When we found out our first child was going to be a girl, and we had NO girl names that we liked already, we had a clean slate. Family names didn’t really help us much: Phyllis, Gwynne, Maxine and Helen. (Sorry, Grandmas. Although the old-fashionedness is growing on me now.)
So we knew we wanted to choose a name for her that had meaning. Something that described the type of person that we wanted her to grow up to be. The name we chose for her means Noble, Pure One, and we’ve spent the last 8+ years looking for stories that will teach her to be a noble, pure woman.
There are so many stories out there. I’m totally overwhelmed when I go in a bookstore, or the library, or even browse through Netflix. (bleh) Oh my goodness. So many words and images out there, and so many of them are, to be honest… junk. And not many of them are helping teach my daughter to be noble and pure, or my son to be a delightful man, or our baby, a loving, humble man. The day my daughter brought Captain Underpants from school, I knew…
So, we’ve begun collecting stories that encourage our kids to be children of character. Books, TV, movies, internet and digital media are all going to feed them something, so we decided to make them worthwhile.
Here are a few of our favorite stories: (in age-appropriate order, youngest first)
The Little Engine that Could – a fabulous story, and often misinterpreted. It’s a highly popular story about a train that “thinks he can,” and eventually does. The often missed beauty to this story is a spiritual one. If you are familiar with the Bible, you may be familiar with the story of the “Good Samaritan.” Little Engine? That is the story. It’s not just a story of a train that thinks hard enough and accomplishes a task. It’s the story of a little train that is the least qualified, and offers to help when no one else will.
The Giving Tree – The story of what it means to give everything you have for others. Rich, rich story. Which reminds me, I need to read this with one of my children… every night.
The Boy Who Cried Wolf – If you don’t remember it from childhood, find a digital copy online. It’s a classic story that teaches children about being honest. And who doesn’t need their kids to learn that? (Bonus: The Empty Pot. Same character quality: honesty.)
Cinderella – One of my personal favorites for our daughter. Disney version, new live-action version, classic fairy tale in book form, any of them. The story of a young girl who is mistreated, robbed of her status, devalued, grief-stricken and alone, and yet she remains honorable, noble, graceful, gracious and forgiving. That kind of character deserves a Prince Charming.
Heidi – Similar to Cinderella, (and with just as many versions) it’s the story of a young girl who keeps her sweet disposition despite all of her hardship, and influences those around her, even her elders.
Charlie & The Chocolate Factory (book) / Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (film) – Roald Dahl, thank you. A fantastic, imaginative story of a young boy who shows true character – integrity, honesty and generosity, even when all those around him are tempted to sell-out and be self-absorbed.
The Little House series – We just started these on audio book from the Library. Oh, how I wish we’d done this sooner! #1. Audio books are AWESOME. Our car is completely quiet when we have an audio book on. No bickering, no endless questions, and they beg for it each time we get in the car. (We’ve done Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, James and the Giant Peach… classics!) #2. The Little House series is fantastic. Stories of the 1800-1900s and pioneer days are full of stories of hard work, diligence, perseverance and just guts. In 2 CDs, we’ve already covered how to hunt for your own food, how to make your own butter and how to make your own fun when you just have a corn cob and napkin for a baby doll. Priceless.
The following three series, I would recommend for older children, but believe they hold great value in teaching children honorable character. As with any of the stories above, the value comes when you take the time to talk through the story as your read/watch it with your child.
The Chronicles of Narnia
The Harry Potter series
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
All three of these series cover similar story threads, all with fascinating characters and interactions. There are children who betray the trust of those they love, children who are brave beyond their years, children who believe the truth when no one else will, leaders who are willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of others… the list goes on and on. For sure with these three, in book and movie form, parents should use discretion on what their own children can handle as far as violence and anxious circumstances are concerned, but overall, they are well worth consideration for the imaginative stories they tell, and the character qualities they display.
We’ve got a limited amount of time to fill our little children’s minds with the real stuff, the stuff we want them to know and carry with them for the rest of their lives. So, while you’re trying to fulfill that “20 minutes of required reading per night” quota with your school-age children, why not make it count?
I know I would rather have my daughter’s brain filled with stories of gracious princesses and young boys full of integrity, than with whatever Captain Underpants has to offer, that’s for sure.
What would you add to the list? What stories do you use to teach your kids valuable lessons or virtues?