Parenting: Leveraging Literature for Spiritual Growth

Engaging children through literature is an easy way to pass on such needed swords in our battle to protect them against the world. And not just protect them, but equip them with the armor of God: the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit.

Reading secular literature as a Christian has been a topic of debate for as long as there have been books and Christians. As parents, we often question whether our children are reading appropriate material at school. We worry they are independently selecting the wrong stories…, stories too violent, or worldly, or sinful. It becomes especially difficult when we see a trend in young adult literature emerging that we aren’t sure is appropriate for our children. Take The Hunger Games for example. This series ignited interest for children who had never read before. Because some parents weren’t reading it for themselves first, there were probably children reading about particular topics that would have been unacceptable to parents if they had known. We must be a critical component in guiding them through secular literature through the eyes of a believer.

As parents we must be intentional with our book choices for our children.

As parents we must be intentional with our book choices for our children.

The crucial elements in reading secular books in a Christian home are discernment, engagement, and presence. When Christians close themselves off from such books without these elements, they can often lose out on opportunities to grow and learn and pass on biblical truths. The saying that practice makes perfect is as good an adage as any regarding reading to children. The more time we spend modeling how to analyze secular stories through the eyes of a believer, the better our children will be at it once they read alone

For parents who aren’t overly analytical and find seeing the symbolism difficult, lucky for you, there’s Google. Many sites refer parents to great children’s literature. I encourage you as parents to be intentional in selecting books to read to your children. Read the book yourself first, and find those moments where you can stop and discuss. Seek those passages that allow you to share the Bible. Even go to the Bible and read the scriptures the book reminds you of. I will never forget finishing The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe with Reese (my six year old). As soon as we finished, we went to the Bible. I read her the scriptures that showed how Jesus’s story was Aslan’s. Our approach to these moments must be based on the Bible. Realize that our children, as scripture states, are like sheep among the wolves. To fully equip them with the armor they need, we must be present. We must engage. And, we must pray for discernment.

We probably all agree on why we need to read to our children and discuss biblical truths and spiritual matters, but how is the question many parents have. I’ll give examples:

The Giver quartet, by Lois Lowry, is a series intended for older readers. Depending on the maturity of your reader, I’d recommend this series to children at least ten years old. Looking back at these books, I made many notes in the margins before I read them to my classes. There are several passages I crossed out. Some passages I even rewrote. My main goal in reading this series was never to confuse or spark unnecessary conversations, but to encourage understanding so deeper conversations could occur. So, the passages that could have possibly done more harm than good, I edited.

In chapter 5 of The Giver, Lowry writes about the main character’s growing fondness for his female friend. This wasn’t a topic I was ready to explore with my young readers. So, while reading this chapter, I focused on what was needed for the overall meaning to the story. To do this seamlessly, so the listener/reader doesn’t know you’ve altered the original words, put the work in first. The first step is reading it yourself and then deciding what might need to be eliminated. The next step is to find those passages that can foster the conversations you want. Find places to stop and talk. Here is a passage from the third novel in The Giver series that gave me pause: “Gasping, Matty called for his gift to come. There was no sense of how to direct it. He clawed at the earth, feeling the power in his hands enter, pulsating, into the ruined world. He became aware, suddenly, that he had been chosen for this.” This chapter was strikingly similar to Jesus sacrificing himself for us. I didn’t even have to point it out to my young readers. They got it. I can tell you from experience there is no joy greater than seeing children realize, through beautiful imagery in literature, what their Savior did for them.

My charge to parents is to cultivate children who love to read. The bigger challenge is to do the leg work needed to fully engage your children. To sum up, you must be intentional in your book selections; research and read for yourself first, note the most poignant passages and bring it back to the Bible. There’s no time like the present. With summer fast approaching, I have begun creating a summer school/ home school curriculum for my two daughters. I’m taking the steps now to find the books we will read this summer. I invite you to come along.

A few suggested books and sites for you to explore:

Goodreads: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

Reformedreader: Books for Kids

Goodreads: The Ark The Reed and The Fire Cloud

Moody Children’s Literature

… And probably my favorite (other than The Giver). This is the one I’ll be using this summer with my children.

Goodreads: A Wrinkle in Time

Amy DuBose has been married to Dustin for 12 years and they have two wonderful daughters, Emerson (7) and Reese (6), and a son Sam (6 months). The DuBose family are valued members of Crossings Community Church.

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  • Joel

    Ella and I are in the middle of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. She’s tuned in to every bit of imagery that points to Jesus. It’s been a lot of fun.

  • Matt

    This is a very relevant topic for us with Bethany. She hears about what her teen classmates are reading and it sparks her interest. Not only that, we have been uncomfortable on occasion with what her teachers suggest that she read.

    I have some strong feelings about the ideas of ‘Christian Literature’ vs non…. and the same can be said for music. I believe there are books which use Christian terms and ones which have a goal to create gospel awareness… HOWEVER, just because a piece of literature doesn’t mention Jesus does not mean it is UN-Christian.

    We have to remember that we worship a Creator who created all things for His glory which means that the greatest writers and artist are always just rearranging the original art of our God (That’s Lewis :) ).

    I agree completely with your statement regarding discernment, engagement, and presence. As parents we really are asking two big questions: (1) Is the book appropriate for our child’s maturity and (2) are we as parents willing to engage in the work of intentional involvement and conversation with the reading?

    Thanks, Amy! Your posts are always very practical and helpful….

  • Amy DuBose

    Isn’t it fun, Joel? And there’s such an intrinsic reward for both parent and child. Matt, the statement from C.S. Lewis is spot on. Wise wise words.