must read books

An Open Letter to My Girls on Must-Read Books

Last month, Mackenzie, my oldest, turned nine. It’s scary to think that one day my daughters will be grown. I say “scary” because I will miss them being kids, and adulthood comes with its own set of challenges. Because of this, I’m thinking more often about the types of values that I want to instill in my children. I’ve also been pondering my list of must-read books that I plan to pass on to them as adults.

My Ultimate Must-Read Books, List

As an avid reader, I’ve breezed through hundreds, if not thousands, of books. I’m the type of person who likes to read a book once. On the few occasions that I’ve read a book a second time, it’s only because the author did an exceptional job. Yet, there is a handful–and it’s a tiny handful–of books that I return to again and again. These books contain a message that I long to make a part of who I am. The words are worth knowing forward and backward, living, breathing, and handing down to my children.

Instead of simply listing these books, I thought it would be more meaningful to write a letter to my adult children. One day, I’ll send this letter–or perhaps, let them read this post. In the meantime, I hope it helps you discover some excellent reading for 2016 and understand why each of these books is a hidden treasure.

An Open Letter to My Adult Daughters:

Dear Mackenzie, Brooklyn, Addison, and Emma,

It’s difficult to think about writing to you as adults. Yet, things are quickly moving in that direction–far more quickly than I care to admit. Brooklyn, I was so proud of you the other day for cooking breakfast with almost no help from me. Yes, I hovered over you like a helicopter to ensure that you didn’t burn yourself on the pan. But this was really more for my sake than for yours. You were perfectly safe on your own, but I wasn’t ready to let go of being ready to help at a moment’s notice–at least not just yet. Mackenzie, you are already showing so many signs of maturity. Your ability to juggle homework, friendships, and a schedule filled with soccer, girl scouts, and running club, is astounding. And little Addison, I can hardly believe that you are walking and talking already–didn’t your mother and I bring you home from the hospital just a few days ago?

Although you are too young for most of these books now, it won’t be long before you are ready to read them yourselves. Perhaps, you’ll stumble across them, worn and torn, on my book-shelf. More likely, you’ll receive them, one at a time, as gifts from me. These five must-read books have influenced my life greatly, and I hope they shape your worldview too.

The Bible

Of course, when it comes to must-read books, the Bible tops the list–but you already know this. Your love for God is inspiring. You girls pray as powerfully as most adults I know. You thank God for “the days He created on earth.” You continually think of others in your prayers, and always remember to pray for both of your families (something that is especially important when you live in a blended-family home). I love how you older girls have taught little Addison to enthusiastically shout out “Amen,” at the end of family prayers. Fortunately, the Bible is one book that you won’t have to wait to read. It was a joy watching your faces light up when you opened your “big girl Bibles” at Christmas. My hope is that you four will continue to put God first in all that you do in the years ahead.

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 3:18

How to Win Friends & Influence People

Your grandmother gave me a copy of this book when I was in high school. Next to the Bible, this is the book that I’ve read the most. From the power of a simple smile to the wisdom of never telling someone, “Your wrong,” this book is all about navigating relationships with wisdom. It’s something that each of you is already doing. However, friendships become more tricky as adults, and I’ll be passing along this book so that you can continue to grow in your relationship skills.

Winning friends begins with friendliness. -Dale Carnegie

Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success

The title is unusual, but don’t let it full you. My prayer is that each of you will grow up, knowing that it’s perfectly OK to fail. Trying new things is how we grow best, even when those new ideas don’t work as planned. It might surprise you to learn that your dad worked as a children’s pastor, magician, and newspaper salesman before you were born. I want you girls to understand that it’s fine to fail, as long as you learn from the experience and become better because of it. In fact, some of the best things in my life came out of my biggest failures. But those are conversations for much later on. The important thing is that you understand that failing doesn’t make you a failure. My hope is that you tackle new experiences with open arms and that when you fail, you dust yourself off and keep pressing forward.

God uses people who fail—’cause there aren’t any other kind around. -John Maxwell

Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith

It’s a silly title, but the book contains a powerful message. My favorite part is the description of how our faith can be like a brick or like a trampoline. The author uses the word “brickianity,” to describe people with an inflexible faith. Those who take a ” brickianity,” approach to faith get frazzled when others believe differently than they do. Their inability to extend grace results in endless debates. The opposite of “brickianity” is holding a trampoline-like faith. This type of faith flexes and allows room for growth. Those with trampoline-like faith meet people where they are at. Best of all, life on the trampoline is fun. Ultimately, this book is about grace–God’s grace toward us, and passing on that same grace to others. This is why it’s on my must-read books list. My desire is that each of you grows into joyful, grace-filled followers of Jesus Christ. And I don’t think that I have anything to be worried about–it is already such a joy to see each of you heading in this direction!

Perhaps a better question than who’s right is who’s living rightly? -Rob Bell

StrengthsFinder 2.0

This book easily made the cut, although it may be that you receive the 3.0 version–as I suspect that it will be updated in the years ahead. You girls have so many strengths, and I’m excited to watch you further develop the unique gifts that God has given you. I can’t wait for the day when you take the on-line quiz and discover your top five strengths. I hope that as your mature, you learn that people grow best by focusing on their strengths and not their weaknesses. And that as a result, you hone in on the things that you do best. In short, my prayer is that each of you grows into exactly who God designed you to be!

