Often we encourage children to work through the struggles of their current reading level, so they can push into the next. Some students pushing hard find themselves wading through content too mature for their current character level. Working hard and striving for achievement is commendable, but if it is gained at the expense of their spiritual and emotional education, it is a set back.
In her book, Honey for a Child’s Heart, Gladys Hunt reminds us to not skip books that spell out character traits, even though it seems like your student is “beyond” the books' reading level. Good stories, stories that last, are much more than a reading level. They build the heart of any reader, old or young. They are books for a stout heart.
When we are tempted to do this, it is our pride that heads this call and it is our pride that could rob us of the opportunity to share something beautiful and noble.
Here are nine books not to miss at any age and to relish in the reading:
1. Little Blue Truck
As the book reminds us, “You helped me and they helped you. Now I see a lot depends on a helping hand from a few good friends.” Starting out with a truck rumbling through the countryside greeting his friends, the story follows Blue as he helps a grumpy dump truck out of a tight spot. Most importantly it teaches us to always be kind.
2. Little Red Hen
We all want to reap the benefits of hard work. Little Read Hen reminds us that to share in the celebration, we should first share in the hard work.
3. Mike Mulligan And His Steam Shovel
Mike Mulligan and MaryAnn, his steam shovel, have been out gunned by the new electric engines. They learn that difficult jobs can be overcome with perseverance and encouragement.
4. The Giving Tree
A little boy grows up with a tree that always has something to give from apples to branches. The little boy grows into an old man who finally learns to give back by spending time and resting with the tree. The sacrificial tree is a good conversation starter. It helps us all think about sacrifice and giving at great cost.
5. Dangerous Journey
The illustrated version of Pilgrim’s Progress helps young children start to recognize and name the situations they are in and respond to them appropriately by following Christian’s trials as he walks from his home to the Celestial City. The illustrator is true to the nature of the struggles we face, so some of the pictures may be scary for young readers.
6. Sir Malcom and the Missing Prince
This book is a great example of every Lamplighter book written. It follows a spoiled prince who is sent away by his father, so he can learn about servant leadership. The end always leaves me crying when father and son unite in mutual respect.
Lamplighter books are old, mostly unfamiliar stories that are being republished in order to turn the hearts of fathers to their children and children to their fathers, build godly role models, encourage good conversations, and “build Christ like character one story at a time.” More recently Lamplighter began a radio theater. So remember these audio stories for your next family road trip!
7. Daughters of Destiny
Anthologies are often overlooked in the great books, but they can be especially poignant as particular character traits or themes are explored. Daughters of Destiny is a biographically based look at biblical femininity through the lives of dozens of women. It is excellent for cultivating a godly perspective of womanhood in boys and girls which is much needed today. Rather than preaching, the author tells the stories of wise princesses, strong pioneers, patient martyrs, and sacrificing missionaries. This book looks at the biblical purpose for womanhood and shows how adhering to principles, builds strong, vivacious women. Anthologies, like this one, are excellent for family reading as they provide natural breaks and it is easy to complete one story in a single sitting.
8. In Freedom’s Cause
G.A. Henty is a master of historical fiction. Before Bernard Cornwell and Michael Shaara, Henty wrote about almost every period of time to his current day. From the Hyksos in Ancient Egypt to treasure hunting in the America’s in the 1800’s, Henty covered it. His stories are action packed and I still remember reading my first Henty with my parents before bed when I was seven or eight years old. It was so exciting! I read it on my own and finished the whole thing because I had to know what happened. They are written for boys and lovers of history, but anyone can enjoy them and they make history readily accessible.
In Freedom’s Cause follows Archie, a young Scottish noble, and his adventures with Wallace and Bruce in the push for Scottish Independence. You will have a hard time believing this was a fictional account when you finish it.
9. Herein is Love vol. 1: Genesis
The best book, of course, the one that leads to the stoutest of hearts, is the Bible, filled with real people trying and failing until they are shown to only have hope in a Messiah. In her chapter by chapter commentaries for children, Nancy Ganz pulls the drawstring of Scripture to show the tight, narrative purpose of everything that ever happened, Christ came to save us all.
There are supplemental lesson aids, memory work, study guides, and much more, but when my family walked through them, we usually just sat in silence reflecting on her wisdom and God’s Word. She is about to release the book of Deuteronomy, so there at least four other books to read by her, too.
There are hundreds of underrated children books, but I hope this will give you a launching point to find books that fit you and your family's heart level.
Go forth and fill up your children (and yourself) with great literature!