by Nancy Tichy, Author for KidZ at Heart International
One of the few memories I still have from early elementary school days centers around an activity right after recess. Picture a room full of third graders, heads down on folded arms on desks and a teacher reading aloud a chapter each day from a book. All that energy settling as we listened – carried along in great adventures, sometimes begging for “just one more chapter!” My favorite of all was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Still considered a classic in British children’s literature, the story must have resonated with my own heart’s rhythm – what was real in my life at the time. I am moved by it even today.
In the 1980’s Hallmark produced a film based on the book. I bought the DVD in a thrift shop, still in its original wrapping. I’m embarrassed to admit that I wept through big chunks of the film. I still can’t explain the power the story has in my life. Perhaps it opens up a long neglected cache of emotions from that time when I was eight and very large life forces swirled around me that I could neither control, nor comprehend. Perhaps it’s a universal longing for my own ‘secret garden’ that, though born out of suffering, brings transformation and joy.
This demonstrates, I believe, that reading stories aloud can be as powerful an experience as watching them unfold on a screen – even more powerful than silent reading, impactful as this can be. That’s why I so strongly advocate the family circle and regular reading aloud from books that can enrich lives today. Certainly God can meet us this way in his Word. Bedtime story reading still has a place. I hope it’s a household staple, even favorite. But everyone can find pleasure in the written word read aloud together; it’s the stuff memories are made of.
Earlier, I mentioned C.S.Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia series (which includes The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe). I read many of the Little House on the Prairie books to one grandchild when she was a preschooler. Some personal favorites of mine from the years I taught middle school English are the Time Quintet Series (by Madeleine L’Engle, which includes A Wrinkle in Time), The Hobbit, Watership Down. I once read all of The Pearl by Steinbeck aloud to my classes because they balked at my assignment to read it for themselves. Even with high school English classes, I read aloud to my students. As I remember it, they responded positively. One summer, I managed to keep fifth and sixth graders engaged at church by reading a chapter each Sunday from a missionary adventure book. The most restless of the kids was the one who summarized the chapter from the week before to set the stage for the current day’s portion.
May I encourage you to restore or begin the reading aloud routine in your family? Our KidZ Kan for Families, online mission-focused magazine, always includes a story. You could start there, perhaps. I have granddaughters who enjoy taking turns reading them aloud to the rest of us after dinner. In this day of pokey-exploits, cell phone apps and Facebook encounters, it may seem like an old fashioned idea. The word, however, remains powerful and unbound by modern technology. In the beginning, God spoke words and it was so. We are blessed with so much that is born out of spoken words and can powerfully impact lives for God’s glory.
It’s said that a picture is worth a thousand words. I’d like to assert that a thousand words (more or less) in story form and read aloud can provide a powerful picture of a truth that God would delight to plant in families’ heart-gardens. This brings joy from a greater understanding of his loving design for lives and his powerful intention to bring it about.
…we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Deut.8:3