books. It includes both picture books as well as chapter books and novels that meet the following criteria:
- a “slice of life” story that is either true or that could be true
- exquisite, beautiful writing and/or illustrations (true artistry, absolutely no computer-generated work)
- teaches valuable life lessons through the beauty of story (aka “Carrot Cake”)
A few examples of Living Literature Picture Books:
*Please note: for very young children, “living literature” includes any book that has beautiful, reality-based illustrations and plot
- practically anything illustrated by Barbara Cooney; our favorites are Miss Rumphius and Ox-Cart Man:
- practically all of Patricia Polacco’s books; such as Just Plain Fancy, Sticks and Stones, Thunder Cake, Mrs. Katz and Tush
*For Living Literature Chapter Books titles, refer to my first book list: DAY 1: Book It!
~SOCIAL & POLITICAL ALLEGORY-LIKE STORIES~
The reigning king of this category, at least by my estimation, is Dr. Seuss. While this Dr. of silly subjects and sentences may most famously contribute to the fluffy marshmallow dessert section of the library shelf—with “early-reading set-vocabulary” titles such as Hop on Pop, The Cat in the Hat, or Green Eggs and Ham— Dr. Seuss’ more elaborate works are loaded with enough social and political meat as to be included in upper level college classrooms . . . as indeed they sometimes are. Don’t let the bright-as-day, out of this world illustrations fool you. The following books are as wisdom-building and discernment-conditioning as the fables of Aesop!
- The King the Mice and the Cheese; not by Dr. Seuss, but it reads like it is! A fabulous introduction to logical literature for very young children! The fact that it is out of print is a true atrocity. Thankfully, used copies can often be found on Amazon or Thriftbooks.
- The Sneetches and other stories; this is my absolute favorite title for this category, and it was a stiff competition! This book will have you and your kids recognizing star-bellied sneetches everywhere you go, not to mention the North and South-going Zax! Social, political, comical and just plain brilliant. A lot of carrots packed into some seriously delicious cake.
- Horton Hears a Who!; a pro-life proclamation of “a person’s a person, no matter how small!”
- Yertle the Turtle and other stories; nothing short of a political proverb!
- The Lorax; conservationism at it’s finest!
- The King’s Stilts; political penning in war-torn 1939
Thanks for READING!
Let’s start a Reading Revolution! Please pass this on to another family, or share on Pinterest or Social Media!
Love, ~Our Holistic Homeschool~