Start Here: Why Reading Aloud to Children Matters & Tips to Make It Fun

If you want your children or grandchildren to be readers, you have a powerful tool to use to influence them in that direction.

When artist and journalist Jim Trelease began turning his career toward education in 1979, he had been reading aloud to his two children each night, as his own father had once read to him. And he had been visiting classrooms as a volunteer, to talk about careers in art and journalism.

He began to notice that not many of the children he met read very much for pleasure, but the ones who did nearly always came from classrooms where the teachers read aloud daily and incorporated silent reading time into the daily routine.

He began to investigate the connection and discovered plenty of research written up in academic language in educational journals, but nothing for parents.

So he wrote and self-published The Read-Aloud Handbook. Then in 1982, Penguin USA picked up and published the book, and Dear Abby helped make it known to parents everywhere. It’s now in its seventh edition.

“Every time you read to a child, you’re sending a ‘pleasure’ message to the child’s brain.” —Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook

At Jim’s information-packed website, Trelease-on-Reading.com, you can read excerpts from the current edition of The Read Aloud Handbook, find downloadable parent brochures, and learn hundreds of fascinating facts about the power of reading aloud.

But why am I writing about this subject here?

It’s because I wonder if children who are read to regularly and who learn to enjoy reading are more apt to view the Bible as a readable book as they grow up.

And oh, how I want them to read it!

So here are some tips to help you develop the wonderful habit of reading aloud to a child.

• Try varying your voice or adding sound effects as you read. No need to be shy!

• If you’re reading an illustrated book, take time to talk about the pictures. Invite your
child to tell you what’s happening in a picture, how a character in an illustration is
feeling, or what might happen next.

Let your child interrupt the story to ask questions.

• Encourage younger children to hold the book and turn the pages as you read.

• Try to relate a story to your child’s real-world experiences, for example, “Do you
remember when our family took a trip?” or “That donkey looks like the one you rode at
the petting zoo.”

• If your child likes to read aloud, take turns. Let him read to you.

• Remember that good books are made to be read more than once.

Happy reading!

– Diane

3 Simple Ways to Bless Your Grandchildren

10359384_10153086418649161_659668480264878230_nThis post first ran on the Christian Children’s Authors blog. 

My own two children both were girls, so having all grandsons required learning new things. Like, little boys are often loud, messy, and ACTIVE (as well as tenderhearted and sweet).

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the feeling of a grandchild in my arms for the first time. Such a beautiful blessing from the Lord! Even before our first grandson was born, I knew I wanted to be an involved grandparent. It would take some thought and planning, since he and his parents would be living on another continent, but I would be connected to this child and be an influence in his life.

Grandchildren give us tremendous joy. We get to experience the world again as a new and fascinating place, full of surprises. We receive unconditional love (especially if we’re willing to bestow it first). In a mysterious way, some pieces of who we are will live on in our grandchildren after we are gone. But the most important part of being a grandparent isn’t about us—it’s about how we influence and bless them.

Here are three simple ways to do that.

1. Love and serve God. Know him through his Word. Seek his wisdom. Experience his power. Become someone your grandchildren will immediately think of when they think about what it means to know and love the Lord.

“I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Tim. 1:5)

2. Love your grandchildren’s parents–your own children and their spouses. Pray for them, often and specifically. Encourage them with affirmation. And if these relationships are not what you desire, do everything you can do to repair and renew them. Be parents your children can be proud of.

“As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18).

“Grandchildren are the crowning glory of the aged; parents are the pride of their children” (Prov. 17:6)

3. Love your grandchildren. Children spell love T-I-M-E. Find ways to be there for them, even if you’re miles apart. Discover what’s important to them and make those things important to you. Enjoy them when you are together. Children who feel loved, respected, and accepted (while also knowing that the adults in their lives are in control) will be sure to listen when you have something important to say.

