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Ask Jani (+ Ray!): “Favorite Children’s Books”

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Episode Synopsis

Listen in as Ray and Jani share some of their family’s favorite books from when their children were young.

Audio Transcript

Favorite Children's Literature

Our inexhaustive list of "Favorite Children's Literature" that we discuss in Episode 96 has been prepared in PDF format for you to download and print at home.

Jani: Hello, everyone! Welcome to He Restores My Soul with Jani Ortlund and I have Ray with me here again today. Thanks for joining us, Ray.

Ray: Oh, it’s a privilege. Glad to.

Our Question for Today: Favorite Children’s Books

Jani: We have a question from a listener. Ray, will you read the question for us?

Ray: Sure.

“Question for Jani, I’d love to hear an episode on favorite children’s books from Jani’s perspective as a teacher and a mom. Thank you guys!”

Jani: Well, I think we could do about 25 podcasts on this, couldn’t we?

Ray: There’s so many great kids books.

Jani: Oh, we love kids books.

Our Answer will come in 2 Parts

Jani: Why don’t we structure it this way? Let’s talk about the importance of reading.

Ray: Okay.

Jani: And then let’s talk about what books we’ve enjoyed.

Jani: And I’ll tell you, dear listener, that we will have a list on our website of some of our favorite children’s books, because we’ll never be able to get through all of them. But we will mention a few of them today.

Part 1: “What’s So Important About Reading?”

Jani: So Ray, what’s so important about reading?

Ray: Okay, let me just kick it off, honey, because you’re the expert here. You taught elementary school for many years, and you were an historically epic mom of our kids during their years. You knew how to fill the house with things that would provide a humane environment, a fun environment, a godly environment, a properly disciplined, ordered environment, and we filled the home with books. Because God gave us a book. He doesn’t do drugs. Christianity is not that kind of reality. Christianity is a thinking faith. And God is a speaking God, he’s a thinking God, he’s a writing God, he’s an imagining God. And we’re created in his image, and that’s ultimately why we love books, and why we want our Christian homes to have books at the center of our family culture in a Christian home.

Jani: I love that, Ray. That’s very helpful for us to think of why books are so important in a Christian home.

The Daily Drill

Jani: I wonder if it would help our listeners for you to describe what our home was like in those early years. We had our first three children right in a row, and boy, we were tired by the end of the day, but we had a little routine. Do you remember after you’d get home from work, we’d have our dinner together—noisy dinner—and then what?

Ray: Oh gosh, I’ll tell you something, I really miss those early years. It was mega commitment, 24/7, all hands on deck and I really miss it. We decided together, we are not going to treat home life and family as a death sentence. We’re going to treat this as a privilege and a joy.

Jani: And a gift from God.

Ray: A gift from God. So we had our dinner and you know, peas were on the floor eventually. And you know, high chairs and trays had to be cleaned up and but it was wonderful.

Ray: So, after dinner, you did the dishes, and I took the kids into the bathroom for tubby time, and then get them in their jammies and then we would go to the sofa in the front room and sit down together and read books together. And maybe play a little game, sing a song and at the appropriate time (and it’s the grownups who decide what bedtime is for the kids; the kids don’t decide). Tuck them into bed, pat their little behinds and sing them to sleep and then creep out of the room. You know, leaving the door two inches open just in case there’s a need. And we did that every night. And we had no regrets and books were at the center of that daily drill. We thoroughly enjoyed it.

Jani: Yes. And when we had a babysitter come, when we were out one night, we asked them to read as well to keep the routine up so that our children came to expect reading time every night. They looked forward to it.

Long-Term Affects

Ray: You know, honey, this just occurs to me, one of our kids told me, he said, “One reason I went into scholarship eventually as an adult was because our home had lots of books.”

Jani: Really?

Ray: Yeah, shelves of books, adult books, children’s books, in between books and I had no idea that the very environment we created in our home was shaping our son in that wonderful way.

Jani: Well, I’m glad I asked you here today to learn that about our boy. Thank you for sharing that. It is true though. A child “catches” the environment that he or she grows up in.

“When should I start reading to my children?”

Jani: You know, some of our listeners might be thinking, “Well, I will read to my children but when do I start?” I want to encourage you to begin from day one. You know, you’re holding that little baby and you want to speak to that baby but you don’t know what to say. And you coo and you aw and you tell them how beautiful they are and how much you love them and how pretty they are, whatever. But after a while you run out of words. So I suggest you have some books near your feeding station or if you’re nursing near your nursing chair, and just read to your baby, frequently from day one. Read children’s poetry, read the Psalms, read books that are interesting to you. But read. let your child hear language. Let your child hear the cadence of your voice, the rhythm of your voice, the rhyme of words. And it will sink in even while they’re so young, just days and weeks old.

Ray: Amazing.

Part 2: A List of Some of our Favorite Children’s Books

Ages 0-2

Jani: Now, I think this listener who wrote in with this question is asking for a list. I want to start with just the youngest. I don’t know how far we’ll get today, Ray. But let’s start with books for non-speakers, let’s say 0 to 2 years of age.