You cannot be anything you want… but you can be more of who you are. -Tom Rath

How Full Is Your Bucket?

This book is an easy read. So easy that you could probably breeze through it right now. Although it will probably still be several years before you find it in a Christmas stocking. This is a book that you are already living, and my hope is that as you grow, each of you continues to experience the joy that comes from filling others up.

Whenever we choose to fill other’s buckets, we, in turn, fill our own. -Tom Rath

As difficult as it is for me to think of you three–soon to be four–growing up, it’s exciting too. I am very proud of who you are and of who you are becoming.

Love, Dad

Continue the Conversation on Must-Read Books

For more great insights on kids and reading, be sure to check out these tips on how to instill a love for reading in your kids. That is my list of must-read books that I will pass on to my adult daughters. What about you? Are there any books that you would add to this list? What must-read books will you pass on to your children, and why? I can’t wait to continue this conversation in the comments below!

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Jed Jurchenko

Jed Jurchenko is the husband to an incredible wife, daddy to four amazing girls, and a foster dad to one more. He's served as a children's pastor, marriage and family therapist, psychology professor, award-winning writing coach, and life coach. Jed is the author of 23 books on relationships, parenting, writing, and doing life well. In his free time, you'll find Jed reading, preparing for an upcoming marathon, barbecuing, paddle boarding, and enjoying life with his incredible family. Find out more about Jed's books, coaching, and courses at

46 thoughts on “An Open Letter to My Girls on Must-Read Books”

  1. Welcome to #SmallWonder, Jenn. I was just looking for my copy of Velvet Elvis the other day – I also appreciate A New Kind of Christian by Brian McLaren as a similar book.

  2. I’m an avid reader too, and always wanted to keep great books in the hands of my daughters. Thankfully they both loved to read while they were home. But now that they’re in their 20s and working full-time, neither one of them reads as much as they used to. 🙁 Hopefully they’ll return to it one day when life is quieter. Your choices are excellent! I’ve had Velvet Elvis on my to-read list for years and still haven’t read it; I need to correct that this year.

    1. Thanks Lisa,
      I think you’ll really enjoy it. I first read Velvet Elvis in college, at the recommendation of a pastor and friend. Once I started, I couldn’t put it down.

    2. Hi, Lisa. Regarding your hope that “they’ll return to [reading] someday when life is quieter,” that might be a long time in the coming! Encourage them, however you can, that life doesn’t “get” quieter; we choose to open quiet spaces or we don’t (something I’m refocusing on even as I write this). One of my best friends reminded me today of this truth: “Being ‘too busy’ to do something is really just a euphemism for ‘it wasn’t a priority to me.’ ” I say this not just about reading or about 20-year-old daughters, but as a reminder to myself and us all about busyness, choice and writing our lives.

    3. Lots of thoughts here, but the one that rises to the top is this: I think it’s important as Christians to not only be patient with (or “tolerant of,” or “loving toward”) people who don’t believe differently from us, but to accept that maybe we aren’t as “right” as we like to think we are. I’m not talking about relativism here. I’m suggesting that, if God is God and if it is true that “the wisdom of man is foolishness to God,” that means all “wisdom” and allmen (people), not just “those other people besides me/us.” I think some day God is going to sit humanity down, pat us on the heads and say, “Nice try, everyone. You all got it mostly wrong, of course, but I’m going to fill in the 99% gap for you now of how big and complex and wondrous it all really is – much bigger than what you thought you’d mastered in your theology writings.”

      If we puny humans have figured God out and captured all that God is in outlines and texts … then God isn’t as great as we said.

  3. I was expecting a list of kid’s books, Jed. How interesting to give them a list of those that were life-changers for you, for their future. It got me thinking about the books that had a significant impact on my life as an adult. 🙂 Wonderful post.

  4. What a wonderful letter you have written for your daughters.

    I’ve always found legacies so important, especially the legacy I leave my own children, which spurs me on to daily walk in obedience to the Lord and to be sure their are evidences of my faith which many times primarily come through notations in my Bible or books that I have read.

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hey Karen,

      What an awesome legacy to pass on to your children. I especially like the idea of having a highlighted, note-filled Bible. It’s such an excellent way to model and share the importance of God’s word.

  5. I’ve read the Bible but other than that I haven’t read any of these books. I’m definitely going to have to change that!

  6. I actually thought this would be a “mom” post, and I was excited to find it was a “dad” post. Not many men consider what books would have an impact on their daughter’s lives as adults. Way to think ahead, Dad!

    1. Yes, Elizabeth Elliot is excellent! I’m going to have to keep her in mind. I especially enjoyed The Journals of Jim Elliot, while I was in college. I love her passion for following Christ, and that she was willing to get so honest in sharing their story.

