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Rachael Walker

In this special series, children's literacy consultant Rachael Walker and many of the authors, parents, and educators she’s met and worked with talk about how books have changed their lives, how to bring books to life for young readers, and how to enrich kids’ lives with good books. (Also visit Rachael at her blog, Belle of the Book.)

Sharing family stories

December 18, 2015

When you are traveling with your own child and your mother, the topic of parenting is bound to come up. While on our Little Journey, most of those discussions were bedtime and mealtime related. But we also found ourselves frequently remarking on the parenting skills of Charles and Caroline Ingalls.

In so many ways, Ma and Pa did right by their girls — even by today’s standards. They taught self-reliance and industry. Offered lessons in patience, forgiveness and how to show gratitude. And they valued education and had books in their home.

All the Ingalls girls seemed to enjoy pouring over Pa’s big green book or listening to Ma read aloud, but there was real excitement on those winter nights in the Big Woods when Pa would tell stories.

Laura became familiar with the art of storytelling through the family stories Pa shared. As the Ingalls were somewhat isolated in the Big Woods, these stories must have also reassured her that she was part of something bigger — her extended family.

My parents read to me and I still treasure many of those books, especially those that opened windows to the prairie, wardrobes to Narnia, and doors to the wider world. But it is the family stories they shared that helped me to understand who I am and where I came from.

Imaginations fly when you try to picture your dad as a kid making his own stuffed animals from rags and bags or think about your mom fashioning a milk stool into an elevator for a hotel she created for her dolls in the barn. Understanding how resourceful and creative my parents were boosted my own resourcefulness and creativity and added to my resilience. If my parents could do these things, then so could I! Or I could learn from their successes and mistakes and make my own way — and my own stories.

When Laura Ingalls Wilder took up storytelling, she put her family stories on paper and let millions of readers into her family’s world. But everyone has stories that should be handed down. Winter holidays are a great opportunity for family storytelling:

  • There’s time to talk. All the time that you usually spend reminding kids to finish homework or get ready for school can go toward telling stories instead! And if you are traveling, turn travel time into story time. On the long drive to grandma’s house, you can tell tales of road trips past or grand family adventures of your youth.
  • There are opportunities to have different voices share stories. With their own versions of family stories, visiting relatives can add to your child’s sense of belonging. Kids get a chance to question, gain new perspectives, and learn more about the special importance of memorable family stories.
  • There’s time for difficult stories. Not all family stories are happy, but kids need to know that struggles can be overcome and that things do change. They also need to feel that it is safe to share their own difficult experiences and stories.
  • There’s no cost. Family stories are free! You don’t need to buy anything to share your family stories. No device, app or screen required.

Your own narrative is a story you carry with you your whole life. Share this legendary gift with your children. And listen to the stories they have for you. Family stories matter.

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"The man who does not read good books is no better than the man who can't." — Mark Twain