Most of us want to instill a love of books and learning in the lives of children—and what else might we be teaching them?
Whether you’re a home educating parent evaluating materials, or someone who simply enjoys reading stories to young children, it’s interesting to think about the values we’re passing on through the stories we share.
For example, what I learn from a story about a runaway cookie that was eaten by a fox is that lying gets you dinner. If this isn’t a concept you wish to encourage 😊 could you, for example, talk about misplaced trust?
Our children enjoyed Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories for years, with their highly transparent lessons on courtesy, honesty, kindness and faith. I can still remember my friend reading “Jesus Understood” to the class when I was in grade two, and I read it to our children. However, for this and other older books that were written at a time when political correctness was not an issue, I recommend reading the story over first. You may want to make some small changes, or be prepared to explain the context.
My Bible Friends presents Bible accounts in a clear, gentle manner. When scheming Queen Jezebel meets her doom, for example, children are simply told that she was taken away. Beautiful paintings and sensitive text make this series highly appropriate for young listeners.
Speaking of Biblical values, in 15 Bible Stories Not for VBS DiAne Gates explains why some stories don’t work well for children. She also gives us a blow-by-blow (figuratively, of course!) account of her adventures with the unruly neighbour boy.
If you prefer a more secular approach to values, Little Croc’s Purse presents honesty and courage with huge doses of humor and cuteness, and Tanglebird shows the compassion of a human family for a klutzy bird.
Ingenuity and compassion play pivotal roles in A Storm Called Katrina, a realistic tale of one family’s struggles after the hurricane, and their kindness to a little dog seeking a playmate.
There’s a heightened appreciation in the love we feel for those we have almost lost. This powerful truth is brought home with great gentleness in Taking Care of Sister Bear.
I also like a couple of indie books for beginning chapter book readers. In Cool Kids Wear Glasses, an eyewear prescription and two girls who think for themselves propel Mandy on a journey from Queen of Mean to truly cool. Human and rodent youngsters learn valuable lessons in You Can Go Home Again, a suspenseful, family friendly story of an irresponsible little girl and her pet mice.
I suspect that most of us want to promote empathy. What better way than to put yourself in another person’s shoes (or feathers)? Are You My Mother? is a story that children easily relate to.
Marie and Mr. Bee offers a different take on people with disabilities. The hero, who just happens to use a wheelchair, demonstrates empathy and compassion as she rescues a troublesome drone.
In a more serious vein, A Home for Dakota is a well-deserved rant against puppy mills. However, it can be told to the younger set as a simple story of a sick and angry girl and a frightened dog finding friendship and healing. There are interesting possibilities for promoting empathy here. Why did the girl dislike Dakota when she saw that the dog’s fur was falling out? And why was Dakota hurt by words that she couldn’t understand?
And now, what of “negative” values? Besides the “lying gets you what you want” scenario, are there other themes or values we might want to avoid, or even counteract?
According to the American Psychological Association, “there are three major effects of watching violence in the media (i.e. video games/television): children may become less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others, children may be more fearful of the world around them, and children may be more likely to behave in aggressive or hurtful ways toward others.” We can surmise that books portraying violence would have the same effect.
On the other hand, I read of a study that concluded that children who watched portrayals of violent acts might or might not be more likely to commit them–it depended how the villain and victim were portrayed. If the villain was someone the viewer respected, the influence was negative. But if the violence was portrayed from the victim’s point of view, the movie could promote compassion.
Food for thought?
The parables of Christ, Aesop’s fables, fairy tales, and modern stories . . . all have lessons to teach us and the children in our lives. As we enjoy sharing these stories with little ones, let us also be mindful of the opportunities to share ideas of enduring value.
Margaret Welwood savored storytime with the five children she and her husband raised. She now delights in writing and editing books for children, reading and playing with her grandchildren, and tutoring English as a Second Language and literacy.