 “O God, from my youth you have taught me,
and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
So even to old age and gray hairs,
O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might to another generation,
your power to all those to come.” (Psalm 71:17-18)

– Diane

5 Takeaways from a Book Launch

Reading 3

Yesterday I celebrated the launch of my new book, Words to Dream On, with a party and book signing. Despite my years in the publishing world and my other published books, this is the first time I’ve been very involved in helping a new book get out there and fly.

As I’ve been reflecting on yesterday’s event and the book launch overall, here are five things I’ve learned.

1. Encouragement matters! Receive it gratefully.

I loved seeing so many familiar faces at yesterday’s event! From our church’s senior minister and his wife, to my sister-in-law, to my friend who’s fatigued from chemotherapy but still came (and bought five books!) to another author friend and everyone in between, too many to mention–their support of what I’m doing encouraged me so much!

2. Meeting new readers matters! Don’t be afraid.

As we drove to the event, I told my husband and a friend, “I wish I were a really outgoing person who can’t wait to interact with lots of people!” But I learned in two short hours that even less-than-outgoing personalities can enjoy meeting readers and introducing new ones to my books!

I held the event in the children’s department of the Barnes and Noble store at The Streets of West Chester, just a few miles from my home. Turns out Sunday afternoons find quite a few families in the store … who heard the music and wandered in to see what was going on.

Which leads to …

3. Family and friends matter! Ask them to help.

I asked a friend from Bible study, a former teacher, to manage the craft table, and she did a superb job!

Linda2I asked my daughter Bethany and her singing partner, Jake, to come and entertain with children’s songs, and they were fabulous!

Song time2And writing friend Jillian Kent, who has signed at this bookstore before, knew the person I needed to contact there to ask about holding the event.

Planning matters. Start early.

Gail Allinsmith, community business development manager, and Lisa Oravec, children’s department manager, contributed so much to making the event successful. Gail was gracious and helpful from the very first phone call. I met with her and Lisa a few weeks ago to check over plans, and I could have done it even earlier to get more specifics about the event into the store’s own publicity.

The marketing team at Tommy Nelson helped from the start of my marketing efforts, with coloring pages, bookmarks, and postcards–and the advice to hold the launch at a bookstore with a good children’s space and a solid sales record.

Promoting an event was new to me, and I tried to find a balance between the “multiple impressions” needed to get attention and not wearing people out. I think I did OK on that.

I also wanted to balance inviting people to help me celebrate with the reason we could celebrate at all—a beautiful book intended to introduce children and families to God’s Word and deepen their relationship with Him. Finding this balance is more difficult, but I think I learned the importance of crafting the message purposefully and carefully … and next time I won’t be so shy about it.

Next time I’ll also let someone with better design skills than mine create a poster to help get the word out!

And last, but maybe most important …

5. God’s leading matters. Thank Him, and follow.

From doing live radio interviews to speaking at a women’s event at church to holding the party and signing yesterday, this launch has been an all-new experience. But all the aspects of my in-house and freelance publishing work have led me here, even when the path seemed murky. It’s oh-so important to pray and trust.

– Diane

New Life for Happy Day Books—Faith That Sticks!

I’m always happy when good books get a new life! Tyndale House acquired the Happy Day Books line from Standard Publishing and has done a wonderful job creating fun and entertaining sticker + activity books from 19 of the titles!

Daniel EasterSurprises Puppies

Now 24 pages, not 16, these paperbacks also offer a page of large, colorful stickers for children to add to pages throughout the book to complete the illustrations.

At the back, you’ll find a page of Let’s Talk About It questions, two pages of puzzles (such as matching and word search) and a page with instructions for a craft activity (all related to the story). Plus, children can color two coloring pages based on art in the book.

The books in the new series retail for $3.99. The series includes Bible stories, modern-day stories, and holiday stories. You can see all the titles here. Tyndale has kept the Happy Day look intact while adding in a fresh Faith That Sticks identity too.

