Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Why I Read Hard Stories to my Children

I used to be one of those moms who avoided anything scary, dark, or laced with really bad guys. Violence was rarely allowed in the books and shows that I allowed my children to enjoy.  And I was that way for a very good reason.

I hated evil, and I wanted my children to be innocent for as long as possible.  I still do.

But as my family has grown and my older children near their teen years, something happened.

They became aware that evil existed, which meant my youngest ones became aware as well.

I had to make a decision.  Continue to avoid those books and stories, or confront evil head-on.  And, in confronting it head-on, what about my littles?  How do I give them the same level of shelter that my older ones had?

Or do I need to?

I realized that my younger ones are much more aware of the realities of this world than my older children were at that age because, well, they have older siblings.  They hear and see the things we talk about and they ask questions.  Big questions.

I realized that they are ready for hard stories, stories of fear and sufferning told by their mama with love, filled with God's truth, with victors who overcome and redemption as the reward for courage and sacrifice.

After all, how will they ever understand Jesus if they do not understand suffering?  And how better to give them an understanding of suffering and overcoming the impossible than through story?

Our first foray into this level of intensity was The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.  It was definitely over their heads, right?
They got it, so much more of it than I expected.  They sensed the danger in the forests, gasped wide-eyed, as the Trolls threatened the band of misfits who pursued the dragon's treasure, and cheered when Bilbo overcame his fear and came out fighting.  Their imaginations took flight.  It was glorious.  Even for the Kindergartners.

So our next foray into reading was The Chestnut King trilogy...

Written by N.D. Wilson, it is the story of a boy named Henry who is not who he thought he was.  It is a story of transformation, terror, and triumph that had us riveted.  We read a chapter every single school day for 6 months.  Without fail, the kids would BEG me to keep reading.  They loved every scary, intense, hilarious page.
And I mean it, this series was SCARY.  Sometimes I worried that it was too intense, especially as I am very careful to avoid evil in the form of witchcraft or demonic influence in books.  But in these books, there was no clouding of the line between good and evil.  Good was gloriously good and evil was, without a doubt, evil.  (There is one curse word in book two...but it is uttered by a character who is evil personified.  Because I was reading it aloud to them, I could simply skip or replace it.)  When we finally finished the third book, we were all a little sad.
We missed Henry, Henrietta, Penelope, Uncle Frank and Aunt Dottie.  The boy who was afraid and lonely and insecure, the boy who realized there was more inside of him than he could have ever thought possible, had become a friend.    

So after three fiction read-alouds in a row, I looked for a non-fiction book.  I decided to read The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom.

It only took us a little over two weeks to read the fifteen chapters.  But in two weeks, my children learned of the Holocaust, of suffering, of love, and of joy in the midst of the worst possible circumstances.  In two weeks, our perspective toward gratitude has been forever altered.   We fell in love with the ten Boom family, Papa, Mama, Corrie, Betsie, and Willem.  My children stared unblinking as I read of their arrest and imprisonment.  They grimaced as I read of the beds of straw, infested with fleas.  They flinched as I read of the executions, the beatings, and the Bible that was their only and greatest treasure hiding between Corrie's shoulder blades and in danger of discovery by the guards.  They watched me quizzically as I read of Betsie's death through my sobs, and of the miraculous beauty of her homegoing.   Even my youngest, my 6 and 8 year olds, grasped the miracle that took place in Corrie's heart when she forgave her captors.  

I tell you all of this to encourage you.  Don't shy away from hard stories when your children are young.  Be careful, always, taking into consideration their maturity and sensitivity.   But stories like these are life-changing.  Even if they don't grasp all the depth of meaning, they will take something away from what you are reading.  If, after two weeks, my 6 year olds only remember that "God helped Corrie to be brave" then it was worth every minute I spent reading to them. 

Because if God helped Corrie to be brave, then they can be assured that He will also help them to be brave.  


  1. So fun to pass on awesome stories! Moments like those are why I love homeschooling.


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