Episode Show Notes

In this episode, Mike sits down with SFC’s Head of Schools, Rod Gilbert, and assistant Lower School Principal, Amanda Walker, for the fourth installment of the Eagle Perspective’s new mini-series “A Yard of Books.” Mike, Rod, and Amanda talk about Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi.

Mike Siciliano, Upper School Dean of Students, has a long history with Sante Fe Christian, sitting in several roles including alumnus, US history teacher, and football coach. As a student, Siciliano felt he had teachers and coaches who personally invested in him and made a huge difference in his life. Now, he tries every day to continue that legacy for current SFC students, live up to the standard his teachers set for him, and have a lot of fun.

Rod Gilbert brings a fresh perspective as SFC’s Head of Schools. As a strong leader with a shepherd’s heart, Rod encourages SFC’s faculty, coaches, and staff to strive for excellence in all they do. At his core, Rod is an educator who wants children and their parents to see the world as something lovely, worth exploring and redeeming through Christ.

Amanda Walker, the assistant principal of SFC’s Lower School, holds a BA from Santa Clara University, a teaching credential from California State University San Marcos, and an MA in Educational Administration from Point Loma Nazarene University. After holding a leadership position in children’s ministry, Amanda launched her teaching career as a first and fourth-grade teacher prior to coming to SFC in 2006. She is a San Diego native and a proud mom of three amazing children.

Amanda’s List of Books to Read Out Loud

Anything by Roald Dahl
Chronicles of Narnia
Frog & Toad
Harry Potter
Land of Stories
Ramona & Beezus
Wind in the Willows
Wrinkle in Time

Picture Books
Beatrix Potter
Pout Pout Fish
Ruby Finds a Worry
The Giving Tree
Velveteen Rabbit
Where the Wild Things Are


00:00:04 – Introductions

00:00:48 – Why reading aloud is important

00:01:45 – When Rod discovered Pinocchio

00:03:25 – Highlights of the original version of Pinocchio

00:05:28 – Reasons Pinocchio is important to read with a child

00:07:18 – Guests’ stand-out memories of reading aloud with their children

00:12:18 – Discussion about magic or imagination as counterbiblical

00:14:19 – How to determine the right age to introduce a book to your child

00:15:55 – Advice to parents how to begin reading aloud to their child


Mike Siciliano [00:00:04] Welcome back to another episode of our Eagle Perspective Podcast. I am Mike Siciliano. We are continuing on with our Head of Schools today in our ongoing series called A Yard of Books. I’m joined, of course, by Rod Gilbert, our Head of Schools.

Rod Gilbert [00:00:17] Hey, Mike. Thanks for having me.

Mike Siciliano [00:00:18] Of course. Thanks for being here. We’re going to talk a little bit about Pinocchio today.

Rod Gilbert [00:00:23] Love Pinocchio.

Mike Siciliano [00:00:24] Not the Disney version.

Rod Gilbert [00:00:25] No, the original version.

Mike Siciliano [00:00:26] Okay. We are joined by a special guest today, our Lower School Assistant Principal, Amanda Walker.

Amanda Walker [00:0 0:32] Thanks for having me.

Mike Siciliano [00:00:33] Thank you for being here. I know this is a return to the podcast for you. So, we’re excited to have you back on our Eagle Perspective Podcast.

Amanda Walker [00:00:40] I’m really excited. Thank you.

Mike Siciliano [00:00:41] Part of why we asked you here because as much as we’re talking about Pinocchio, we’re also talking about reading aloud.

Amanda Walker [00:00:47] One of my favorite things.

Mike Siciliano [00:00:48] So, what is it about reading aloud that makes it one of your favorite things?

Amanda Walker [00:00:51] Well, I think reading aloud allows for you to connect with your child and maybe have conversations that you wouldn’t have otherwise, or skip off to fantasyland together. I think that’s a really neat opportunity.

Mike Siciliano [00:01:06] Is this something that you’ve done…? You have three children, correct?

Amanda Walker [00:01:09] Three kids.

Mike Siciliano [00:01:10] You’ve done this with all three of them? Is it something you discovered partway through?

