Sara Chance and I share so many interests and life “intersections” it is hard for me to list them all! Our paths crossed not very long ago, but we feel like we’ve known each other forever. Sara is a former middle school teacher and an adjunct instructor at a local university where she shares her love of literacy. I hope you are encouraged as I am by her perspective on reading and its eternal impact.
Most of us can name that hero of legend. Think bows and arrows, Sherwood Forest, and the Merry Men. During a recent family night, the movie pick was Disney’s version of this tale, and my husband Andrew mentioned that Robin Hood is the one story that had more influence on him than any other, outside Biblical stories.
This statement played right into a subject he and I have been discussing lately. Andrew, in his 11th year of teaching, said that he can always tell which of his middle schoolers have been read “hero stories,” and which have not. Those who are familiar with one hero story—whether comic book, storybook or real-life heroes— are often familiar with many and can talk about them at length. But students who haven’t been exposed to any of these stories, unsurprisingly, have made their own heroes. Musicians, sports stars, actors and actresses have become their heroes, deserved or not, and they can tell you more than you ever wanted to know about the lives of these people.
Heroes in legends and folktales, comic book heroes like Superman, even modern day heroes like Harry Potter are stories of hope, of the struggle of good triumphing over evil. We see the character make mistakes, but we also get to sit in the character’s place and feel the consequences and the resulting growth and maturity that take place in the character. In a good story, the child should feel he/she is experiencing the story events and dilemmas with the character.
This quote from Literature and the Child (Galda, Cullinan and Sipe, 2010) perfectly expresses this idea. “[Children] enter into books in ways they cannot with television or film; reading is a far more personal and creative experience. When students want to understand themselves, they can use stories to help them do so, experiencing lives vicariously and thinking about how they might act.” Could there be a stronger case made for reading hero stories to our children? And how much more vital that we share with them stories from the Bible, and especially the story of Jesus, over and over!
Romans 5:6-8 (NIV) gives a clear picture of our Hero, our Savior Jesus: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man, someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
There’s no other hero—real or fictional—who can top that—it was the ultimate act of heroism and salvation. But I still want my children filled up with excellent hero stories, Biblical and non-Biblical. I don’t want them grasping at second-rate heroes to fill a void. Because the truth is, second-rate heroes cannot fill that space, and the great heroes of literature and history can only serve to reinforce the Ultimate Hero Story of Jesus, if we will help our children make those connections. I love seeing connections and parallels among the gospel story and others. Think of Superman—from another world, raised by parents not truly his own, with powers that can save people. Robin Hood ignores the “important” people, those with wealth and power, and seeks to serve the poor.
When we view these stories through the lens of Jesus, we help our children learn to do this too, and in time, develop in them a habit to not only view stories this way, but to also view people through this lens. People who are sick, hurting, broken, and who need more than anything to be viewed in this countercultural, compassionate way. Hero stories can move us toward this lens by developing the heart and inspiring hope.
“But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.’” I Sam. 16:7 (NIV)
“Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.” Matt. 9:35-36 (NKJV)
For more on hero stories and suggestions of books to read with your children, visit Sara’s blog at http://readonsweetchild.wordpress.com/