Jani: You used to love reading to our kids. I mean, you started reading Winnie the Pooh before they could speak. Eric, I think, was three when you started and he was a late speaker. Krista was two and Dane was nine months, I think, when the first time you read Winnie the Pooh. And they just loved cuddling with you. You didn’t read for a half an hour. You maybe read for five to eight minutes, an appropriate length, so that you’d leave them wanting more. But you’d show them pictures and you used good inflection.

Ray: Little kids, little books. Bigger kids, bigger books.

Jani: Yes. So good, that’s so good.

Ray: I miss those days so much.

Jani: Oh I know.

Ray: I have many regrets in life, sweetheart, but here’s a regret I don’t have: all the time that we put in caring for our children, investing in them, and especially reading to them.

Jani: And now we love to read to our grandkids whenever we can. But let me mention some of the books.

Book Categories & Series

Jani: Especially when they’re younger, get those big picture books and work with them on color words, identifying shapes and pictures. Work on language skills, enunciation. We love the Spot books, Spot The Dog books. Oh, our kids loved those. Some of them have “lift the flap.” Those are wonderful books where the kids can interact.

Jani: We love the Random House Book of Poetry for Children. It has over 572 poems, and lots of illustrations as well. It’s wonderful to read poetry to little ones. They love the rhythm. You could just open up to any page and just find something to make you smile or chuckle. Here’s one.

Ray: “Dust of Snow” by Robert Frost.

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

“Dust of Snow” by Robert Frost

Ray: Wow.

Jani: Isn’t that interesting?

Ray: Robert Frost! Not R-U-D-E. A day I rued. R-U-E-D. A bad day.

Jani: Yes. You could just pick any poem from there, read it to your baby. Connect eye to eye.

TIP: Let them sense how much YOU love books!

Jani: Let them hear and let them sense how much you love books. In our home, books were to be treated with care. They could not be thrown around. They had a basket to be stored in or a bookshelf to be stored in but they were special. In fact, we tried to teach our children how special books are by giving them one at each birthday and each Christmas. We didn’t have a lot of money. At Christmas time they got one gift from us plus a book. Same thing at their birthday. One gift from us plus a book. So we were able to invest in good children’s books at Christmas and birthday time.

Jani: Now once they’re starting to speak, that’s when it’s fun to get some fun books that rhyme. Or the I Can Read books that have short sentences. I’d also really strongly encourage you to have the Jesus Storybook Bible.

Ray: Oh, it’s amazing.

Jani: Oh, it’s hard for me to read it without tearing up at times. But your child can understand that from an early age.

Ray: Yes.

Jani: And it will speak to your heart as well. Make sure that you’re reading time at times includes Bible stories.

QUICK NOTE: The Bible is Not in our DNA

Jani: Now on top of that, you will want to have family devotions (on top of your reading time). Right, Ray? We would do that. But make sure you include Bible storybooks in your child’s library.

Ray: The Bible is not in our DNA. Every generation has to learn afresh everything about the Bible. So it’s our privilege as Christian parents, to impart as much as we can to our children from the Bible. Even learning the books of the Bible by heart (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and so forth), and giving the kids bribes along the way (prizes) for learning these things we care about so deeply. We were not above bribing our kids, were we?

Jani: No, not at all.

Couple of Jani’s FavoriteS

Jani: I have a couple of favorite books that I’m just going to mention for this age group. One of them is called Dogger by Shirley Hughes. It’s a wonderful story of a little boy who lost his very favorite stuffed animal, and how his family helped him, and saw him through all the way till they found it at the end of the story. It’s just a wonderful story of family care and love that your little 2 or 3-year old could really identify with.

Ray: Interesting. So that really teaches a child how we roll as a family.

Jani: Yes, yes. Another book. I don’t have it here with me, darling. It’s called Sam, Bangs & Moonshine.

Ray: Of course.

Jani: Of course, and it’s a wonderful story. I’ll have to look up the author and put it on the website. But it teaches about lying, the difference between truth and lying. Because this little girl named Sam called it moonshine. But it wasn’t moonshine, it was lying. And it got people into trouble and it hurt people.

Ray: We need to learn that.

Jani: Yes, it’s good for a child to learn that through a story. They get caught up in it.

Jani: One of my favorite children’s artists and authors for this age is Jan Brett. One of our favorite family books was called The Hat but the pictures are so beautiful in here as well. You want to capture your child’s imagination with beautiful artwork, as well as good stories. So look for some books by Jan Brett.

Ray: So the author did that artwork there.

Jani: Yes, both.

Ray: That’s impressive.

Jani: Oh, I know. Yeah, beautiful.

Jani: And then, oh, we’ve got others here. I’ll mention here’s one I loved: Tops & Bottoms. It’s a wonderful story about farm animals and how they trick each other. And how they learned the difference between opposites.

Ray: Oh, how interesting.

Jani: So lots of fun there.

Foundational Skills they will learn from Books

Ray: So you’re teaching them logical categories?

1. Language Development

Jani: Yes. Because this is what you want to teach a child in these early preschool years. First of all, language development. That’s why you read. They will not pick up everything just from your verbalizing, talking back and forth. But when you read something, it will be a little different kind of learning. They’ll take it in a little differently. So language development.