Amanda Walker [00:01:14] So, yes. Reading aloud was one of the things I looked forward to when it came to thinking about parenting, but I think that’s because my parents read aloud to me. So, I have really fond memories of my mom reading Chronicles of Narnia, or All Creatures Great and Small. It was a special time.

Mike Siciliano [00:01:35] Yeah. So, I don’t know if you even remember this. For the longest time, my oldest child wouldn’t sit and listen to a book until you gave us a book. Do you remember that book?

Amanda Walker [00:01:45] Yeah.

Mike Siciliano [00:01:45] Violet’s House. That was because her name is Violet. That’s what got her to be able to sit and listen while we read aloud to her. So, I can speak personally to your experience as the read-aloud expert. It’s a good segue, Rod, back to you, because you discovered Pinocchio, you were saying a little bit before we got started. When did you discover this book?

Rod Gilbert [00:02:05] When our children were little, I was able to have dinner with the author that wrote a book called Teaching the Heart of Virtue, how classics cultivate moral imagination in children. So, over dinner, I met him at a conference. Read the book. One of the chapters is dedicated to the character development—the original Pinocchio, not the Disney Pinocchio. I didn’t know there was such a thing. So, out of ignorance, and bliss, and joy, I read it out loud to Ryan when he was a little boy. He was smitten by the original Pinocchio.

Mike Siciliano [00:02:35] So, first of all, I’m glad you said you didn’t know there was such a thing because I’m going to say at least half our audience probably is having the same reaction, that this is…?

Rod Gilbert [00:02:43] More. In fact, almost everybody I say this to have no idea there was a Pinocchio before Disney. 

Mike Siciliano [00:02:51] So, what is it about this version of Pinocchio that made you say, “I need to read this aloud to my son”?

Rod Gilbert [00:02:58] I think it’s darker and a little edgier.

Amanda Walker [00:03:02] Much darker.

Rod Gilbert [00:03:02] It’s scarier, and it captivated Ryan’s attention. Ryan, at some points, would stop me reading it and would yell out, “Don’t let him do that. Pinocchio, don’t do that,” because he knew there was danger up ahead. There are also a lot of biblical interactions that are so obvious when you read the story that are less obvious in Disney’s version.

Mike Siciliano [00:03:25] Okay. So, hypothetically speaking, anyone out there who doesn’t know the story of this version of Pinocchio, are there some highlights, just for our audience’s sake, that you could share with us?

Rod Gilbert [00:03:39] Well, due to his bad behavior, he does become a donkey just like he does in the movie. That’s a good crystallizing part. There’s a big fish that swallows up people. It’s in both. It’s, obviously, just Jonah’s story. I think one other aspect of the original book that gets lost in Disney is there’s an emphasis, a very direct emphasis, that the author is getting across biblically speaking of a child’s love, and devotion, and admiration of Mommy and Daddy—the mother figure, the fairy godmother, and then Geppetto, of course. There’s a desire of the boy to be ultimately respectful and caring for his father. So, in today’s world where the family unit is under quite a bit of attack—it has been the last 30 years—the emphasis on this biblical understanding of family is quite beautiful. Yeah, I think without explaining it to children, they can see it. They can see that a father’s love and courage and a son’s courage of trying to save his father, ultimately saving his father, is a beautiful picture. It’s the role modeling that we get from Christ himself. So, Amanda, is there one that stands out to you in that book?

Amanda Walker [00:04:56] Well, there’s the piece with the cat and the fox would trick them into burying coins in the field and, of course, steal the coins, and then what happens to the cat and the fox in the end out of their greed and trickery. There’s those themes.

Mike Siciliano [00:05:10] It sounds like it’s not happily ever after. There’s some difficulty. There’s some emotion that children…

Rod Gilbert [00:05:18] Well, Pinocchio kills the cricket.

Mike Siciliano [00:05:20] Well, there you go.

Rod Gilbert [00:05:20] That’s pretty dangerous. Doesn’t he throw a hammer at him or something?

Amanda Walker [00:05:23] He does. He throws a hammer and then…

Rod Gilbert [00:05:24] He’s a wicked little boy.

Amanda Walker [00:05:25] Yeah. He comes back as a ghost, the cricket.

