I have always contended that no one fully understands discipleship until one is discipling others. It follows then that I am not being fully transformed, unless I am investing in the formation of my children. So I count my time reading with my children or with my wife, as equal to or greater than any private devotional pursuit.
Reading to Eliseo in 2018
I have read all the Chronicles of Narnia books and The Hobbit to my older two sons. There is a rhythm that we can easily fall into while reading one chapter per day, that is as natural as any other effective spiritual practice.
You may never know what spiritual formation is until you’ve read what should only be a 15 minute chapter in 30-40 minutes, because you’ve answered the thoughtful questions of a 4-5 year old. Can you share with your child the themes of friendship, the moral of each story, and the nurturing elements found among the pages of Winnie-the-Pooh? Can you explain the Christian symbolism of Narnia to an inquisitive kid? If not, then you really are only reading a kid’s book, and you should probably not view it as formative. But if you can, then you are helping shape a young mind for life.
JVI | Eliseo learning to read | Traverse City, MI | 09.11.18
To set the record straight, there is a good deal of Biblical instruction that takes place in our household as well. We believe it is our responsibility as parents, not just that of our community of faith, to instruct our children. I will not recount all of the Scriptural ground I covered with my family last year.
Now, I’ll briefly discuss three children’s books that I read to our youngest son in 2018. These are informal reviews. If you decide to purchase one of the books, please consider using one of these links. I may get a kick-back since I’m an affiliate. All of the books listed are from Amazon Prime (endorsed sellers from Amazon).
This is the classic collection of stories that many know. It does not need to be recounted in depth here. With each story, there seems to be a moral to be learned and a conversation about friendship to be had. It serves as a testament to an age gone by, when storytelling had a meaning far richer than simple entertainment.
I read this book to Eliseo, who was 4 at the time. In all actuality, it served as a means to an end. It was my little test to see if my son could grasp concepts and pay attention to readings, with limited pictures, over the course of 20-30 minutes. It was just a set-up to see if he was able to start the Chronicles of Narnia series. We enjoyed all my best impersonations of the characters. He asked many thoughtful questions. In the end, I was hoping one chapter per day would prepare him for Narnia. The era of Winnie-the-Pooh and its vocabulary, is similar to the Narnia series. Eliseo passed my tests with flying colors.
Disclaimer: This was my perspective on the read, but you can talk to my wife for far more details about my son’s educational development.
Movie: The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
After the read, we watched the classic cartoon movie. Eliseo was a little disappointed when one of his favorite chapters from the book wasn’t in the movie, “In Which Christopher Robin Leads an Expotition [yes Expotition] to the North Pole.” Perhaps it’s a favorite because we live so close to the North Pole ourselves.
Movie: Christopher Robin
Although we all enjoyed this movie as a family, I believe it really turned out to be a story for parents. It reinforces every hope we have of slowing down and investing in our children with quality time, meaningful activity, and childlike wonder. The moral of the story seems clear, and the value of relationships is evident. Once again, I realize that reading to our kids is not only time well spent, but it is formative.
2. The Magician’s Nephew
It is said that every Narnia book has a certain theme, a Christian theme. Scholars have dissected these books at length with different theories. One prominent line of rationale is that C.S. Lewis is actually working off of an ancient cosmology for an outline. This idea has been shared in a respectable work, recommended to me by a Christian scholar that I trust.
For an in-depth analysis, I offer that book title from Michael Ward. If you would like a 5 year old’s perspective, read on. There are about 3 major truths that Eliseo discovered in The Magician’s Nephew. First, we were able to have multiple conversations about jumping between worlds. His mind opened up to the fact that there is some other type of dimension where Heaven is a reality right now. Secondly, he began to grasp the concept of Narnian time, that somehow God stands outside of time, yet works within it as well. Third, I believe he developed a stronger appreciation for our Creation story because he was mesmerized by how Aslan creates Narnia.
As a side, there are characters that I believe Eliseo wishes were in all the books. He jokingly calls every older man Digory, not just the professor in book 2. We’re now reading The Horse and His Boy. He asked if the horse would become the pegasus Fledge. C.S. Lewis is a master at developing characters, so much so that it may be difficult for young ones to let them go.
3. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
With this book, Eliseo was highly interested in the professor, who is Digory from the previous book. It also took a couple chapters for him to figure out on his own that the White Witch is Jadis from book 1.
No matter which scholar has what theory about where C.S. Lewis found his outline for the 7 books, I think we can all agree on the basic imagery of the Stone Table. Aslan is voluntarily slain on the Stone Table in place of the traitor Edmund. Then, because Aslan is innocent, yet gives his life for one who is guilty, he is basically resurrected.
I always read these two chapters together for my children, because the brutality of the slaying is a little rough without the reward of the resurrection. Each of my 3 sons have become emotional at this point, so I always like to remember their reactions. If you missed Mateo’s experience of this reading, you can find it here: Jared & Mateo: Hearing the Story for the 1st Time.
Eliseo’s reactions to Aslan’s sacrifice
When the White Witch finally killed Aslan, Eliseo stood up from where we were sitting and just glared at the book. He began to ask over and over: “Oh! . . . Is that the end of Aslan?!”
Hoping he wasn’t going into shock, I tried to explain: “That was the deal Aslan made with the witch. He would give his life for Edmund, or else Edmund would die.”
I continued to read, cautiously watching him out of the corner of my eye. I could almost visibly see the wheels turning in his head as he was processing the events quietly. Finally, he said: “Oh . . . I just wish all four of them could go home” (the four Pevensie children).
I kept reading, trying not to interfere with his reactions too much. At one point, he declared: “I wish she [White Witch] wouldn’t have given any of her food [Turkish Delight] to Edmund. It’s her fault!”
At the end of the chapter, I asked: “What do you think about the deal?”
Without hesitation he said: “I don’t like it! Does Aslan come back? Can we read another chapter?”
Of course I was planning to anyway, so we began. It’s not entirely apparent that Aslan will come back for the first couple pages. The stress mounted as Eliseo laid his head on my shoulder and cried: “Oh . . . I just don’t like it!”
When the Stone Table cracked and Aslan was not there, Eliseo’s tears subsided, and his mood changed dramatically. He joyously declared:
“You just take Aslan off the table, and there you go!”
When Aslan came back to life, Eliseo didn’t say much more. We just continued reading, but all of a sudden he became fidgety. He crawled around over our throw pillows, climbing all over – now standing, now sitting, and from time to time hugging me and kissing my cheek.
Afterwards, he immediately wanted me to come with him to find Crystal and tell her. He explained to her that Aslan died for Edmund so that he would not have to.
Crystal asked him if anyone did that for us.
At first Eliseo said no. Then he thought for a moment and said: “Wait! God died for us!”
Can we take a moment to engage in the wondrous ways our children view the world? Can we utilize the tools crafted by artisans like C.S. Lewis who understand how to capture a child’s imagination, and instill truths of the faith through allegory?
Movie: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
After reading the book, we watched the movie. There are many things I can say about this film, but I think the most interesting fact is that all my three sons have had a crush on Lucy Pevensie at one point or another.
To top it off, Crystal found some Turkish Delight at the store not long ago. Eliseo and I are enjoying a bit of Narnia each day as we now read through book 3.