– Diane

5 Ways to Give Children the Gift of God’s Word

presentIf I could give only one gift to my children and grandchildren, it would be knowledge of the Bible, the written Word of God.

Ultimately, I want them to know and follow Jesus. But it is God’s Word that will prepare them to accept him, teach them how to follow him, and strengthen them to remain true to him as they grow up in our chaotic world.

So how can we give children the gift of God’s Word? Here are five essential ways.

Let them see it
Where is your Bible right now—on a shelf? on a bedside table? on your phone?

Keep a Bible on your kitchen table or in your family room, and let your children and grandchildren see you reading it. Even babies can learn to recognize the Bible as something special.

Let them hear it
Read God’s Word aloud. Some families make this a part of their daily routine, often after a meal. If you’re not sure where to start, try the psalms or one of the Gospels.

How about listening together? Bible apps such as YouVersion and sites like BibleGateway.com offer audio Bibles in several versions. Scripture set to music is another good way children can hear the Word of God.

Allow young children to play quietly nearby as you read or listen—you’ll be surprised at how much they hear and understand.

Let them read it
You read books with your children because it’s fun and you know it impacts their mental and emotional development. Be sure to include good Bible storybooks among the books you read together.

Some Bible storybooks feature activity ideas or talking points to go along with each story—especially helpful to busy parents or if you’re unfamiliar with the Bible yourself.

Help them learn it
The psalmist wrote that he had “stored up” God’s Word in his heart (Psalm 119:11). Jesus countered the devil’s temptations in the wilderness with Scripture. The apostle Paul wrote, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:16 ESV).

Children memorize easily—just think about how quickly they could belt out all the lyrics to “Let It Go”! Let’s give them the opportunity and the example of memorizing God’s Word. Repetition and review and making it fun are key.

Help them live it
A Facebook friend posted about her two-year-old son’s serious tumble that resulted in 40 stitches. Her daughter, at four, felt responsible even though she was not. One way she dealt with her stress was by sitting down with her Bible and “reading.” I have a feeling she had seen her mother turn to her Bible during other stressful times.

Besides our example, we also teach by what we say as life unfolds day by day. Moses’ instructions to the Israelites after they received God’s commandments can guide us: “These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:6).

We feed our children and grandchildren to nourish their growing bodies. But “people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:3 NLT). Let’s be sure we nourish children’s souls too. There’s power in the Word of God!

Scripture from the ESV unless otherwise noted.

– Diane

How to Speak Blessing to Your Child

ParentsBlessChild2

Do you know what your child wants from you more than anything else?

Your blessing—your unconditional love and acceptance.

Most of us see our children as the gifts from God they are. We enjoy each day as they grow and explore the world; we dream about their futures. Truly, we love and accept them even before they are born.

But children don’t always feel accepted and loved—known. Sometimes, looking back, we see that what we felt didn’t reflect our parents’ intentions or reality. They just didn’t know how to communicate their blessing.

In the early 1990s, John Trent and Gary Smalley wrote The Blessing: Giving the Gift of Unconditional Love and Acceptance. In their book they outline five aspects of blessing, based on parental blessings in the Bible and in the lives of Jewish families in Bible times:

Meaningful touch. Perhaps a hug or a hand on the child’s head or shoulder.
A spoken message. Our children need to hear our blessing.
Attaching high value. We choose words that affirm our child’s intrinsic worth and individual traits.
Picturing a special future. We affirm good things to come.
An active commitment. We will be there to help and support.

Each of these five parts is present in a more formal blessing, such as might take place on a birthday or other special day. In day-to-day life, blessing is given when each of the parts is present in the child’s life on a regular basis. Trent and Smalley surveyed adults who felt that as children they had received their parents’ blessing. Some of the ways those blessings were communicated:

“My parents would take the time to really listen to me when I talked to them by looking directly into my eyes.”

“My mother would let me explain my point of view on issues–even when she disagreed with me. She always made me feel that my opinion was important.”

“As a family, we often read and discussed the book The Velveteen Rabbit, which talks about how valuable we are.”