Mike Siciliano [00:05:28] Okay. So, I’m just listening… Hey, I have a six-year-old and a three-year-old, and I don’t know that I’m convinced yet that I should be reading this to my six-year-old. So, what is it that both of you about this have been like, “Yeah. Really, it’s important that I read this with my child”? 

Amanda Walker [00:05:44] Again, I think it goes back to that it just gives a lot of those moments, like you said, with Ryan, where they stop you or you stop, and you know. You know that Pinocchio shouldn’t do that or make that choice. It’s so clear. But then in their own lives, when they come across things, it’s not as clear.

Rod Gilbert [00:06:01] There are lots of times where you could tell a child, “Don’t do X,” and they’re not going to listen to you, because they’re normal human beings just like we’re hard-headed adults. But there is something about the magic of story that attaches either a virtue or a vice that makes it very memorable. For little impressionable ones, they get to experience the damage of bad choices through a really fantastical story. That creates imprints in their souls to help cultivate what it means to choose virtue over vice.

Mike Siciliano [00:06:35] Which is a beautiful gift for them even if they don’t appreciate it at the time. We are, hopefully, saving them from having to learn that the hard way by experiencing it.

Rod Gilbert [00:06:47] Those were largely creative, with a lot of scary stuff to keep children from being kidnapped by bad people. Don’t go wandering off in the woods, don’t eat the candy if someone offers, and such. They were built to teach children. This is a chance to teach them there is a true good and beautiful, and there’s an ugly side to life we can develop in them because it’s a choice.

Mike Siciliano [00:07:09] Because in a way, they’re not your morals; they’re the morals of the stories.

Rod Gilbert [00:07:12] I’m just telling you the story. He turned into a donkey because of his misbehavior.

Mike Siciliano [00:07:18] Yeah. That’s not just me telling you that’s what’s going to happen; that’s what happened. See, someone else wrote it down. Now, just talking a little more about reading aloud. Are there any specific memories—it can be Pinocchio, or it can be anything—moments that you’ve had with your three kids that have been really powerful that stand out to you as that reading aloud time is hugely significant?

Amanda Walker [00:07:39] Yes. So, one of the series that I read with my children—well, my oldest two. We read through the entire Harry Potter series, and I read aloud the whole thing to them. I just had the best memories of reading that with them. I think that that series is well-written. There are so many themes that you can actually tie into faith and choices, friendship, honesty, integrity, family. Those were really special memories. But right now when I’m reading aloud, it’s often with my first-grader. So, the books that we’re reading are a little bit different. But I’m always struck. She read a story to me the other night, and it was Ruby Finds a Worry, which is a short picture book. But in it, she stopped me, and she said, “Mom, that’s not what you’re supposed to do with a worry.” I said, “Well, what are you supposed to do with a worry?” She said, “You’re supposed to talk about it because then the worry gets smaller and smaller and smaller until it’s not really a worry anymore.” I thought, “This is exactly the reason I want to sit here,” because that’s what reading aloud with your child can build. It’s an emotional literacy, an emotional vocabulary that they’re developing.

Mike Siciliano [00:08:54] Is she available for high school chaplain? There are so many things that I’m struck by… My kids are six and three. So, we’re just getting to the stage of a little bit more mature stories, but it is still hard to get them to talk about themselves, and their day, and their own worries. So, I see where the story allows for some of that conversation that I’m hoping to get out of them in their own life that just isn’t always coming right now, which is pretty neat. So, you tell me as an expert in reading aloud, as someone who has these great memories of it, as sometimes we get to bedtime, my head goes to, “How quick can we get through bedtime? Pick the short book. Please pick a short book.” So, how do I as a parent embrace this time, build it into where it’s not an afterthought or a thing to get through?

Amanda Walker [00:09:50] My mind immediately went to the saying, “You never know when something is the last time, and the last time is the last time.” I think about that, because my older children, for the most part now, read independently on their own. We will probably choose a book for the summer to do as a read-aloud, but more and more they’re doing their own thing. So, I think it’s just that perspective for me, treasuring that time, and knowing that it’s special, and it’s limited.

Rod Gilbert [00:10:20] Yeah. I actually read Fantastic Mr. Fox out loud to Ryan. Have you read this book?

Amanda Walker [00:10:27] Yes, I used to fall asleep listening to it on tape.

