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The Power of Story
by Susan Dermond

“Listening children know stories are there. When their elders sit and begin, children are just waiting and hoping for one to come out, like a mouse from its hole.”
(Eudora Welty)

Susan Dermond

Children love to be told stories.  Uplifting stories about people who conquer challenges and do noble deeds—historical such as Joan of Arc or fictional such as Luke Skywalker—thrill all of us. But children, from the ages of 6-11, especially benefit from such stories because they feel deeply the emotions of the story, and they are looking for role models to imitate.

Think about heroes and heroines you would like your children to identify with and imitate. The popular media does not offer many examples of loving, brave, and noble characters, but in children’s literature you can find them. Reading aloud such stories not only encourages high aspirations, but also can be wonderfully bonding for you as a family. Your involvement and physical closeness with your kids during reading time draw them in completely.

How to Begin

When choosing books to read aloud always read the book first yourself and be sure it inspires you! Remember, that for it to be an engaging read-aloud, it must have a certain amount of action, suspense, or entertaining dialog. You might choose a book that is not especially “spiritual” but is exciting and thought provoking to build a foundation for other stories you want to share.

If you haven’t read aloud much to your children, I would recommend beginning with a book that has short chapters and lots of suspense such as Bruce Coville’s Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher. The Not-Just Anybody series by Betsy Byars is also good for starters and has the advantage of both strong girl and boy characters. My favorite is about friendship and seeing the good in everyone: The Blossoms Meet the Vulture Lady.

Another book popular with both sexes is Shiloh. Phyllis Reynolds’ story raises all sorts of ethical and moral questions. (Is it ever okay to lie to protect someone else? How do we live with pain and suffering in the world? What is our responsibility to those we love?) Through the novel (unlike the movie) you and your child will have time to explore them together. This one is not for the very young, but is riveting for the 9-12 year old, and would appeal to the novice listener.

A Favorite of All Ages

After you have developed the art of reading aloud and your child has developed the art of listening, you can graduate to more challenging books with longer chapters and more expanded vocabulary. Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls is one of my favorites. It’s a powerful, touching story with lots of humor. The ending is predictable and a little sentimental but very satisfying for children between the ages of 9 and 12.

Don’t let the movie turn you off to this book:  I have read it and many others to at least six different classes of fourth through sixth grades. Consistently when they have voted on their all-time favorites at the end of the year, Summer of the Monkeys comes up number one or two. I even had a nineteen-year-old whom I hadn’t seen in years, come up to me in a store and ask me out of the blue, “Remember when we read Summer of the Monkeys?”

More Titles

A little more “New Agey” (with its references to herbs, and an earth-mother kind of character) is Monica Furlong’s Wise Child. It portrays a wonderful friendship between a boy and a girl that does not turn romantic. It is especially popular for girls in the 9-14 age group. One that appeals more to boys (ages 7-10) is Frances Hodgkin Burnett’s The Lost Prince, but it is a bit old-fashioned. Both of these are appropriate for the experienced listener.

For a little older child (12-15), there is a wonderful historical novel called The Bronze Bow. In this story set in the time of Christ, Elizabeth Speare, better known for her Newbery Award winner, Witch of Blackbird Pond, brings alive the impact Jesus might have had on several young people of his time.

Some of the classics featuring the battle between the forces of good and evil make good read-alouds, or you can get recordings of these classics and listen together. A good first one is The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series will capture the imaginations of older children.

Stories are a source of great enjoyment!  They can also inspire feelings of honor and nobility and expand our horizons from the particular to the universal. Like nature (the topic of the last column), story is a springboard to spirituality by opening a child’s heart. (For a more complete list of uplifting books for all ages, you can e-mail me at

Susan Dermond is the Director of the Living Wisdom School (K-5), and a minister of Ananda Sangha. For more information about the Living Wisdom School, call 503-626-3403.