How to Choose Big Story Books for Little Hearts (Part 1)

When I was a children’s worker in a Chinese church in Cebu, I started searching and collecting books for children that were helpful to my ministry. What I found though was a shortage of supply of good resources. So I had to either bring in materials from abroad or come up with my own materials. But not everyone is equipped to come up with Gospel-driven lessons. This is why I am always on the look out for good Christian resources for children. It is actually been one of my advocacies.

About ten years ago, these materials were very few in number. And only one or two were available locally. Sure, there are many children’s books in Christian bookstores. But I am not comfortable in recommending most of them. And why is that, you may wonder? They aren’t much different than other children’s books that teach good manners and right conduct, Joy Berry books do those very well. If there isn’t anything that sets them apart from all the other books in the market, what makes them Christian in the first place? To put it simply, these books are usually devoid of the One Big Story that the Bible always talks about.

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One Big Story

What is this One Big Story that I keep referring to? A big term that theologians like to use to refer to this idea is Biblical Theology. And I always say, one of the greatest factors in the ability to choose the right books for instructing children in the faith boils down to having a good understanding of the Bible’s One Big Story. So I will take the time to summarize and explain plainly the four distinct parts:

Creation

Before all things ever came to be, God is there. God created the word and everything in it for His own good pleasure and His own glory, including man. The first two chapters of Genesis talk about how God made the world good:

And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. (Genesis 1:31a, ESV)

Fall

God created man perfect and righteous, but man disobeyed God’s command.  Sin entered the world through our first parents, Adam and Eve (Genesis 3). Sin ruined God’s world. And ever since, man always rebelled against God and His Word, making themselves their own little gods. Man is lost without God. But God’s promised to send a Savior,

I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. (Genesis 3:15, ESV)

Redemption

Even before the foundation of the world, God had already planned to save His people from their lostness. God became man. Through the perfect life, atoning death, and miraculous resurrection of Jesus, God’s own Son, He secured salvation for His people. Jesus broke the chains of sin.

She [Mary] will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21, ESV)

Jesus paid for man’s sin, and when we believe in what He has done in our stead, His perfect righteousness is accounted to us. When we and our children put our faith in Jesus, we are given new birth and new hearts to joyfully follow God’s commands.

Consummation

One day, God will restore all things to His original design—perfect and sinless. God is making all things new. 

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:3-5a, ESV)

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Christ the Center

All Scripture is about God’s redemptive plan. And what binds all of these four aspects of the One Big Story together is it centers around the person and work of Jesus. All stories point to or look back to Jesus and what He has done. In fact, whenever we miss the important fact that Jesus is the main character of all the stories in the Bible, we miss the One Big Story.

If we forget about the One Big Story, we will resort to moralistic lessons that aren’t much different than all the other stories out there. What is more, when we forget the One Big Story, we will altogether miss what or who the Bible is really all about, Jesus.

Now, some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. The Bible certainly does have some rules in it. They show you how life works best. But the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doin. It’s about God and what he has done. Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy. The Bible does have some heroes in it, but (as you’ll soon find out) most of te people in the Bible aren’t heroes at all. They make some big mistakes(sometimes on purpose), they get afraid and run away. At times, they’re downright mean. No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne–everything–to rescues the ones he loves. It’s like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life! You see, the best thing about this Story is–it’s true. There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling on Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them. It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story. And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every story in the Bible whispers his name. He is like the missing piece in the puzzle–the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture. (Sally Lloyd-Jones, Jesus Story Book Bible)

We want our efforts to teaching, training and discipling our children to not go to waste. And whenever we offer them alternatives and half-truths—no matter how flashy and attractive they seem to be—without addressing their heart’s truest and direst need, we would have failed our primary role of passing on the faith to the next generation.

The gospel is the ultimate story that shows victory coming out of defeat, strength coming out of weakness, life coming out of death, rescue from abandonment. And because it is a true story, it gives us hope because we know life is really like that. (Timothy Keller)

Never assume the Gospel. Never tired of telling your children the One Big Story. Never tire of telling them about the Gospel of Jesus. Our children need to hear it daily, and so do we.

 

To be continued

Read and Match

We’re on our second week of The Classical Preschool, and we’re off to a great start! I found a classic book that would surely rouse my two year old’s interest. This morning, I read an abridged board book version of The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper. Since he adores trains, it certainly caught his attention.

