Snow swept the pines and peaks out the windows of our Colorado home, but we were warm round our fire inside, about to use the wintry storm as an excuse to take the afternoon for one of our favorite activities: reading aloud. That day, we were deep into a reread of Narnia, imaginations alight with fauns and lions and dancing trees. We sprawled on couch and floor, or curled in a blanket by the fireside, sketchbooks in hand, hot chocolate nearby, and together we formed both soul and mind by the power of the beautiful stories we read.
Clarksons and books go together. You can’t really have one without the other, and our home is a place crammed with the books we loved. The shared stories of our home, the evenings of read aloud, the picture books we all first knew, have a power to create both camaraderie and identity that I delight in to this day.
Camaraderie first: I have often pondered the special power, the heightened delight of stories when they are shared. In the same way that a week’s visit at a friend’s home brings you closer than any number of coffee dates or bump-ins at church, the sharing of a story accelerates the comradeship of souls.
When people inhabit a realm of imagination together, it is inevitable that a bit of their own imagination and spirit are revealed to the others who sojourn with them in that marvelous place.
I think I am especially aware of this because of the way that stories have helped me to be close to my siblings, shaping our history, our memories, even the language we use to talk about life to this day.
When I think back over my childhood, I realize that many of my favorite memories come from the sharing of stories.
My Dad reading Patricia St. John’s Treasures in the Snow aloud, we four kids piled all over the living room at night, drawing, fiddling, and inevitably begging for one more chapter. The sibling fit of Scottish enthusiasm during which we kids took it upon ourselves to read Stevenson’s Kidnapped aloud in the afternoons, and got swept into the drama of Jacobite Scotland. We’d finish our chapter and gulp the last cup of tea and head out for the mountains to enact the adventures we had just read aloud.
The hot chocolate dates I made with my sister when she was just learning to read so that we could savor A Little Princess together. The countless books my Mom read aloud to us in mornings of study (that didn’t really feel like school at all), The Winter Cabin, The Trumpeter of Krakow, Rilla of Ingleside, Carry On, Mr. Bowditch. The stories we read within the community of family made a common thread of thought and viewpoint that I share with my siblings to this day.
And then identity. I have written at length in Caught Up in a Story about the power of story to form a child’s perception of self. To encounter heroes or heroines in imagination is to begin to imagine the possibility of becoming one as well. Stories form the way we understand courage, truth, kindness, and love. In our home, great books were an integral part of the way we formed ideals and gained a sense of identity as people who, together, wanted to be the heroes and heroines in the stories of our lives.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy is a particular favorite. It’s not uncommon in my house to hear someone refer to Frodo, the elves, or Gandalf as part of a deep spiritual observation or to make a solid point. Middle Earth is talked about almost as if it were a real place. We think about ourselves and our lives in terms of “fellowship” and “quest,” and talk about making a Rivendell of our own. But other stories shaped us too; we talk about loving Aslan and God being “not a tame lion,” and the minute anyone brings up the subject of grace, the name of Jean Valjean is sure to follow (from Les Miserables , another family favorite.) The stories we shared provide our metaphors for living courageously and well.
After my Christmas visit at home this year, I found that stories once again, were foremost in our family conversation. Because a story experienced together creates a small and vivid world of fellowship. Stories reveal the souls of those who share them and knit them together for life. And a home crammed with just such stories… well, it becomes a great story itself.
Get our recommended book list in our new book and read about our traditions of read alouds to build brains, hearts, morals, souls and consciences.
Special books, movies and music uniquely listed in the above book, The Lifegiving Home Experience--and places to write down new books.
Traditions and stories built around books and read alouds in The Lifegiving Home.