Recently, I pulled some books out I thought my third grade son would enjoy. Right now he mostly wants to read silly books that are sometimes funny, but otherwise annoying. I am happy he is reading something, but there are so many more stories to explore. So many good stories to be read.
When I was in third grade I remembered doing a book report on a book called Catcher with a Glass Arm by Matt Christopher. Matt Christopher wrote tons of sports novels for kids, and when I was younger I bet I read half a ton of them.
You see, as an eight or nine year old boy I was struggling with the tension of being an athlete or being a reader. Somewhere along the line, I developed the idea that athletes were not supposed to read. I don’t know where that idea came from. I don’t remember anyone ever telling me this was the case. In Matt Christopher, I found two great things – stories about sports. They were fun little stories about kids playing sports. I was a big baseball fan so I was drawn to books like Shortstop from Tokyo, Look Who’s Playing First Base, and The Kid Who Only Hit Homers.
The summer after I finished third grade, my mom said she would pay me $1 for every book I read. I read seven books that summer. I made $7 dollars and I am pretty sure all seven of the books I read were Matt Christopher books. Seven books might seem like nothing to you bibliophiles out there, but to a kid who loved being outside climbing trees, seven was an extraordinary achievement.
My mom’s $7 investment was well worth it. That summer instilled within me a love for reading that has endured until this day. Now, as I try to instill that same passion for reading in my children, I broke out a few of those old Matt Christopher books. As I held those books in my hands and flipped through the pages, I was taken back to an old sugar maple tree in my childhood backyard where I spent many hours reading. Those books had more of an influence in my life than I realized before. These stories were centered around sports, but they were more about finding friendship, overcoming prejudice, doing what was right before winning, and learning that being great at sports is not the greatest thing in the world.
Something happened to me as I read those books over the summer. I played much better baseball that summer than I ever had. I had a lot more fun playing ball that summer, too. The stories had a strange way of working themselves out in the batter’s box and behind the plate. Not only were they shaping the way I approached the game of baseball, they were shaping others parts of me.
One book I pulled out for my son was extremely formative for me. It is called Long Shot for Paul. It is about a boy named Glenn who teaches his brother Paul to play basketball. Paul is mentally challenged, and is not quick to pick up the game. Glenn’s care and patience with Paul left a deep imprint on me to remember to care and love people who are not like me. Sure my parents and adults in my life told me to always be kind to others, but Glenn and Paul showed me what it looked like.
I’m sure that Matt Christopher books are not the greatest books ever written. In fact I’m sure the dialogue, plot, and character development are not masterful. But, to me they are wonderful. I will forever be grateful for a mom willing to bribe her son to read and a man willing to write stories about kids playing sports. They were the door to a much bigger world of stories.
So as I look for books for my kids to read, I look for stories that might interest them. I look for books that show kids being kind. I look for stories that exemplify courage, friendship, and sacrifice. I look for stories that reinforce Biblical truths we are teaching them at home.
I firmly believe our lives are shaped by stories. I want my children to be shaped by good stories. It is important to put good books in your child’s hands. Get them reading. That may mean reading with them or bribing them (I’m not sure what the going rate for a completed book these days is). As parents the fight for the minds and souls of our children is real. We face an enemy who desires to steal their joy and beat them into submission. So we fight down in the trenches day after day, knowing that they fight as well. Good books in their hands and good stories in their hearts are powerful weapons that are sure to work themselves out in their lives even into adulthood.
Fight on dear parents. The battle is worth it.