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The book was adorned with colorful pictures of animals, toys, food items, different trains—everything that my toddler loves. It also teaches hard work and resilience, virtues that seem to be amiss among millennials these days. But the little steam engine was as optimistic as she could be. We’ll certainly return to this book for a narration activity.

After reading aloud, I added a short matching work. Matching work is actually good for brain development. It helps little children identify similar items, relating pictures with actual tangible items.

I gathered a few toys that were included as characters in the book—a train, an elephant, a giraffe, a red bear, a monkey, and an airplane. I wished we had a clown lying around the house, but we didn’t.

When doing read aloud everyday, I would ask about where the characters are in the book. He would usually point them to me, but this time he was able to match the little toys to the images in the book. I understand why parents homeschool their children. It is truly encouraging to see their development albeit in small ways.

Perhaps you might be wondering what makes our Read Aloud days different that most of our reading time? Maybe some people are more keen that I am. But most of the time, I read to my kids for the sake of reading because I know it’s good for them. I read to my kids all throughout the day. But Read Aloud times for our homeschool is a notch better. You could say that I have my game face on, if that makes any sense. So what makes it better? I would say it is Intentionality. 

How to Prepare Children For Marriage or Singlehood

The month of February has caused a lot of people to think about their own love lives or the lack of it. For some, it is a celebration of mutual love. For others, it is a constant reminder of their loneliness and lack of romantic excitement.

I have been reading through Josh Mulvilhill’s Preparing Children for Marriage: How to Teach God’s Good Design for Marriage, Sex, Purity, and Dating. And God has been using this book to provide new insights on how to raise covenant children in the area of marriage, etc. It also made me realize that while it is important to teach children about the possibility of marriage, it is equally important to train them for the possibility of singleness as well. Of course, I would want my children to get married someday. Even my five-year old told me she wanted to get married someday. But marriage is God’s gift to some people, and it is the ultimate picture of Jesus and His Bride, the church.

Marriage between a man and a woman is meant to reflect the relationship between Christ and the church. It is a living example of Jesus’ love for the church and of the church’s submission to Jesus. How Jesus loved the church is how a husband is to love his wife. How the church follows Jesus is how a wife is to follow her husband. Every marriage is a picture that tells the world about Jesus’ sacrificial love for us. Marriage points to a greater reality—it’s a living, breathing reminder of Calvary.

God never promised anywhere in the Bible that all Christians will find a life partner. Anyone teaching that purports this claim should be rejected. It is not only un-Biblical, it is utterly dangerous to be dispensing unrealistic hopes.

People want to be loved and desired by others. But we are bound to be disappointed when we make marriage the be-all and end-all of things. Instead of longing for marriage and avoiding singlehood, we should be teaching our children to be satisfied in Jesus. Because anything that replaces Christ as the supreme center in our life is an idol. If love becomes our idol, a difficult marriage can devastate us. If  acceptance becomes our idol, the prospect of singlehood can make us feel rejected. I love how Dr. Mulvihill expresses God’s design for singleness in his book,

Singleness is the ultimate state for every believer. Because it is your future state, you should seek to understand and appreciate it. If God calls your child to a life of singleness, your child should embrace that life with contentment. As parents, we ought to avoid expressing disappointment if this is the path that God has for our children. Instead, let us support our children in this self-sacrificing endeavor.

That is a good way to put things into perspective, isn’t it? But the bottomline is this, We should be teaching our children to find their ultimate joy and supreme satisfaction in Jesus. 

[T]he kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:45-46)

If Jesus is our joy, whether we marry or remain single for the rest of our lives, we will find true contentment. I certainly hope my children  grow up to be contented Christians as their understanding of the Gospel grows each day. Even I long for the very same thing.

In a word a contented Christian, being sweetly captivated under the authority of the Word, desires to be wholly at God’s disposal and is willing to live in that sphere and climate where God has set him. (Thomas Watson)

Exploring the Big Bad Wolf Book Sale in Manila

The fourth day of The Classical Preschool focuses on Exploration. We decided to take a break from our regular schedule, and explore the book fair called the Big Bad Wolf (BBW).

BBW has been known to hold insanely discounted book sales in other parts of Asia. So upon hearing that they were coming to Manila for the first time, I was ecstatic. We didn’t make it for preview day even though I won tickets. So we braved the long drive from the North, and headed for the World Trade Center in Pasay City. The fair is open 24 hours a day until the 25th of February.

