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The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe –  it’s just a kids book.

The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe – it’s just a kids book.

Essential to a classical education is a reading culture. Reading in leisure or for pleasure is not a common practice for many Kenyans. In fact, a colleague has quipped that if you want to hide something from a Kenyan put it between the pages of a book. Outside of set books many Kenyan school children lack the habit of reading well written books.  University and church professionals also have noted the lack of a reading culture among today’s youth.  Many students admit to being read to when they were young, but their educational journey was mostly void of memories from great stories.

Even with a very well inventoried Library, one private university librarian notes a diminishing use of the text as a source of needed information. The accessibility to cell phones and internet make research online all too easily accessible. Students are rarely seen sitting down with a good book. By the time students have graduated from high school they have read many of the same books and for a similar purpose, to pass their national exams. Books continue to be read for content and not to encourage engagement with the characters or to help the reader understand the struggles, challenges and joys of life from a new perspective. 

So, what happens when students enter a post high school teacher training program and are told they will have daily read aloud time? Giggles, resignation, sighs, acceptance and sometimes a whispered, “really?”  In The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe readers meet four children who find themselves in the magical land of Narnia fighting for their lives in a battle of good and evil.  They make friends with talking animals who teach them what it means to be courageous, valiant, humble and forgiving. They enter a land with a time of its own and a story line that exemplifies the Biblical story of redemption which can be overlooked if one does not pay attention to the story line. This classic novel published in 1958 by C.S. Lewis remains a favorite of both children and adult readers today. 

Shortly after the start of the first term, students sit in a circle and begin a journey that stirs in them a hunger for more good story, a curiosity that begins to think of new possibilities in their own writing and the reality that books can be read for pleasure and a new perspective on life. I’ve been reading The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe to every class of new students for the past five years. And I will continue to read it because of the response of 20 year-old Shedrack to the death of Aslan at the hands of the White Witch. As the great lion submitted to his accusers he slouched down in his chair. He actually had tears in his eyes when the final blow was made. Aslan lay dead and before Susan or Lucy could say anything, Shedrack blurted out, “What happened? Did they kill Aslan? That’s not right!”  He was in dismay and found himself for the first time in his life realizing the cost of the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ.

Phillip Ryken in his Christian Guide to the Classics advises that reading classics requires respect for the momentousness of what you are doing. “When we know that a piece of literature is a classic, we should begin with a vote of confidence for the work. Greatness deserves to be respected and honored.” Isn’t that why those of us who read classics aloud to our students do so with great gusto? And with an underlying confidence that something great has happened in our students. And if Aslan isn’t enough there is always Charlotte’s Web soon to follow.  What a privilege to introduce many future teachers to the world of great books. 

 I don’t need to tell you how much joy the next day brought Shedrack when he learned that Aslan was back and gave out a great roar. After all, its just a kids book!