“By the big red barn in the great green field…” So begins my eldest son’s first favorite book, Big Red Barn. I could probably type out the entire story even though we haven’t read it in about 6 years. He asked for it so often that I would recite it at night in my dreams.
Board books gave way to favorite picture books about Sesame Street characters, Dora the Explorer, and Thomas and Friends. Now we read chapter books about Vikings, knights, good hearted outlaws, superheroes, and a boy with a brother named Fudge.
I grew up with stories from books, too. I also had stories on records – you know those big black discs with grooves in them that are read with a needle? The Three Little Pigs was my favorite. I loved to play it and hear the story over and over again.
Children may not realize why stories are important for development, but they know that stories are good. Fairy tales, folk tales, fiction, or true stories – children can’t get enough of them. And not just because of their entertainment value. A good story stirs something up in us: empathy, courage, confidence, compassion.
My youngest son read several of Aesop’s fables this year. You could tell someone the morals of the stories. You could make them memorize the morals and even give a lecture on them. But, the fables illustrate the morals in a memorable and meaningful way. I don’t think my son can recite any of the morals, but he can tell you how ridiculous it was that some men sat under a tree they called worthless, while they were enjoying the shade of said worthless tree. Now he understands that we often overlook things we should be appreciating. And he would be glad to listen to or read any of these fables again and again. Stories are superior to lectures.
In Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Minli loved stories. Ba told her stories every night, and Ma argued with him about it.
“You’re always wishing to do impossible things! Stop believing stories and stop wasting your time,” she said.
Ba answered, “Stories are not a waste of time.”
Ma disliked stories even before Minli ran away. Afterwards, she blamed Ba for Minli running away to find the Old Man on the Moon. If Ba had not kept telling Minli stories, she never would have believed them and run away! Minli would have been realistic.
Throughout the first 13 chapters, Ma and Ba had an ongoing debate about the value of stories. Ba eventually agrees that the stories are impossible – they are fiction! But they are not ridiculous. Could you relate to Ma at all? I don’t understand where she’s coming from. I’m with Ba 100% on this one. I wonder if she’ll ever come around.
Starting with the talking goldfish, it began to be clear that the folk tales Minli grew up with are true. The Old Man on the Moon exists and can be found. She will succeed, but how?
At the end of chapter 13, we left Minli with Dragon, standing outside the peach forest, assessing the danger from the monkeys. I loved Dragon’s story. Of all the tales in the book so far, his was my favorite. A sentient painting that comes to life with flesh and blood when the eyes are painted on? Love it. Which tale was your favorite?
Let’s talk in the comments. What kind of stories did you grow up with? Which ones did you want to hear over and over again?
P.S. If you have kids, this is a book you can read together to let them join in book club, too. Our reading schedule for the rest of the book:
June 9 – Chapters 14-23
June 16 – Chapters 24-38
June 23 – Chapters 39-48