Go for Children’s Reference Books

A big section of the book sale featured children’s books. There was a vast selection of picture books, reference books, and activity books. You could easily get lost in the aisles. We got there almost 10:30 AM on opening day, and there were a lot of people already.

The Young Adult (YA) section was the most crowded part of the fair. I didn’t even bother checking out the titles. My husband and I brought our preschooler and toddler, so it wasn’t exactly a smooth shopping day—it never is, I suppose. Big crowds aren’t usually fun for small children.

I spotted a lot of beautiful picture books. But there were also a lot of twaddle in the mix. I tried to prevent myself from looking too much so I won’t get tempted to add them to my cart. I went to BBW for the Reference Books since we already have enough picture books that could last us a few years. I also tried to apply what I wrote about choosing books for children.

Book Prices

To be honest, I didn’t have the time and energy to look around the whole place. I centered around the children’s books area. To give you a rough estimate, here are the price range for the different children’s books:

  • Activity Books: PHP100 to PHP 150
  • Picture/Board Books: PHP160 to PHP350
  • Reference Books: PHP290 to PHP 450
  • Book Sets: PHP1300 and up

I thought I could score cheap book sets, but I didn’t. They weren’t as affordable as I would have liked. For example, the Mr. Men Collection and Little Miss Collection were priced at PHP 4850 and P3900, respectively. A Classic Case of Dr. Seuss with 20 books was priced at P3900. The more affordable option is The Peter Rabbit Library at P1350. Even so, you could get the preloved editions for way less. Another good find though is The Crayon Box Collection big lap book set priced at P780. Again, cheaper options can be found at second-hand book shops. My biggest target was the Thomas The Tank Engine Classic Library. But it was priced at P5800, so I had to let it go.

Our Big Bad Wolf Book Haul

I ended up with ten books, which are mostly Reference titles.

If I could dig in a little more, I would. But it isn’t advisable when you have small children with you. My top three finds are definitely the following: Usborne Big Picture Atlas (Php 370), Where Did They Go? (PHP 270-290) and The Family Storybook Treasury with CD (P275). I could hoard these books, and hand them out as gifts. They are surely value for money, except for the Spotting Book which is what I would call an aesthetic piece.

5 Tips for Parents

Shop Alone

It is certainly best to shop alone, if that is possible for you. Young children could easily get bored when you’re on the hunt for good finds.

Have a List

The book display and the sheer size of the fair can get overwhelming. Having a list of books you want to look out for is particularly helpful so you won’t get lost in your purchases. You could easily spend thousands of pesos in a book sale like the Big Bad Wolf.

Set a Budget

Be sure to set a budget. But don’t be afraid to explore a few investment pieces if you can afford it.

Take your Time

I missed a few good books upon seeing other people’s purchases. Having the luxury of time could only be possible if you are shopping alone, or have someone with you who could watch the kids for a while. It could take more than a day to see each and every title if you take your time. But I’m sure it will be worth it.

Bring a Reusable Bag

They do provide plastic bags in the venue. But help lessen waste by bringing your own reusable bags. The BBW organizers did say to bring luggage bags for your purchases.

Commit to Memory, Commit to Heart

The second day of The Classical Preschool calls for memorization. And that is what we tried to do today. My tot grabbed another Curious George book about fishing right after breakfast, and I took the opportunity to teach him a nursery rhyme, “12345 Once I Caught A Fish Alive” which also teaches numbers.

I realized that I have to write down some goals for our homeschooling, and knowing his numbers, shapes and alphabets by the time he reaches three years old is definitely included. I have made a mistake of not being intentional about teaching preliteracy skills with my firstborn. I am not  going that same route again. We’re not doing any writing yet, but we’re committing these things to memory.

A big bulk of Classical Education composes of memorization during the Pre-Grammar and Grammar stages. Dorothy Sayers describes this life stage as Parrot, where children mimic and follow what has been taught to them,

The Poll-Parrot stage is the one in which learning by heart is easy and, on the whole, pleasurable; whereas reasoning is difficult and, on the whole, little relished. At this age, one readily memorizes the shapes and appearances of things; one likes to recite the number-plates of cars; one rejoices in the chanting of rhymes and the rumble and thunder of unintelligible polysyllables; one enjoys the mere accumulation of things.

The Reformed tradition blends perfectly well with Classical Education as it also emphasizes on catechizing tender hearts early on. Although my two-year old may not yet “parrot” all that I teach him, I am hoping repetition and lessons through song would aid memorization at this stage.

