On Read-Aloud Books

*Note: these notes/blogs are usually written in third person. This one, however, is personal in nature and therefore is written as a conversation with you, the reader. May the book suggestions bring you and your family at least as much joy as they have brought to mine!

 

Welcome to my backyard. Have a seat on my bench, and let me read you a story… Oops, maybe I should clear it off first!?! It is covered in dear friends: favorite books that our family has read aloud and loved. Some of them we’ve read more than once. Most of them have been read (and re-read) by my kids after we read them aloud to the family. I’ll tell you what: let me introduce you to them as I move them!

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First, I’d like you to meet some of our family’s favorite picture books. From before my children were born, and throughout their childhood, I have read to them with great frequency. Even though both of my kids are teens now, they still enjoy hearing a great story. Once in a while, we even *still* read picture books together. Here is a sampling of our favorites:

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It is great fun to learn about other cultures through their stories. I am especially drawn to folktales from those other cultures, so my kids have heard hundreds of folktales. Here are just a few examples of ones we have enjoyed:

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Our family loves to laugh. We like the clever use of words in silly poetry. Here are a few of the books we’ve giggled over again and again. Some of them we still quote on a regular basis!

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We have always read stories from the scriptures with our children. Books like these have been helpful to bring the stories to the kids’ level, telling them in ways the children were able to understand. Now that the children are teens, we daily read the Epistle and the Gospel as well as a saint’s story from a spiral-bound calendar from http://livesofthesaintscalendar.com/. Here are a sampling of Bible story books we read together when the children were younger:


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We have read many Orthodox Christian books together along the way. Unfortunately for you, dear reader, we tend to lend these books out when we finish them… So, favored tomes such as “Facing East” and “The Scent of Holiness” are gracing other homes at the moment and could not be included in this photo. But we do currently have part of our great Orthodox read-aloud material still at home. Here are a few examples:

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Probably the best loved of all the “friends” in that first picture are the chapter books. These have been read, re-read, and discussed from the time when our children were little through the present. These are stories, yes, but they also become springboards to discussion. Chapter books provide opportunities to delve into the lives of others and point out what they’ve done right and wrong, without judging another person. They offer the chance to strengthen our children’s faith as together we read about, discuss, and thereby learn from the characters and what happens to them in these books. (And apparently we are not alone! Listen to this podcast about how quality literature led an atheist into the Faith: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/recollectingglory/interview_with_holly_ordway!) Many of the friends pictured here are just one part of a series, all of which we have inhaled and lingered over. Have we loved them? Look at their book covers and decide for yourself:

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Aaah! Now we can see the bench!  Have a seat (pardon the sap drops from our pine tree)! I’d like to read you a story.

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Which one should we read first?

*Added note: following are a few examples from many of the children’s book categories above, that will hopefully inspire you to think of ways to use children’s literature in your Sunday Church School classroom!

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Here are a few of my favorite picture books from the photo above, with descriptions that may help you think of ways to use them in the Sunday Church School classroom:

“Tacky the Penguin” is a story of doing what is right in the face of ridicule and danger, in order to save others. It also contains a strong message of being who you’re created to be; not what everyone else seems to think you should be.
“Pink and Say” is the story of great love between friends, regardless of race.
“Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” lends itself to discussion about attitudes and how to handle when things do not go our way.

There are so many picture books that are appropriate to use with lessons in the Sunday Church School classroom. Children of many different ages will enjoy hearing these stories, and they can be a great springboard to discussion. Challenge yourself to read a new-to-you picture book frequently (they don’t take long to read!), and keep a list of any books that you could possibly add to your curriculum. Remember to also list their theme(s)!

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Because of their very nature of having been created to entertain while teaching, folktales are an excellent resource for Sunday Church School teachers.

Some are directly related to Christian life: for example, “The Tale of Three Trees” is a folktale that tells the story of three trees with big dreams that ended up being the manger, a ship, and the cross of Christ. The story alludes to the fact that it is good to have big dreams, and God can use us best when we are faithful in the work He lays before us, whether or not it is ‘what we dreamed of doing.’

Others are easily related to our lives as Christians: for example, “The Mitten” would lend itself to discussions of hospitality and/or helping others who are in need. (An aside: see interesting background information about the book at http://www.janbrett.com/bookstores/mitten_book.htm!)

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There are many Bible story books available to read aloud. Find a variety of Bible story books at http://www.christianbook.com/page/bibles/childrens-bibles/bibles-storybooks. You could also read some Bible stories together online at  http://theminiark.com/. Or let me read a Bible story to you: listen to this week’s Gospel re-telling or reading, voiced by the author of this week’s note/blog, at http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/letusattend.


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Orthodox books are wonderful read-alouds that can be used in the Sunday Church School classroom. They can add to the learning experience, whether or not they relate directly to the lesson being taught. Finding time to read them to the children can be a challenge, but if your students are eating their snack in your class after Divine Liturgy, they can certainly listen while they eat! Or, if you have a planned craft or art activity that associates with the lesson, you could read to them while they work.

Books like “Grandmother’s Spiritual Stories,” that are full of stories of the saints, can be read one chapter at a time, exposing the children to the lives of the saints in a child-friendly manner.

“Basil’s Search For Miracles” is an excellent modern-day story of a boy’s encounter with miracles, which leads him slowly to following Christ and loving the Church. Again, one chapter at a time would be a great way to share this book.
“Sweet Song” is a lovely picture book that tells the story of St. Romanos and how he became ‘the melodist,’ in a miracle that happened on Christmas Eve. This book lends itself to discussions about miracles, saints, sacred music, and works well to be used around Christmas because of the timing of the miracle!

 

As you consider books to share in your classroom, be sure to check out your church’s bookstore or library, and seek great Orthodox options!

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Sunday Church School teachers may not be able to read entire chapter books from mainstream children’s literature to their students because of their length and the time constraints of the SCS class period. As a teacher, however, you should be aware of what is available in children’s literature, so that you can point students to books that relate to your lessons. There could be time to read selected portions of appropriate literature to add to the discussions in your classroom, as they fit.

For example, a selection from “Many Waters” would enhance a discussion on Noah and his family, for older children. “Mrs. Piggle Wiggle” contains chapters on selfishness, bickering, etc., that could easily fit into lessons about these topics. The “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe” chapter about Father Christmas is lovely to read around Nativity, and the chapters on Aslan’s death and resurrection would be great ones to read around Pascha.

The more familiar you are with wonderful children’s literature, the better you will be able to read selections or recommend to your Sunday Church School students, so that they can read the books themselves. What is the best way to learn about what is out there? Read it for yourself!!!

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As the Nativity season approaches, Sunday Church School teachers may want to consider reading aloud books that will help the children to prepare for the Nativity. Here are a few Advent/Nativity books that can be helpful to that end:

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