2. Critical Thinking

Jani: Another skill that you want to teach them is critical thinking like opposites, like moonshine, like caring for our family a virtue.

3. Cause & Effect

Jani: And then, of course, so many stories teach cause and effect, which is so good for a little child to learn. “If you do this, this will happen. This is why mommy asks you not to run out into the street,” or whatever. “This is why mommy asked you to obey her, and indeed insists on obedience.” Cause and effect. You can learn so much of this through books.

Ray: You know, honey, that’s really striking because we can’t play a Bach fugue if we don’t learn our scales. We can’t do trigonometry if we don’t know that two plus two equals four. So these early years of reading build out foundational categories of understanding and a reality so that we help our kids. We not only enrich them personally, spiritually relationally, but we set them up for their early education as well.

Jani: Yes. Yeah, which is what our responsibility is. We want to fulfill that. Yes, such a privilege. Yes, darling.

Anthologies to Help

Jani: Well, I know this listener has asked for some titles. I would rather send her, I’ll give a few more titles, but I’d rather send her to some books that really helped us find the right books to read. One is called Honey For a Child’s Heart by Hunt. And it gives all sorts of ideas about what kind of books to read, how to read them, poetry, stories, what makes a good book, how to help you decide what to read.

Jani: And then another one that Ray and I’ve used quite a bit is the Read Aloud Handbook, which talks to you about what to read aloud, how to read aloud and it also includes some great read alouds, one of Ray’s favorites, “The Ransom of Red Chief.”

Ray: Oh, it is hilarious.

Jani: He loves that.

Ray: And how do you pronounce that author’s name for the Read Aloud Handbook?

Jani: Jim Trelease. The Read Aloud Handbook. Again, these will be on our website.

Jani: I just want to mention a few more before we close.

Ages 5-8

Jani: We loved two books edited by William Bennett. One is called The Children’s Book of Heroes and it had short stories of different heroes. Let me just open up here to the table of contents and I’ll read you some of them. Oh, they’ve got David and Goliath, Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa, the Knights of the Silver Shield, Father Flanagan, the Hero of Indian Cliff. Anyhow, all sorts of different heroes. They’re not long stories, two to three pages, beautifully illustrated. You could read these in maybe 10 to 15 minutes to your children who are more five and above. Five to eight.

Ray: Children need stories of courage because they’re going to need courage themselves.

Jani: Yes, and William Bennett—Bill Bennett—also edited a book called The Children’s Book of Virtues. And it gives stories that, and poems as well, that just teach about things like honesty, and self-discipline, courtesy, compassion, faith, responsibility, loyalty, friendship, and again, courage. These two books. We keep going back to even with our grandkids.

Ray: The Children’s Book of Virtues and The Children’s Book of Heroes.

Jani: Both by William Bennett.

Jani: And then one final book we need to mention for this age group, Aesop’s Fables. Oh, we loved reading those with the kids, didn’t we? Again, you can find all sorts of different versions of it. We would encourage you to get one that’s beautifully illustrated so your child will pick it up again and again just to look at the pictures.

Ray: Now our edition, Charles Santore. Is that how I pronounce that name, honey?

Jani: I believe so.

Ray: Charles Santore, Aesop’s Fables and they’re absolutely fun stories but they always have an insight that they offer.

Jani: Yes, yes.

Jani: We’d also encourage you to have books around that talk about the Bible, that are theological in nature. Of course, I’ll put a plug out for my children’s book, A Child’s First Book About Marriage, God’s Way is Always Best, it’s called. You can read that to a 5 to 8 or 9 year old and talk about marriage. What does the Bible teach about marriage? Whether you’re single or married, it will help the children in your life learn what God says about marriage. There are other books about biblical issues, Noah’s Ark and the Exodus. There is a book about Bible history, the ABCs of Bible History. So explore different kinds of literature.

Ray: The great thing, sweetheart, is that you have such a wide awareness of what’s available to young parents to read to their children, to read with their children, and to give to their children as those children get older. There’s no way we can fit it all into one podcast, but you are building out a sub page on the website, where much more information will be available to your listening friends and let the reading continue and grow.

Jani: Yes, I think what I’ll do, Ray, is offer them a list of some of our favorite books, at our children’s books as our kids were growing. That’s what I’ll do, because otherwise it’ll just be overwhelming.

Ray: We know these books really work.

Jani: Yes, yes. We hope this has been fun for you to listen in as Ray and I have talked about reading with our kids. And we encourage you now to go find a good children’s book and read to the children in your life. May the Lord restore your soul as you do.

Thank You

Thank you for joining us today. This podcast is generously funded through Renewal Ministries. If you would like to discover more about Jani and Ray’s ministry or make a donation, visit their website at renewalministries.com. If you have a question for Jani or would like to learn more about this podcast, please visit our website at herestoresmysoul.org.

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He Restores My Soul with Jani Ortlund seeks to encourage women with God’s renewing power for their busy lives. Episodes include relevant biblical teaching, stimulating gospel conversations with other Christians, and “Ask Jani” sessions where we talk about what’s on our listeners’ hearts.

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