Other Husband & Wife Articles

On Bedtime Stories
By Jason Godin

Once upon a time …

Thus begin classic children’s stories that so often open new worlds of thought and imagination to our young ones. We all can recall our favorite bedtime story, and maybe even recite parts of it by heart. And now, as parents, we have the privilege of introducing our own children to the wonderland of literature.

Yet we must also be careful. There may be more than dragons and goblins as we open a children’s book today. As a number of social critics have noted, there can also be subtle or overt hints of relativism, paganism and attacks on faith and religion. In choosing a story for your youngsters, be mindful of the influence literature had on your young mind, and pick one that is in keeping with your values, as well as fun and entertaining for your children.

I read nightly to my daughter and son, and I can see in their eyes and hear in their inquisitive voices how the stories not only capture their imaginations but help them to comprehend events around them.  Consequently, I have learned that what I read to them at bedtime matters all the more.

Here are four books that my wife and I and our children find useful and delightful. I will rate them according to four categories that I found in Michael O’Brien’s book about children’s literature, A Landscape with Dragons. O’Brien says that a story should help us move toward “temporary detachment,” a release from the “tyranny of the immediate,” the development of “objectivity and insight,” and victory in the “struggle for spiritual integrity.”

Temporary Detachment
My Big Little Golden Book About God (1956; Random House, 1984)
Written by Jane Werner Watson, illustrated by Eloise Wilkin

Although a bit dated, my wife and I find this book very effective for beginning to instill in our children at an early age the value of temporary detachment. The sense of detachment begins immediately for both the parent-reader and child-listener as the words of Watson, combined with the pictures of Wilkin, challenge us from the very first page to step back and consider the origins of the visible universe.  From the stars and birds in the sky to the bugs and flowers on the ground, parents find with their children that all of creation speaks ultimately to the greatness, goodness and love of God.        

Release from the Tyranny of the Immediate
Jesus A to Z (World Library Publications, 2007)
Written and illustrated by Michael O’Neill McGrath, O.S.F.S.

Brother McGrath teaches both parents and children how to withdraw from the “tyranny of the immediate” by recognizing the tools that contributes to it. Each page of Jesus A to Z colorfully depicts one of the letters of the alphabet, a spiritual citation at one of the lower corners of the drawing, as well as a brief description of the picture at the bottom of the page.

My daughter and I both favor the letter “G” (and not just because our name is Godin). The letter is formed by seven individuals, descending in age from the top of the page downward, viewing a computer monitor. The picture description reads “Google the Gospels to get Good News across generations.” Luke 4:42-44 serves as the scriptural passage, where Jesus leaves Capernaum saying, “To the other towns also I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God, because for this purpose I have been sent.”

Brother McGrath perhaps best sums up both the challenge and call of the tyranny of the immediate with a concluding note to readers: “The clothes and computers may change, but the basic message of God incarnate in our world remains timeless.”

Discovering Objectivity and Insight
Christmas in the Manger (HarperCollins, 1998)
Written by Nola Buck, illustrated by Felicia Bond

My wife and I read this book to our children outside of the Advent and Christmas seasons even more often than we read it to them during those holy days. One of the most valuable insights we believe parents must teach children is the true meaning of Advent and Christmas: the hopeful coming and actual arrival of Our Savior. Earlier and earlier every year, commercial advertisements bombard child viewers into believing Christmas is nothing more than hitting the toy jackpot. But Christmas in the Manger helps parents dispel some of that consumerism in the space of nine simple pages.

Using four lines of rhyme, Buck and Bond explain the meaning of the star of Bethlehem, diversity of manger animals, three wise men, Mary, and ultimately baby Jesus, who is “the reason for Christmas Day.” To drive home the search for objectivity and insight even further, I add my own touch at the beginning of every reading of the book by announcing it is “by God.”

Winning the Struggle for Spiritual Integrity
Baby’s First Book of Prayers (Zondervan, 2002)
Written by Melody Carlson, illustrated by Judith Pfeiffer

This is life’s great challenge that can never be learned too soon. Winning the struggle for spiritual integrity is as difficult for adults as it is for youth. The difficulty stems, I think, from the daily nature of the struggle itself. So how can parents, using a bedtime story, help their young children not only to recognize but to win this daily battle of the soul? My wife and I have found these 41 rhyming prayers by Melody Carlson a huge help, not just for our children but for us as well. Each prayer, vividly illustrated, concisely written, and ending with “Amen,” provides the greatest weapon of all for both parent and child to achieve victory: quiet prayer.

Jason Godin teaches U.S. history at Blinn College in Bryan, Texas, and is a Third Degree member of the Knights of Columbus.