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This week I’m going to skip ahead in the list of Literary Elements and discuss Themes. I was going to title this something like: how to write a great book report, but I decided discussing themes lead to something even better.

Like meaningful conversations with your child. For example, in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Aslan is sacrificed. But the story is not about murder, it is about atonement. An evening lesson with your children about the atonement, and their Savior, can then be tied into the story they are reading.

Some may consider this theme a bit mature—I covered it with 3rd graders—save it for when your child can understand abstract concepts. If they still struggle with “obedience,” or “honesty” they are not ready for “sacrifice.” Start with Charlotte’s Web and the Little House books. Talk about friendship, responsibility (everyone has jobs to do), and family. (There is a great sub-story in Little House in the Big Woods about a sled and a pig that can lead to a discussion on what is appropriate for Sabbath activities. Read it on a Sunday afternoon.)

A few days ago I received a comment from a mother who expressed some concerns for books that had more mature themes. Examples could include death, alcoholism, abuse, slavery or murder. My thoughts are that life is something we cannot control, but the literature our children read or listen to, we can. I know that some children have to face the reality of hard things. I’ve been a foster parent where children came from terrible situations. But we offered them a loving, “normal” home. Therapists told us we were their “saving grace.” We can’t prevent all the ugly of life, but we don’t have to contribute to it.

So save the tough themes for when they are older. Children are in their wonder years. They are discovering and working out the whys of life. It’s ok to wait until they are older before they read Sounder, Huckleberry Finn, or Kidnapped. You know your child best. Even then, there are some books that are too dark for any child, despite the clever marketing.

One of my favorite times with a theme was after reading The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin written by Beatrice Potter. We made brown tails (paper sacks would work), stuck an owl up in a tree (be creative—stick a picture on the top bunk) and the children roll-played the story. Then we discussed the word, “impertinence.” The children wrote it and we used it frequently for days. We also talked about consequences.

There are so many books with wonderful themes that I can only touch on a few. In The Secret Garden we are introduced to the power of friendship and how people can change when someone believes in them. In Anne of Green Gables, an orphan finds a loving home. The focus of the story is on the new relationships, not the pain of the past. And, as in many stories, family is a great theme.

Introduce your children to biographies. When I taught Sebastian Bach, Boy of Thuringia, we discussed “diligence.” His example was his hours spent copying music, the miles he walked to attend a music school, and his hours of practice. We discussed that great accomplishments take great diligence.

Bach had seven children with his first wife, and thirteen with his second. Music was a major part of their home, and he taught his children their instruments himself. We discussed The Family, a Proclamation to the World and how important family was to Bach.

Having lost a pet as a child, I think contributed to my early love of Where the Red Fern Grows and why I still cry when I watch Old Yeller. Stories can help children understand their own feelings.

Enjoy the study of themes. Have older children underline sections in their books and record the page and paragraph on their Theme notebook page. Then have them write a paragraph about how that theme relates to them. This also leads to an exceptional book report. Good books usually have several good themes.

Related topics:
Elements of a Story / Author
Elements of a Story / Background
Elements of a Story / Setting
Elements of a Story / Characters

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