  7. Jed, what a great list of books. I too love to read and most books are a once and done for me too. But learning to say your “Best Yes” and having a “Confident Heart,” one that relies on God are two I would add to your list. I love how books influence us, and God’s Word is my favorite. Thank you, Jed, for sharing your heart at #IntentionalTuesday. : )

    1. Thanks for the addition. I haven’t read either of those. I’m happy to have some new recommendations to add to my list, and I’m looking forward to linking-up with you guys again soon.

  8. Thanks for your suggestions. I hadn’t actually read any of them except, of course, the Bible. For the same reason I love Crazy Love by Francis Chan, I think I would like Velvet Elvis. I love focusing on God’s incredible love and grace. Thanks for linking up at Literacy Musing Mondays.

    1. Thanks for the excellent addition. I’ve heard a lot about “Crazy Love,” and enjoyed hearing Francis Chan speak in the past–his enthusiasm is contagious. I picked-up this book a while ago, and know I have it somewhere on one of my bookshelves, now to find it 🙂

  9. This is an amazing post and made me get a little misty! I love your intentionality in fathering. Well done, well done. I’m so glad you shared this at Booknificent Thursday on this week!

  10. What a sweet way to talk about must-read books! Your daughters will treasure this letter someday. As for me, I need to get some of these books. I haven’t read most of them and the titles themselves are intriguing. Thanks for wetting my appetite for some new reading material this year! 🙂

    1. Thanks Erik,

      Such great points. I had a Seminary professor who used to say, “Don’t worry, one day God will work out all of our little heresies,” whenever a class discussion would get too heated. I like this line because it a good reminder that while theology is important, people are incredibly valuable as well. Hurtful arguments are not helpful, nor are they worth getting caught up in. I think your right, even the most astute scholars are going to one day get a pat on the head, and a “nice try”–that’s such a fun way to put it 🙂

  11. This is such a wonderful idea. I think I should do the same for my babies. Although, my 13 year-old has probably caught up with me in the reading department, she devours them whole sometimes 3 at a time.
    I’m so proud that I’m raising three readers. 🙂
    Thanks for sharing with us at #MMBH!

    1. Three books at a time–that is incredible! I hope my girls continue their love for reading into their teen years too. It sounds like you’ve done a wonderful job of instilling the value of reading in your daughter. And thank you for the opportunity to share and connect at #MMBH.

  12. I love your selection of Books – and of course the Bible is first. As a young girl, I read Norman Vincent Peale’s book The Power of Positive Thinking, and learned a lot from it. The battle is so often in our mind. Oh yes, I am praying for you and your family about your decisions coming up this year. Thank you for sharing with us here at Tell me a Story.

    1. Hey Hazel,

      What an excellent book to add to the list. I read The Power of Positive Thinking, early on in college, and learned lot from it. I think I was beginning to develop a passion for psychology way back then. Thank you for keeping our family in your prayers, and for being such an awesome host at Tell Me a Story. I’ve been having a blast sharing and making new friends.

  13. This is a great list of books. A few of them I’ve read, but I’m adding some others to my “to read list.” Strengths Finder looks really interesting.

    1. Yes, Strengths Finder is awesome. There is an extensive, on-line assessment that comes with the book. The book alone is a great read, but combined with the online assessment, it is an absolutely incredibly growth tool.

  14. Great list here. I’ve read a few of the ones you listed. I feel your heart about watching your kids grow. But I can say, as they mature–even as teens–you will love it. Each phase is different and more wonder-filled. Bless you for pouring into your girls! Visiting from the linkups!

    1. Hey Dianne,

      That’s great to hear, because I’ve always been a little nervous about the teen years. Although I do have to admit, that so far, each stage of growth, truly has brought new joys with it. Thanks for the words of wisdom!

  15. In addition to the Bible, one other book that has positively influenced my life is the classic 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I think of those habits often and want to encourage them in my children.

    1. Thanks for adding this book to the list. I’ve heard a lot about it, but haven’t read it yet. Jenny really enjoyed this book last year, and kept telling me about how good it was. I’ll have to find her copy.

  16. Lori Schumaker of Seaching for Moments

    What a fantastic list of books! I’ve read a couple and heard of all! Love it! Adding this page to StumbleUpon!

  17. That is a very thoughtful idea, and seem very good book choices. That Dale Carnegie book is so old, it must still be in print.. Thanks for sharing these thoughtful posts on the Bloggers Pit Stop where it is important to help each other.

    1. Absolutely, I love teaming up with The Bloggers Pit Stop, and yes, Dale Carnegie’s book is still all over the place. It’s old, but has also become a classic in the self-help and friendship sections. The fun part is that I still have my original book. The cover is missing, pages are dog-eared, highlighted, and underlined. But I refuse to get a new copy, because it has so many happy memories attached. I will however, have to pick up a new edition for my girls 🙂

  18. Congratuations on your feature post for 100 Happy Days. These were excellent picks in your descriptions and blessings for your daughters. Having three daughters of my own, all grown up, I still recommend good books for them to read. I truly enjoyed the way you wrote this post, as an open love letter to your girls. What a blessing to see a dad love his children in this way and to think about where they may be in the future. Good books can help them get there.

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