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As a Christian parent, my aim for child-rearing is not only to help my kids accumulate academic skills; my primary role is to make them disciples of Jesus and own their baptism one day. One of the ways to do this is to give them the language of faith through catechesis. Anthony Hoekema gives the definition and purpose of this instruction,

Catechesis is the ecclesiastical training of the children of the covenant, aimed at preparing them for profession of faith, active church membership, and kingdom usefulness. In the light of this definition, the purpose of catechesis will be to teach the covenant child such material as he needs to know in order to make an intelligent profession of faith within the church to which he belongs, to be a well-informed member of that church, to be a ready witness to the teaching of the church, and to live a full-orbed Christian life in accordance with the principles taught by his church.

While modern education seeks to put the child in the center of all learning, Classical Christian Education sees that God is the center of all learning. It recognizes that all truth is God’s truth, and that one cannot fully distinguish truth and error without understanding God’s truth as revealed in the Bible. Everything should then be examined through the lenses of Scripture, as it relates to God and His revelation. Children need not be shielded from the plethora of opposing philosophies and harsh realities of life. Rather, they need to be grounded firmly on the Word of God, which will then arm them with the grid whereby they can sift through different ideas that will come their way.

Catechetical instruction at home and at church, along with regular Family Worship, aids in this spiritual nurture.

How to Choose Books for Children

Time and again, I get asked for children’s book recommendations. I am a self-confessed bibliophile, and I have maintained a modest collection of children’s books at home. You should know that I am not an expert. But I am a mother who wants to share the love of great literature to my own children, and I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned over the years in choosing books that would help build a home library. I say this because the Philippines does not have a lot of public libraries. This is why having your own library is essential in raising readers in our country. A decent collection could greatly benefit your kids or perhaps even your grandkids in the future, Lord willing.

Start Early

I don’t mean start hunting for books early in the morning, although that is good, too. What I mean is to begin building your collection early on, as long as your budget allows it. I started collecting children’s books when I was still single. Although I was unsure if I was going to have kids or even get married, I was placed in children’s ministry when I was doing practicum while I was in seminary. From there, my love for teaching and training children reflected my collection of worthy resources that would help address children’s needs. For more practical reasons, you may begin building your collection while your baby is still in the womb. Reading to children in utero helps mothers bond with their babies, aside from other developmental benefits.

Stick with the Classics

My biggest tip if you have a limited budget is to pick the classics—classic books or classic authors. There is a reason why they are bestsellers. Their style and content has lasted from one generation to another, making them family favorites for years. Another tip is to look out for the Giesel Award, Caldecott Medal and Newbery Award badges when hunting for good books. Any of these awards boost the credibility of a children’s book. Find out more about these badges over here. The same goes for all-time favorite children’s book authors like Dr. Seuss (The Cat in a Hat or Oh, The Places You’ll Go), Eric Carle (Brown Bear, Brown Bear or The Little Hungry Caterpillar), Margaret Wise Brown (Goodnight Moon or The Big Red Barn), and others. Their books come up often in recommended lists (see below). You might want to stick to these classic authors if you’re building a small collection.

Stay Away from Twaddle

Choosing classics does not mean you should not buy new ones. But try to stay away from twaddle as much as possible. You can recognize twaddle when you have been surrounded by good books. Twaddle books are badly written second-rate literature that underestimate children’s intelligence, and are often book versions of their TV or movie counterparts. You can read more about what twaddle is over here. Not everyone will agree, but educator Charlotte Mason was adamant about not tolerating twaddle books when reading to children,

They must grow up upon the best. There must never be a period in their lives when they are allowed to read or listen to twaddle or reading-made-easy. There is never a time when they are unequal to worthy thoughts, well put; inspiring tales, well told.

Study Book Lists

Familiarize yourself with recommended book lists. I was surprised how little some people know about good resources that would point them in a right direction. A quick search in Google or Pinterest would get you there. But knowing the difference between quality books and twaddle take a lot of practice, and reputable book lists help you with that. See The Classical Reader for a compendium of age-appropriate book recommendations by different classical educators. You could also try homeschooling resources like Five In A Row or literature-heavy curricula like Sonlight or Veritas Press.

Scavenge Second-Hand Bookstores

If you have a mental list of good books to find, going to second-hand bookshops like BookSale or Biblio would be so much easier since you already know what you’re looking for. I could spend all day scavenging for good finds. But if you’re like me—a hands-on mama with two active kids—you know it’s next to impossible. So I resort to online shopping. Sure, you pay a little more than the brick and mortar shops, but it saves you a ton of time and energy. I will provide a list of my recommended online stores some other time. Also, watch out for book fairs like the Big Bad Wolf Book Fair this month, and the Manila International Book Fair every September for books sold at bargain prices.

