Stories We Shared

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As a child, I was a voracious reader. I remember curling up with a book under the purple canopy of my bed every evening and being carried off to some other place or time, lost in the life of another character and her story. There were particular books I would read over and over again, until they became as familiar as friends. I would renew them at the library so many times that our school librarian frequently had to break my heart and tell me that, no, I could not check out a beloved book again this week. “Let’s give the other children a chance to read it, dear.”

Before I was able to read on my own, I remember sitting with my mother on the sofa as she read picture books to me. I’m certain I probably made her read my favorites relentlessly. I recall how I would take the books to my room and pretend to read them at night, long after my light was supposed to be off for the evening. It wasn’t just the stories. It was the warmth of my mama’s lap, the shared laughter, and the questions answered that stayed with me as I drifted off to sleep.

I remember a little about some of the books that I loved back then: the illustrations, the characters, bits of the plot sometimes. But there is much that I don’t remember. I don’t always remember what it was about the book that made me laugh (or sometimes cry). I don’t remember the author, the title, and (often) I don’t remember much about the story. Sometimes all I have is a hazy impression--a feeling--of a story that meant something to me, although now, as an adult, I cannot recall exactly why.

I have spent many nights online trying to find those old friends. I’ve searched for books about seven league boots because that is all I could recall about a particular book I loved at age 10 about two girls who find magical treasures in an abandoned drawer. I’ve tried (in vain) to find a picture book about a mummy who comes alive in the museum at night that delighted me when I was 8.

I wish that I had a record of all the books that I read and loved in my childhood, which is why I am so delighted to share with you, my dear Storyformed friends, a beautiful resource that I use now with my own children so they will not suffer the same fate of lost books (friends!). Stories We Shared is a beautiful journal designed by Douglas Kaine McKelvey (and illustrated by Jamin Still) for families to record their shared reading experiences.

I cannot overstate the beauty and utility of this treasured book. First of all, it is huge! Approximately 9 x 12 inches, it is substantial and perfectly sized as a family heirloom. The breathtaking cover features a scene from McKelvey’s book The Wishes of the Fish King, which beautifully captures the enchanting wonder and adventure of stories...a hint of the treasures contained inside!

Behind the magical cover, McKelvey has designed a resource that will make any book lover, parent, or teacher swoon. The first section contains pages to record books that have been read. Although a simple list would be sufficient (and would provide the type of record that I long to have had from my own childhood of reading), McKelvey and Still created a delight for the eyes as well as the mind. Each page is divided into four sections, most of which are devoted to chronicling the books read. In each section there is space to record the book’s title, author, and illustrator, as well as the date read, who read it together, a rating (sweet little stars to color) and a space for notes or doodles. The pages are hand-drawn, which gives it an endearing, artistic quality (and helps perfectionists like me relax and actually write in the beautiful book!) Every so often, instead of a book record, a section contains a lovely quote about books/reading to inspire, or one of Still’s charming drawings. If this section was all that the book contained, I would recommend it wholeheartedly and use it extensively! However, there is even more to this wonderful resource!

After the “journal entries” section, there is an amazing section entitled “Features Lists.” This is the section where you and your children can record specifics about certain books that stayed with you. You can record stories that made you laugh or cry, favorite characters, favorite quotes, and even new words discovered through reading. I love this section because of the insight that it provides. I can tell at a glance that my eight-year-old loves heroic characters during this season of his life, and my six-year-old likes books that make him laugh. Once again, this section of the book is priceless, as it serves as almost a commonplace book, capturing the elements of the stories that mattered the most. This is the section that chronicles the growth of the imagination and the soul that reading fosters.

The final section, entitled “Adventure Quests”, is also a gem. Frequently here at Storyformed we get questions asking “what should we read?” This section of Stories We Shared helps to answer that question!  McKelvey has created an ingenious collection of lists (or quests) to spark more reading adventures. Each quest is centered on a particular theme, so there are quests to read animal books, adventure books, books from around the world, different genres, and series (to name a few). There is even a “design your own quest,” where your child can explore books on a particular topic or interest of his/her choosing. Brilliantly, McKelvey has included a list of Newbery and Caldecott award winners and designed quests around those outstanding books as well. With this wonderful resource, you and your children will have a nearly endless list of rabbit trails to follow as you select the next book to complete a particular quest, or begin a new one!

My boys and I love this resource. I have one for each of my children that will serve as an heirloom--a chronicle of their individual reading journeys. They each get to record their favorite characters, quotes, and memories in their own book that will go with them one day when they leave our little pack here at home. But I also have one that serves as our family journal, where I record books that we all read together and decide democratically which special memories we will include. That book will stay with me when they leave--a chronicle of most-cherished days for this mama’s heart. So, I may not remember all of the books that I read in my childhood, but, because of this wonderful resource, I will remember the books I shared with my children during their childhoods, and that is a far greater treasure and legacy to keep.

Stories We Shared can be found at Amazon, but can also be purchased directly from The Rabbit Room, who are particular friends and allies of Storyformed.