I recently had the opportunity to talk to the fifth grade students at School of the Osage in Osage Beach, Missouri, about writing and books. While thinking about what I wanted to say, I thought back to the books I loved as a kid.
I read a ridiculous amount of books when I was little. (And I still do.) But what I realized the other day is that I don’t remember much about most of those books.
There’s even very little I recall about the book I read more than any other book in elementary school: Superfudge by Judy Blume. I’ve always been the kind of person who hates to crack a spine, dog-ear a page, or otherwise mar a book. But my copy of Superfudge was nearly falling apart by the time I outgrew it. Yet I still have very little memory of what it was about, other than the fact that Fudge had an older brother named Peter and a baby sister named Tootsie.
My parents’ basement currently houses boxes upon boxes of Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and Trixie Belden mysteries. However, I remember exactly one minor storyline from any of those hundreds of books.
Books That Stick
So what books DO I remember? These three series/books stick with me to this day:
- The entire Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery
- The entire Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
- Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt
I read all of those books multiple times, and I could give you a detailed synopsis of each one.
What’s interesting is that my favorite book in the Anne and Little House series aren’t the ones most people would pick as their favorite, and they’re definitely not the most well-known. And Homecoming is the first book of a series, but I can’t remember if I read any of the rest of them.
So last week I started thinking about those three favorite books and why I remember them. Let me walk you through the parts that really resonated with me. I think you’ll find a recurring theme in these books that stick with me.
My favorite Anne book is the final in the eight-book series: Rilla of Ingleside. Rilla Blythe was Anne and Gilbert’s youngest child, and the book took place during World War I. Rilla’s three brothers and nearly all the other young men in their town went off to war, and a number of them didn’t come home again, including one of Rilla’s brothers.
When Rilla was around fifteen years old and a self-confessed baby-hater, she went door-to-door collecting items for the war effort. She got to one house only to discover that the husband had gone off to war, his wife had just died, and their newborn was wailing his little head off. The woman who had been taking care of the mother informed Rilla she had no intention of taking care of him.
In order to keep the baby from being neglected in the short-term and being sent to an orphanage in the long-term, Rilla took him home with her. When she got home, her father told her that if the baby was going to stay in the house, Rilla had to do 100% of the work to take care of him. She didn’t know he was just testing her resolve, but she did it. She took care of that baby, came to love him as her own, and then delivered him back to his father when the man came home from war several years later.
The Long Winter is my favorite Little House book. The gist of the story is that during one winter in the 1880s, their town suffered through blizzard after blizzard. Eventually, the trains stopped trying to get through the snow. The Ingalls family ran out of wood or coal to burn, so they had to use straw. I vividly remember the scene where Pa taught Laura how to twist the straw into sticks in order to burn it.
With no trains running, the entire town was in danger of running out of food. Laura’s future husband, Almanzo, and one of his friends risked their lives to head some distance across the countryside to a farm where there was rumored to be wheat. The rumors were true, and the men saved the town from starvation.
Homecoming, set in the early 1980s, began with thirteen-year-old Dicey Tillerman and her three younger siblings realizing their mother had abandoned them in a mall parking lot. The four, led by Dicey, then had to make their way to an unknown relative’s house, which was 100 miles or so away. The book documents their long journey there, the hardships they faced with their cousin, their subsequent journey to their grandmother’s house, and their attempt to convince her to allow them to stay.
Why did those stories stick with me when hundreds (maybe thousands) of others didn’t?
I think I was fascinated by people who faced unimaginable (to me) difficulties and situations yet pushed through them and came out stronger people on the other side. My childhood, by contrast, was an overwhelmingly happy and carefree one. I couldn’t imagine being in situations like theirs, yet I think I hoped I would be as strong and determined as they were if I found myself in a similar scenario.
Think about the books that stick with you from childhood. What do you remember? Which stories struck a chord with you? Do they all have similar themes, or are they different?
How to Connect with Kids Over Books They Love
Now consider the kids in your life. What themes seem to resonate with them in the books they read? You might need to ask some questions to figure it out. For instance, choose a few of their most-read and most-loved books, and ask them to describe their favorite parts of those books. Find out what they like the best about their favorite character.
See if there’s anything similar about their responses for each one. Then, once you’ve figured out what themes resonate with them, there are several things you can do to connect with kids over books they love.
- Capitalize on it. Take the opportunity to start conversations around those topics. Talk about how the themes relate to your spiritual beliefs. Think together about people you know who espouse those same traits or who have dealt with situations similar to the ones in the books. Discuss what you admire about those people.
- Consider how they can live out those themes. If the topics or traits that attract them are some that they can actually incorporate into their lives, challenge them to do so. For instance, if their favorite characters tend to befriend people that are lonely, discuss who they know that needs a friend. Or if they gravitate toward books where the main character bucks the system for the greater good, talk about ways they could do that in respectful but courageous ways. Help them translate what they’re internalizing from these books into something that helps them live well.
- Challenge them to branch out. If they tend to ONLY gravitate toward the same types of books or stories with similar themes, encourage them to try reading something different. They might find a new genre or theme that they really like and connect with.
Finally, if there are kids in your life that don’t like to read, I want to introduce you to this quote from reading consultant Frank Serafini:
“There is no such thing as a child who hates to read; there are only children who have not found the right book.”
I’d like to amend that and say maybe they haven’t found the right theme. If a child in your life hates to read, consider what theme might resonate with her. Then find a book, graphic novel, or comic book that fits the bill, and encourage her to give it a try. Maybe it will stick with her forever.
Want another way to connect with kids over books?
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