“My father would put his arm around me at church and let me lay my head on his shoulder.”

“My mother got interested in computers just because I was interested in them.”

Blessings can be based on Scripture too. Here’s one from the book:

“Oh Lord, may ______________ never forget Your teaching. Let [his/her] heart keep Your commandments. Then, Lord, You will give _______________ many more days and years and You will add peace to [his/her] life.

“May kindness and truth never leave [him/her], Lord, may [he/she] bind them around [his/her] neck and write them on [his/her] heart.

“Then Lord, You will give [him/her] favor and a good reputation both with you and man” (Proverbs 3:1-4).

So many of God’s promises are statements of how he blesses us. My Bible storybook God’s Words to Dream On: Bedtime Bible Stories and Prayers, includes a Bedtime Blessing with every story—a short summary of the story’s message.

We can bless others besides our children when we practice the five aspects of blessing in our interactions with others, and it’s never too late to improve! The speaking part is the aspect that has never come easily to me; I’m still working on it!

Does your family practice blessing? Is there an aspect of giving a blessing that you find especially easy or difficult? Your thoughts and comments always bless me. I would love to hear from you!

– Diane

Start Here: How to Choose a Bible Storybook

bookshelfWhen you’re shopping for a new Bible storybook for your child or grandchild, the number of options can feel overwhelming. How do you decide?

Here are 5 tips to help you sort through all the possibilities, whether you’re at a bookstore or online.

1. Match the text, illustration, and format to your child’s age and interests.
Babies and toddlers enjoy board books because they can turn the pages themselves.

Books with long stories and more text than illustration are best for older children.

Most Bible storybooks for preschoolers and beginning readers fall somewhere in between.

Children generally respond well to bright colors and a range of contemporary illustration styles—but contemporary doesn’t have to mean inaccurate.

Older children can appreciate more realistic portrayals of Bible times.

2. Look at the Contents page.
Are both Old and New Testament stories well represented? Do the stories present the overall story arc of the whole Bible, from Genesis to Revelation?

3. Read a story or two aloud.
You’ll be reading from this Bible storybook often. The experience should be a pleasant one for your child and for you too.

Does the writing flow well, with interesting rhythms? Is the writing style appropriate for your child’s age and attention span?

Do you want a straightforward retelling of the stories or a freer style with more embellishments? Both exist and both can be done with excellence, but it’s important to know the difference.

4. Check out how the author handles hard topics.
The Bible addresses some realities beyond the understanding of young children, such as the devastation of the flood, the total destruction of Jericho, or the details of Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion. Choose a Bible storybook that presents truths like these in age-appropriate ways.

For example, in my Bible storybook God’s Words to Dream On, in the story of the fall of Jericho, I didn’t write about the battle after the walls fell down. Instead I ended the story by commenting that the Israelites could now keep moving forward into the Promised Land God was giving them.

5. Choose the right “hook” for your child or your family.
Some Bible storybooks feature activity ideas or talking points to go along with each story—especially helpful to busy parents or if you are and unfamiliar with the Bible yourself.

New or beginning readers might want stories they can read with little or no help.

Sometimes the hook might be application, or life lessons. But be careful—when Bible stories are presented only as lessons about how to behave, children often get the wrong message and decide that good behavior is the way to find acceptance with God.

Now that you know what to look for, I hope you’ll enjoy reading a new Bible storybook with your child soon.

Does your child have a favorite Bible storybook?
Share it with others in the comments below.

– Diane

Start Here: 5 Tips for Happier Bedtimes for Kids

Holidays are full of excitement and wonder for children and families, but activity changes, travel, and all the fun can thoroughly disrupt a child’s sleep schedule, right?

So here are 5 tips for getting back to a better bedtime routine as the new year begins—or for creating a new one anytime.

1. Make a plan.
Activities to include in your bedtime plan might include a bath, pajamas, a snack, brushing teeth, reading together, talk time, and prayer.

