Most families are well-versed in the power of the story to enchant and enliven young minds. We’ve all watched our kids’ eyes widen when the eagles save Bilbo, when Charlotte spins her first message, and when Charlie catches his first glimpse of the chocolate factory.
The riches of stories don’t limit themselves to bedtime and fiction, however. Stories well told can equally enthrall our kids as they learn about the world as it is, and as it was — as they learn about those who’ve walked before them, the true characters that once walked the earth in flesh and blood, in all their flaws and strengths. Sarah Wise Bauer’s The Story of the World is such an effective history curriculum precisely because she anchors kids’ interest in the stories of our past. Facts by themselves float away; stories make them stick.
In an effort to explore the stories of people who’ve influenced history, we include a regular biography reading in our homeschool. At first, the endeavor was effortless — Helen Keller’s autobiography, Anne Frank’s diary, and The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind were obvious choices. Over time, however, the selection became messier. Plenty of biography anthologies line the shelves of children’s bookstores, and they seem engaging and informative, but unfortunately a quick perusal shows a smattering of content driven by the modern secular age. Worship of the self was celebrated on every page. Biographies appropriate for my elementary-aged kids, which also allowed for discussion of our faith, seemed to dwindle in number.
How refreshing, then, to stumble upon these beautifully-written biography collections by Catherine Parks. In Strong: How God Equipped 11 Ordinary Men with Extraordinary Power and Empowered: How God Shaped 11 Women’s Lives (and Can Shape Yours Too) Parks, an editor at Moody who formerly worked at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, recounts the stories of men and women whose faith emboldened them in the face of adversity. She aims to turn the idea of strength on its head, to direct kids’ minds away from strength in the self, and instead toward their assurance in God. In carefully-written and sensitive prose, she highlights saints such as Eric Liddell, Jim Elliot, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Corrie ten Boom, Phillis Wheatly, Joni Eareckson Tada and others. She weaves Scripture throughout the book, and concludes each chapter with a series of thought-provoking questions to help kids further contemplate the lives of those who’ve preceded them. . . and to reflect upon their own strength in Christ (Phil. 4:13).
In an age when biographies steeped in faith are harder to find, I’m grateful to have these books on my shelf. I anticipate we’ll return to them time and again, to revisit the remarkable stories of the brothers and sisters whose faith empowered them to press on when the storms assailed them.