What pops into your mind when someone mentions a children’s book? Do you think of sweet little board books for babies, or do you picture stories of the past, or, perhaps, envision biographies of famous people? Then there are Christian children’s books. Should children from faith-based homes be confined to reading only Christian books?

Often busy parents dismiss any questions they might have about their children’s reading material because they tend to think that since a book came from the school library, it is appropriate for their kids. They’re just happy that their kids are reading something quietly and seem productive. However, there is a DANGER ZONE out there, because books in a school library represent varying age levels and because what children are reading may not be what their parents want them exposed to. Responsible parents must avail themselves of every opportunity to know and guide their children’s reading habits.

I thought of this on Aug. 17, when a dam burst on the Colorado River. Tons of murky brown water inundated the canyon, trapping many vacationers in their kayaks and canoes. Moments before the calamity, happy campers were canoeing down the river, taking their leisure. They had no thought of the dam, when suddenly it broke loose into a terror-inducing crisis. As the dam burst, the repulsive water, full of filth and sludge from the canyon floor, swept away everything in its path.

I was reminded of how often parents can be taken completely by surprise when a crisis hits their family. They are unaware, not realizing that their children’s minds have been undermined and muddied by inappropriate literature and worldly input.

Sometimes even Christian books can be dangerous, if the book emphasizes something counterproductive to what a Christian family believes. To determine if a Christian book is appropriate for their family, parents need to see evidence in it that the Word of God and solid Christian principles underlie the message.

But what about secular classics? A number of what we would call secular books have been treasured for years as classics and make great reading for children. Biographies of outstanding men and women, books that teach about our universe, and even just-for-fun books that stimulate clean humor help kids relate positively to the world around them. However, the children themselves, not just their parents, must learn how to make right choices concerning their reading material.

Encouraging Reading at Home

Good reading habits can be fostered when children ask questions at home, particularly when the family reads the Word of God on a daily basis. When parents find the right time for their family to read the Scriptures together, the children can learn to read aloud well and be stimulated to join in a discussion. A good question from a child deserves a thoughtful answer. Many times parents lose opportunities to guide their children because they are too busy to respond properly to their questions.

Family worship is a wonderful way for parents to get to know their children better and to guide their thinking in a beneficial, God-centered manner. The Bible should be the first book a child reads and learns to respect.

As a Christian author of many children’s books, I’d like to share a cute story that happened at the beginning of my career:

Ashley, a neighbor child, stood at the door of her grandpa’s house impatiently waiting for us. She was clutching her new Christopher Churchmouse book and jumping up and down with excitement as her grandpa opened the door. He had called my husband and me to come over to see Ashley’s response to our new books. She excitedly turned on the tape that went with the story, her face aglow with anticipation. We were listening when suddenly she surprised us by jumping into her grandpa’s arms.

“Hold me gwanpa!” she squealed. “This is the dangewous pawt!”

Grandpa smiled at us and said, “You can see why I love these books.”

He was the happy recipient as she clutched his neck and he snuggled her close. It was the perfect opportunity to teach Ashley about fear.

Oh, the wonderful world of books and their power to transport readers to other places and times in just the turn of a word or two. The “dangewous” waters ahead can be parted if parents carefully guide their children through the dark shoals of children’s literature. Ashley had discerned from reading my Christopher Churchmouse book on obedience, Rainy Day Rescue, that she could find herself in a “vewy dangewous” place if she disobeyed her mamma. When my husband and I speak at schools and conferences, we often tell the “Ashley” story and say that our books are “dangewous.” This gives parents the opportunity to teach their school-age children about obedience and the like. Even a book that delivers a moral can catch a child’s interest and present a teaching opportunity.

Finding Quality Books

Although the responsibility is awesome, parents have the unique privilege of guiding their children and teaching them principles the parents count important. Before children are old enough to attend school, the choosing of books is primarily under the parents’ control. It is during that period that children can learn to discern. Parents can help their young children by reading or scanning the books they choose before their children read them. And by third grade or earlier, children should be able to determine if a secular book about science is undermining the beliefs they have been taught regarding such fundamentals as creationism and the sacrificial atonement of Christ.

Having taught school from kindergarten through sixth grade, I know firsthand that the old saying, “More truth is caught than taught,” still holds true. By capturing the moment in time when children aren’t choosing well, parents can point out what is inappropriate and can help them make better choices. Sometimes a Christian book is not the best choice; yet again, it may be the perfect book for a particular child. By knowing their own children well, parents can help them make choices that will not exploit their vulnerabilities.

A case in point is my own daughter, who is a pastor’s wife. She and her husband are very careful about their children’s reading. Their young son has been diagnosed as having Asperger’s syndrome. Knowing his obsessive nature, his parents will not allow him to read anything that could make him vulnerable to the enemy’s strategy to capture his mind. When many of his friends were reading a popular fantasy series, for example, his parents helped him choose a Christian series with good principles that would edify him, rather than stimulate potential weaknesses.

My daughter and son-in-law, likewise, will not allow their daughter to read even Christian romances. Too often romance stories give girls unrealistic ideas about marriage and romance. Young girls should not have a steady diet of romances, as they present an unhealthy focus. It is good for Christian parents to encourage their daughters to read books that present Christian principles about subjects other than just dating and romance.

A way for parents to find and promote good books is to encourage their children’s school to have a book fair and to include some good Christian volumes when the school has the fair. Parents can also volunteer to help in the library so they can be involved and have input regarding the selection of books. They can, perhaps, donate books for the library in honor of a family member, or encourage the school to have a reading contest or a young writers’ contest. Parents should take advantage of anything they can do to encourage their children to read quality books. It will be well worth the effort and will spur youngsters to read more voraciously.

Cultivating Delight

Whether young readers are babies or older youths, their books should be a delight to them.

For babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. A baby’s book should be durable, chewable, and a simple mix of words and illustrations.

For young children. Look for books with accompanying media that encourage reading. For example, my Christopher Churchmouse series has several products that help encourage reading for the younger crowd: sing-along music (a song for every story), videos, and fun puzzles to help the children relate to the characters in the story. In fact, when children are small, parents should look for books in a series. In this way the children relate to particular characters as old friends, and love to read more about them.

When parents choose books, they should keep the ages of their children in mind. Books can lose a child’s attention too soon. On the other hand, once a child has lost interest, parents should let it go. I used to try to make my little ones finish reading the whole book, even if they were squirming and protesting. I soon learned that it was wrong to do that, because reading had become an unpleasant time.

For older children. Parents should keep in mind the principles regarding attention span, reading level, illustrations, and their child’s discernment. They need to be wary of content too—to consider the book’s main themes, vocabulary, and characters’ values. They should also keep an eye out for the subtle teaching outside the main characters’ actions (in their thoughts, words, and attitudes; in descriptions; and in background information).

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I just met Evie today, a dear Argentinean young lady, who told me with great joy that she found some of my Spanish books in the Logos Boat Bookstore while she was on a cruise with her Catholic parents when she was a child. The books were her introduction to Christ. Evie and I stood face-to-face with tears in our eyes as she told me her story. The knowledge that she is now in the family of God is overwhelming to me. As a writer, I am awed to think that “just a kid’s book” can reap such reward.

“And these things we write to you that your joy may be full” (1 John 1:4).

“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 John 1:4).

My prayer for parents is that they, through good literature, can turn the hearts of their children toward the God of the universe and His salvation.

Barbara Davoll is author of more than 40 children’s books, including “Mr. Stuffy’s Uniform” published by Regular Baptist Press.