Consider making a Bible story from a good Bible storybook part of your routine too.

Set specific bedtimes based on each child’s age and activities. Not all children are wired alike; some have definite night-owl tendencies, and trying to put a child to bed before he’s actually tired can backfire.

If your child has been staying up too late, set a temporary bedtime at the time he normally falls asleep and start your new bedtime routine about 30 minutes earlier. Then, once the routine is established, begin to move it back in 15-minute increments until your child is falling asleep easily at the desired time.

2. Be consistent.
Children thrive on routine and knowing what to expect, so unless special circumstances dictate, stick to your plan. When bedtimes are consistent, children can predict what’s going to happen next, which helps them feel secure.

Sometimes gentle reminders are needed: “Three more minutes, then it’s time to get into your pajamas.”

3. Help children relax.
Avoid energetic or competitive games as bedtime approaches, and choose quiet activities instead. Following up with a warm bath or shower, a good hair brushing, or a foot rub can help children relax. Make bedtime snacks sleep inducing, like a cup of warm milk or cocoa.

4. Don’t give up.
If you’re making big changes, the first few nights are likely to be quite challenging. But stick to the new routine—you should start to see substantial improvement with the first few weeks.

In the morning, reward your child for what he did well the night before, without focusing on what didn’t happen. Stickers and praise can work wonders.

5. Get help if you need it.
Some children develop bedtime fears, and many children test limits by resisting going to bed, with repeated questions, unreasonable requests, crying, or coming into your room throughout the night. Everyone in the household needs a good night’s rest, so don’t be ashamed to ask for help instead of letting the situation go on and on.

Your pediatrician is a good place to start, and so are other parents who have experienced the same difficulties—an online search can put you in touch.

Do you have a bedtime tip that’s worked for your family
or a favorite book to read at bedtime?
Share it with others in the comments below.

– Diane

What to Do When Christmas Just Isn’t the Same

three photosWill you be far away from family this Christmas? Has life changed for you this year, and have those circumstances altered Christmas too?

I’ve lived most of my adult life far from my parents and siblings, and we’ve almost never been together at Christmas. When my daughters were 6 and 2 (quite some time ago!), I wrote an article for The Lookout magazine titled “What to Do When You Can’t Go Home for Christmas.”

Since I graduated from college and came to Cincinnati 12 years ago, I have spent only three Christmases with my parents and brother and sister. (I confess, one year I stayed in town to spend part of the holiday with the man I later married.) The cost for our family of four to fly to California every year is prohibitive,and my parents prefer not to visit the Midwest in winter. Not often being about to go “home for Christmas” remains a peculiar heartache. …

You are likely to find yourself in my situation at least once in your life. Death, divorce, illness, finances, work, weather, car that break down–any of these can keep the traditional American family Christmas from happening.

There have been lonely moments during my Christmases away from home, but none of those has been miserable. Maybe some of the coping skills I’ve discovered will help you this year, or any year, if you won’t be going home for Christmas.

Our little family made our own traditions and celebrated joyful Christmases. And Cincinnati, not California, has felt like home for years now. But I thought of that article recently as I reflected on what’s different about Christmas this year.

We’re waiting for grandson number 4 to appear, for one thing, and his parents and siblings are staying close to home until he does. We won’t have everyone under one roof on Christmas Eve. Our in-town grandson and his parents will come on Christmas Day, and then they’ll be out of town until the new year has begun.

It’s all fine, really—it’s just different!

The last heading in my Lookout article was “Try to Be Flexible.” I had realized that from year to year, not one of my adult Christmases had been the same. I’d spent Christmas with friends in Virginia, in my own apartment, as a newlywed (we were married on December 13), at Sea World in San Diego, and at home in Cincinnati with a new baby girl.