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So far, these are the top five basic things you should look out for when choosing books for children. Selecting Christian books deserve a full post, and will be reserved for another time. My recommended book lists are also in the pipeline.

Please let me know in the comments section if this post has been of help to you and your family. Feel free to comment if you have anything to add as well. 

Read Aloud Day

I am adapting The Classical Preschool for homeschool, and the first day begins with Read Aloud. As I have mentioned in my previous post, my two-year old tot loves to read with me. I have discovered today that he only enjoyed reading books that interest him. He would usually choose the books he wants to read—our open bookshelf allowed him to do that.

I was ecstatic to start teaching my toddler, and I chose the beloved children’s classic, Caps For Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina for our Read Aloud Day. I thought it would be fun to read about the peddler selling caps. Since my son is big fan of Curious George, I also chose Caps For Sale because monkeys are a big part of the story. But I was wrong. He wasn’t interested in reading the book with me at all.

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I managed to snap a quick photo of my tot checking out the book before we got started. He opened a few pages, and he diverted back to one of his favorite books instead, that is the Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle. You could say that my attempt at restarting homeschool is #FAIL. Oh well. That just proves that not everyone gets into the whole homeschool rhythm from the outset. But I will try this again, and maybe start with the book that he likes.

How did your first day of homeschooling a preschooler go about? I would love hear all about it in the comments.

Beginning Our Homeschool Journey

I am not a professional teacher. My training was Computer Science in university, and Biblical Studies for my post-grad. But I have always loved teaching. And this was one of the primary reasons why I entered seminary almost 10 years ago.

Teaching the Bible to adults is quite different from teaching little children, I tell you. So when I became a mama about five years ago, I was convinced that it was my calling to teach and train my firstborn. She wasn’t as keen as I hoped she would be so I pushed homeschooling to the side. I recently learned that it may because of a learning disability. I will write about that some other time. Now that I have grown older and wiser (hopefully), I am eager to restart homeschooling with my toddler who just turned 2 years old last week, and supplement my prechooler’s phonics education using the Orton-Gillingham approach.

I have held Classical Education in high esteem ever since I was first introduced to Dorothy Sayer’s essay, The Lost Tools for Learning. Like Sayers, I too believe that children are like sponges. Just as in the Reformed tradition where children are catechized with Biblical doctrine during their tender years, Classical Education also seeks to provide the knowledge base that is foundational to their living in and enjoying God’s world. This why I’m going through the Classical route, even though I have been tempted to explore other more child-centered approaches like Montessori.

I’ll be adapting “The Classical Preschool” by Living and Learning at Home. But I’ll be trimming down the curriculum into four days (Tuesdays to Thursdays).

Here’s what I hope to do with my two year old this year:

  • Day 1: Read Out Loud + Narration
  • Day 2: Memorize
  • Day 3: Manipulate
  • Day 4: Explore

Since Day 1 (Read Out Loud) and Day 4 (Narration) in the original curriculum was related to each other, I decided to combine the two. My toddler thoroughly enjoys reading with me, and I wish to do something more systematic to improve his speech and vocabulary. It is my hope that he can string more words in the coming weeks because of this activity.

I have originally wanted to use A Year of Playing Skilfully as suggested by Classical Academic Press. But the curriculum is just way out of budget for us right now. Plus, I have to admit that I am not a very tedious person who will prepare crafts and activities ahead of time. I am very practical, and prefer ready-made resources whenever possible. I’ll be using what I already have at home, that is June Oberlander’s Slow and Steady Get Me Ready for our Explore day. This book is also recommended in The Well-Trained Mind by one of the classical homeschooling pioneer, Susan Wise Bauer.

My aim is to learn while I teach my two kids. I also want to document the highlights of our homeschooling experience, and hopefully introduce the beauty of Classical Christian Education to the rest of the Filipino people.

Keep Writing

I have long kept a blog, and I have started sharing my thoughts online since 2001. These were random posts from an idealistic teenager, but it was cathartic. However, since I became a mom about five years ago, this practice was put on hold. I read less, and so I wrote less. And I really want to change that.

I know it’s not exactly an eloquent first post. But it certainly is an attempt to keep writing.

Hello, world!