I have three boys that are growing up in the public school system. For the most part, this installs a daily terror in me, wondering “What are they going to do this time?” And, like most parents, I’m shocked when the teacher declares “Oh, (random son’s name goes here) is an absolute angel!” This is the kind of statement that causes my wife and I to question the honesty of the women and men in charge of our children’s education.
However, like in most states, our children are going to be raised in a school system that will be increasingly controlled by the federal government. Don’t get me wrong, the feds do a lot of things right. They can spend money better than anybody I know, and build a mountain of debt that would make Methuselah blink. But when it comes to my children’s education, I tend to trust the woman in the classroom better than a bureaucrat over half a continent away. I also tend to have more faith in a person who sees my child five days out of the week in person, verses someone who only sees their test scores.
With that in mind, knowing that I will have little effect on what books my children will/won’t have to read for school, here is a list (including links) of ten books that each of my children will read before they graduate into adulthood. I would like it if my kids each read the books that I’ve published, but I don’t want to pimp myself too much and sully this list with shameless self promotion (Catch Rivers fever!).
There are a few rules to this list: One- Any and all holy text that apply to my religion are not on this list for a reason. Those books are important to me, and I read them to my boys every day already, and I’m also not here to preach personal convictions. Two- I have to have read the books on this list in order to recommend them to my children. I’m not going to push the Magna Carta because I heard it was really, really awesome. Three- Popular fiction doesn’t make it on this list. I understand that there are a plethora of great books out there that are very popular today, and I have no doubt Harry and Katniss will even grace my shelves one day. The books on this list, however, have been tried and tested over the years, and they don’t come up in every day conversation. If I don’t encourage my kids to read these titles, I can be sure that a college professor will look at my kids sideways and say “What do you mean, you’ve never heard of that book?” Four- The books on this list have to be re-readable. C.S. Lewis once said that each of the Narnia books should be read three times in the life of an individual: Once as a child, once as an adult, and once as a senior citizen (my words, not his). This means, you can go back and read the same thing all over again, and get something new out of it.
And speaking of C.S. Lewis…
Top Ten books to read before Adulthood
1. The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis is best known for his Chronicles of Narnia books or his deep Christian philosophy, but this book has always been a personal favorite of mine. The premise of the book is a series of letters written by Screwtape, a senior devil, tutoring his nephew, Wormwood. Each letter is advice on the weaknesses and strengths of humanity as seen from a nefarious perspective with a very thoughtful approach and not a little amount of humor. Though the concept is largely spiritual, there are quite a few observations that anyone can learn from concerning interacting with friends and family. Plus reading each chapter and then bending your brain backwards to see what actually needs to be done to avoid such a macabre eternal fate is kind of fun. The addition of “Screwtape proposes a toast” was a special serial that he wrote just for an American audience about what could go wrong with this country if we don’t mind our own business and get the powers that be under control. Try reading his predictions and not get a chill up your spine for how accurate they are.
2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
This is purely a selfish addition, but this has always been my favorite book. I read it at least once a year and always find something new. To Kill a Mockingbird not only captures innocence to a tee, but keeps it, no matter what the children experience, and they see a little bit of everything dark and disturbing about our species. From racism to rape, Scout, Jem and Dill are able to see the worst humanity has to offer, but hold fast to the best traits in life, exemplified by their father, Atticus. If I wanted my boys to grow up to be like anybody, it would be Atticus Finch. A man doing his best against the worst, and able to come out with his head still held high. I want my boys to be able to do that.
3. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
This is a compelling book by one of the most compelling minds of our time. Stephen Hawking’s life is nothing short of miraculous, and his insights are inspirational. Science for each of my children has always been a natural interest, and learning from Mr. Hawking is fundamental. He teaches not only massive scientific theory in a method that piques even the mundane mind to higher ground, but knowing what he has gone through physically teaches my sons that great knowledge can and does come from anywhere.
4. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
My niece recently posted on facebook about how much she hates history, and that it sucks. History isn’t dreadful; it’s wonderful, but it’s all about how you learn it. If you are forced into reading dates and generalizations, you lose interest early. If you focus on one person’s experiences, say, a young boy growing up in the 1800’s along the Mississippi river, maybe you’ll glean that the people then weren’t so different from you, and maybe history is full of things that you can learn from and be interested in. Since my children are all boys, I would love for them to learn how to white wash a fence from Tom. If I had a daughter, I’d recommend the American Girl books instead, as they add quite a lot of perspective on different times and places that can bring your little girl’s mind to light.
5. Whatever Happened to Penny Candy by Richard J. Maybury
This one I can’t recommend enough, because the schools simply do not teach economics. This is a series of letters written from a kindly Uncle Eric to his nephew/niece named Chris. It covers everything from the fall of Rome to explaining what inflation is and where it comes from. It introduces such concepts as TANSTAAFL (There Ain’t No Such Things As A Free Lunch) and explains things like where clipping coins comes from and what caused the Great Depression to last so long, and it does it in a simple-to-understand method that is easy for anyone 12 and up to grasp. I even recommend this one to adults.
6. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
The first actual novel I remember reading in grade school, the Hobbit is unadulterated joy and imagination. While it has been turned into an animated classic, and now a three-part massive series of motion pictures, nothing can compare to sitting down and reading the purest pleasure from my childhood days.
7. Farenheight 451 by Ray Bradbury
It’s interesting how these days, you don’t need a government agency to ban books. You just need specific people to tell you that this book is racist or that book is hateful and the people will censor themselves. Ray Bradbury was alarmingly accurate concerning certain points in this book, especially on the part of the protagonists’ wife, never unplugging herself, and actually being afraid of thoughts that are “unpopular.”
8. Animal Farm by George Orwell
By far the darkest of all of the books on this list, Animal Farm is a perfect portrayal of the dystopian ideals of communism. Maybe its because of my own brushes with communism that this book hit me so hard, but I have seen a lot of the types written about in this book in other aspects of my life and in modern society that genuinely freak me out. I want my children to learn that you can never trust anyone who says “All animals are equal” if they then turn around and quietly say “Some animals are more equal than others.”
9. Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl
Victor Frankl was a holocaust survivor who was a psychiatrist before and the creator of Logotherapy afterwords, which is an existential study to suffering and meaning. His story is both harrowing and inspiring and teaches you the value of life in the worst of circumstances. You understand the danger of futile labor and the warning sign of someone who just lays down and “smokes their cigarettes.” It also speaks deeply of finding meaning in suffering, which I believe is vital for any man, woman or teenager.
10. The Art of War by Sun Tzu
Though it may be odd to consider this title among its predecessors, there is something about war that brings everyone down to their most base personalities. Emotions run high, the stress of life and death is as common as air, and days of boredom and dreariness are measured out with moments of life-threatening terror. It’s enough to bring the greatest men to thoughtful retrospect. And I believe Sun Tzu understood this, as well. Many of the traits that are discussed in here are true for business, success and every day life. If the war you’re raging is simply the battle against anguish, frustration or a teenager’s constant bad decisions, it’s not hard to apply Sun Tzu’s wisdom.
And that’s it. I hope there were a few books in this mix that will intrigue your mind and enlighten your lives. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve had my eye on a lie detector on eBay for some time, and Parent Teacher Conference is coming up…