How Reading Stories Helps Children Love the Truth

Raising children is an overwhelming task, especially given how much insight we need to impart before they leave home. I want my six kids to know God’s love and to desire to live out his vision for their lives. I want them to know they’re cherished. And that’s only the beginning.

For example, I want my children to know this: Courage isn’t the absence of fear; it’s the resolve to act rightly even in the face of fear. I can sit them down and explain this point. I can give the word’s Latin root, cor (“heart”), and say that courage means taking heart and behaving with pluck when the odds are against you. We can brainstorm ways to demonstrate courage in everyday life: introduce ourselves to the new family down the street or calmly face a drill at the dentist. Such activities take courage of some sort, but not the kind that quickens the hero’s heartbeat within me. And I’m absolutely certain it wouldn’t inspire my kids.

The problem, of course, is that it’s a boring lesson. And I don’t want my greatest act of heroism to be overcoming shyness or having a cavity filled. I was made for more than that. And my kids? They were, too.

What if, instead of sitting down my kids and rehearsing the lesson above, I cuddled with them on the couch and began reading the Wingfeather Saga? We’d join the Igiby children in facing the fearsome Fangs of Dang, reaching deep within themselves to find what they need to live as crown jewels of Anniera, facing insurmountable odds with a tenacity they didn’t know they had. We’d lose ourselves in the story and witness firsthand what it looks like to be truly courageous. We’d see that, in no uncertain terms, there can be no courage without adversity, no virtue in staying without the temptation to run away. There can be no honor when there is no opportunity for sin.

The courage of a hero starts to beat dimly, quietly within our hearts, growing steadier and steadier as we walk through the story with Janner and Tink and Leeli, as we vicariously live as chosen ones called to a harder and higher path.

If you want a child to know the truth, tell him the truth. If you want a child to love the truth, tell him a story.

I once heard Andrew Peterson, author of the Wingfeather Saga, say: “If you want a child to know the truth, tell him the truth. If you want a child to love the truth, tell him a story.”

We don’t want our kids to grow up and face adversity wondering, Do I have what it takes? We want them to know. We want them to have witnessed so many heroes living with integrity and fighting their weaknesses that they trust in the sureness of doing the right thing, even when no one is watching. We want them to stand up like warriors. Forget wondering, Do I have what it takes? We want them to ask, What kind of hero will I become?

Asking the Right Questions

When we read Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis, my children faced the question, “What would you do if you were locked overnight in a shed like Bud was?” They had to wonder if they’d be as brave or as positive as Bud in the dark days of the Great Depression. Since my children have never encountered the kind of cruelty, prejudice, or hardship Bud had to overcome, those were questions that touched them in new places.

My three oldest kids were still quite young when I first read aloud The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. After reading the part where the Tinman and Scarecrow debate whether it’s more important to have a heart or a brain, I decided to pose a question to my young listeners—then ages 9, 7, and 5.

“Which do you think is more important?” I asked. “A heart? Or a brain? If you could only pick one, which would you choose?”

Audrey didn’t miss a beat, answering “brains” before I’d finished asking the question.

“But how would you love God?” Allison cried. “And how would you ever fall in love?”

Forget asking, ‘Do I have what it takes?’ We want them to ask, ‘What kind of hero will I become?’

There began a short but powerful conversation about how important it is that we let neither the brain nor the heart override the other. When we met the Cowardly Lion, we added courage to that mix, realizing how important it is to think deeply, love fully, and face our fears.

I’m not sure I could’ve pulled off that conversation if the story hadn’t propelled us. I’m certain it wouldn’t have sunk in as deeply as it did that day. It didn’t only leave an imprint on my kids, after all—here I am, nearly seven years later, still talking about it.

By the time our children leave our homes, we don’t want them to wonder whether their lives matter. We want them to know they do. If we tell them enough stories, they will have encountered hard questions and “lived” through so many hardships and unexpected situations that, God willing, they will possess what they need to courageously follow the ultimate Hero, all the days of their lives.

Editors’ note: 

This is an adapted excerpt from The Read Aloud Family: Making Meaningful and Lasting Connections with Your Kids (Zondervan, 2018). It is published with permission.