I’ve always been fascinated by what makes leaders “great” and the habits they develop to distinguish themselves. I’ve been reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s latest book, Leadership in Turbulent Times, and one thing Kearns Goodwin described hit me. In Abraham Lincoln’s early twenties, he began doing something beautifully transformative. Lincoln was self-taught, and books were his friends. He would often walk ten miles to borrow a book from a friend or fellow attorney because he knew that the key to growing as a person and in his profession was to absorb knowledge and build wisdom. 

Reading Aloud Makes You a Better Storyteller

Yet it wasn’t just the reading that distinguished Lincoln. Kearns Goodwin described an essential way in which Lincoln was shaped: “Some leaders learn by writing, others by reading, still others by listening. Lincoln preferred reading aloud in the presence of others. ‘When I read aloud,’ Lincoln later explained, ‘two senses catch the idea: first I see what I read, second, I hear it, and therefore I remember it better.'” 

What made Lincoln a great leader is worth examining. Quite simply, reading out loud made him a better storyteller, and people respond to storytelling. Thus, storytelling was part of what made him a unique and effective political leader. 

This Book Is Perfect to Read to a Child

This past autumn, my family and I have been reading aloud Adventures in Darkness by Tom Sullivan, a book I worked on many years ago when I worked at Thomas Nelson. My wife and I did not have children then, but I always thought the book was perfect to read to a child.

It details the summer adventures of the author Tommy, an eleven-year-old blind child. It is full of the daring adventures of Tommy and his blind friends escaping from the Perkins School for the Blind, boating down the Charles River in Boston, and jumping off cliffs to test their courage. Tommy also shares stories of facing adversity and dealing with bullies. The book was meant to be read aloud. Perhaps Tom Sullivan being blind has helped him discover his gift for storytelling. Our girls have loved Adventures in Darkness, and the book has come alive to me again by reading it out loud and seeing my daughters’ reactions.

Sarah Mackenzie, in her book The Read-Aloud Family, shares, “A book can’t change the world on its own. But a book can change readers. And readers? They can change the world.” Yes, Lincoln truly did change our country and arguably the world, as he is referenced by worldwide leaders often as an inspiration for how to lead in difficult times. As my girls and I read Adventures in Darkness, the themes of empathy, empowerment, adventure, courage, faith, and friendship became clearer to us. The stories became embedded in our hearts, not just our minds. 

Mackenzie shares more in her book about why we should read with our children: “We read with our children because it gives both them and us an education of the heart and mind. Of intellect and empathy. We read together and learn because stories teach us how to love.” The lessons are bountiful. 

6 Ways Reading Aloud Helps Us

There are countless lessons to be learned by reading a book out loud, but ultimately it helps us in the following ways: 

  1. Focus. The reader is forced to focus attention on the details to emphasize what is going on in the story. 
  2. Imagination. The listener imagines the scene as he or she listens as opposed to focusing solely on following the words when reading. 
  3. Truth is embraced. Mackenzie shares, “If you want a child to know the truth, tell him the truth. If you want a child to love the truth, tell him a story.” God’s truth echoes through good storytelling. 
  4. Community. People come together to be entertained and educated. The world promotes isolation through watching Netflix on their iPad or iPhone, but storytelling offers community. 
  5. Discussion. Reading together aloud affords the opportunity to stop and discuss a particular part of the story. If you are alone reading, you have no one to talk to but yourself and God. 
  6. Legacy. My wife and I recognize that by doing more reading aloud; we offer a legacy of experience to others to go and do the same. What a gift!

I wonder what lessons will stick with my daughters as they listen to a book like Adventures in Darkness? Written for children and adults alike, Sullivan strikes a chord that C.S. Lewis pointed out in relation to what makes a good story: “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” We learn that, even at a young age, stories are not to be abandoned but embraced. We also learn that reading stories aloud can have their part in changing a nation, perhaps the world, as with Abraham Lincoln. 

Let this be a reminder that reading and reading aloud are gifts to be instilled early in life and will be a friend among many for generations. Reading aloud may be new to you, but it is never too late to begin. 

Book Recommendations for Reading Aloud 

It is never too early or late to begin reading aloud to your child. Even if you have a newborn or a toddler, your child loves hearing your voice. If you start there, every stage gets easier. 

Start with shorter books and expand from there. The following are suggested books to read with boys and girls up to late tween years: 

I also suggest picking out short biographies of historical figures. Not long ago, I read aloud a biography on Eric Liddell by YWAM press. My 11-year old daughter loved it. You can also try Abraham Lincoln, Jackie Robison, or Elisabeth Elliot. In addition, Catherine Parks published two books that are full of short biographies on people of faith: Strong (for boys) and Empowered (for girls). 

Not every book is meant to read aloud. While I also love The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, for example, the names and places in these stories are notoriously difficult to pronounce and are best to read silently.

Most of all, don’t forget that it’s fun to figure out which book is most entertaining to the imagination of your child. Talk with him or her to see which one of these interests them before you begin. Also, if you grew up reading one of these, show them the passion behind why you love the story and invite them into it with you.

Dave Schroeder leads marketing at B&H Publishing Group and co-hosts the Table of (Mal)Contents podcast about reading widely. He is an avid reader of history, biography, Christian, and fiction books that draw deep life lessons. He writes for Books, LifeWay.com, and teaches church history at West End Community Church. He is married, has two daughters, and lives in Nashville, TN. You can find him at davidmschroeder.com or follow him on twitter @davidmschroeder.