Four days before Christmas, Ed and I returned from our wedding trip to an apartment stacked with boxes. We bought the smallest tree we could find, chopped off the top half, and stuck it in a clay flower pot. It was Christmas. …

We have decorated the house and put up our tree right after Thanksgiving, in order to host a Sunday school class party, and we have put up a small live tree just before Christmas and moved it back into the garage immediately after. Last year, when Bethany was a toddler, the tree was in the playpen for safekeeping.

Some years we’ve sent Christmas cards, some years we haven’t. Some years there’s been a reasonable amount of money for gifts, some years we’ve made do with less. We’ve gone to late-night Christmas Eve services and to early family services. Last year Christmas came on a Sunday, in the midst of a stretch of below-freezing temperatures. We decided to spend Christmas Eve at home, to have a short family service, open our gifts, and tuck our girls into be at the usual time.

Flexibility is freeing. The years I haven’t gone home for Christmas have taught me this: Christmas is not primarily an observance of family warmth and togetherness, though every form of media–and many Christians–treat it that way.

No, Christmas is the heart’s celebration of the birth of the Savior King. Christmas is the moment when, like Mary, I listen to the shepherds report the angel’s good tidings of great joy, and I “ponder all these things” in my heart–wherever I am and whomever I am with.

And I remember that Mary and Joseph were a long way from home on that first Christmas Day.

And Jesus, my Redeemer, the King of kings wrapped in swaddling clothes—was a long way from his home too.

 

– Diane

Book Review—For Such a Time as This: Stories of Women from the Bible, Retold for Girls

SuchATime

Author Angie Smith wants today’s girls to know that, like Esther, they too have a purpose and calling in God’s kingdom—and that the stories in Scripture show us this is true.

The title of this book for girls comes, of course, from the book of Esther. A Jewish girl turned queen of Persia is asked by her uncle Mordecai, “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

Esther’s actions impacted not just the Persian kingdom but the kingdom of God, saving the Jews from extinction.

For Such a Time As This
B&H Kids, 256 pages, hardcover
8.8 x 0.8 x 8.8 inches

Although told from a narrator’s point of view instead of more directly through the eyes of the women in the stories, readers still experience the forty stories in the book, for the most part, as the stories of the women who lived them.

Some stories, such as the story of Mary and Martha, are traditionally told this way. But others—such as the story of Jacob—often are not.

One thing I like about the storytelling in this book is that the author never downplays the significance of the men in the stories as she explores and shines a light on the experiences of the women in the same stories.

Take, for example, the story of Jacob and his wives, Rachel and Leah.

In “The Veil: The Story of Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah,” Leah knows that Jacob favors Rachel and tries to win his love by giving him sons. But when Leah’s fourth son was born, she named him Judah, which means “This time I will praise the Lord.”

She had no idea that her praise was offered to the same Lord who would, many years later, come to earth as a baby from the same family of Judah.

As she rocked her song into the midnight hours, she may have wondered if she would ever be chosen.

But as sure as the start lit the sky, God knew the answer:

You already have been, Love.

But all of the women in these stories aren’t rocking babies! Some, like Jael, are pounding tent pegs through an enemy’s skull. Others, like Delilah, are scheming and deceiving for pay. Yet every story is told with carefully chosen words, appropriate for the book’s audience (probably the 6-10 or 8-12 age groups), and the significance of the event and its part in God’s plan are always communicated.

The forty stories in the book begin with Eve in the garden and end with Priscilla working and teaching in the fledgling church. Each story ends with a devotional in three sections—He, Me, She—that provides a reminder about God’s goodness, an application takeaway for girls, and a prayer parents can offer for their daughters. There’s a Hebrew or Greek word to learn and a memory verse with each story too.

The book is highly illustrated by Breezy Brookshire in a traditional style in both color and black and white. Parents will appreciate the Parent Connection page, and parents and girls will enjoy the extras at the back of the book: “A Peek Behind the Scenes” by Angie and “From Concept to Illustration” by Breezy.

This beautiful storybook is well worth adding to your family’s collection if you’ve got girls!

– Diane