Rod Gilbert [00:10:30] Well, I actually read it to him out loud November the 25th, 2009, because I read the date in it. Then here’s a picture of us. I read it at a diner on a day of school, the day after Thanksgiving. Angie was at work, and Katie was somewhere. It was so memorable because it was the opening day of the movie Fantastic Mr. Fox with George Clooney and Meryl Streep. So, I was teaching him the difference between a great story, how it was told in a book, and how a movie can take license, and it’s still okay. So, we read the whole book in the breakfast diner and just laughed our way through it. Then we walked right across the street right into the movie theater and saw the whole movie. Then we went out to lunch. We spent the next hour and a half just comparing the movie to the book. He still talks about that. It’s still one of my favorite movies, but I’m wondering if it’s his favorite movie because of that moment.

Mike Siciliano [00:11:27] Yeah. Pinocchio is another example of that, right?

Rod Gilbert [00:11:30] Yeah, it is.

Mike Siciliano [00:11:30] It became a movie. Are we all agreed that books are typically better?

Amanda Walker [00:11:34] Yeah, hands down.

Mike Siciliano [00:11:36] Yeah, part of the joy of books is you think about it all day, and then you go home, and you pick it up again. So, you’re halfway through your day and you’re like, “Oh, man, what if it’s this?” In the movie, you don’t have time to wonder.

Rod Gilbert [00:11:50] I like the idea of just pausing it. Then I got to imagine for the next few days what actually happened.

Mike Siciliano [00:11:58] Sure. Even if your imaginings are not correct, you’ve now lived a bunch of other versions of the story. We’ve mentioned a lot of fiction books. We’ve mentioned some books that involve fantasy and magic, whether it’s Pinocchio. You brought up Harry Potter. I think in some…

Rod Gilbert [00:12:18] Narnia.

Mike Siciliano [00:12:18] Yeah, Chronicles of Narnia. In some Christian communities, there’s a concern or a fear that elements of magic or imagination are counterbiblical or might be hurting kids’ acceptance of the gospel. I’m curious what you guys think of that.

Rod Gilbert [00:12:34] My approach has been if I can introduce a wide range of the way the world works in a safe way in my safe home and talk to my kids about it and then be the place where they can say, “Dad, what does that mean? This is what I heard,” in a way, I’m giving them a dose of the wide range of the universe in age-appropriate ways and then being the person that they can soundboard it with. I had a mentor teach me how to inoculate my children, because if everything’s avoidance, then what I really create are fantastical taboos. I’m not there to be a part of that conversation. So, for me, it was part of the mentorship model of inoculating them from being overly interested in glamorized bad things.

Amanda Walker [00:13:21] Yeah. I think that in all of these stories, from The Hobbit to Harry Potter to Chronicles of Narnia to Pinocchio, there is good and there is evil, and that is biblical truth. I think that exposing them to how that can play out and what that looks like in all different forms, fantasy and otherwise, is really healthy.

Mike Siciliano [00:13:44] It seems to me, too, that there is value in… I think God gave us imagination and creativity. We don’t want to stifle that, but we also want kids to know the difference between reality and imagination and get comfortable with those two different worlds. Stifling the imagination side probably doesn’t allow for them understanding that difference.

Rod Gilbert [00:14:10] No, it doesn’t work in the long run, and it doesn’t allow them to cultivate their own understanding of how do they evaluate going forward what’s good and bad.

Mike Siciliano [00:14:19] So, we validated imagination, and creativity, and reading works of fiction, but that doesn’t mean that your six-year-old should read Tolstoy or something. How do you know what the right age is to introduce a book, or a theme, or a topic?

Amanda Walker [00:14:36] Well, I think that’s actually one of the other benefits of a read-aloud is that while there’s a lot of books that I would say wouldn’t be the right content level, whether it’s because of vocabulary and fluency or because of concepts that a child should be reading on their own. But I think that as a read-aloud, you could expose them to that level of literature much earlier because you’re there as their guide to read the words and to discuss the concepts. So, of course, I think there’s a level of personal parental preference in terms of what you introduce or what you want to introduce, but I think children are definitely ready to explore some of these things that may be, again, on their own wouldn’t be appropriate.

Rod Gilbert [00:15:17] It’s getting exposed to some of the scarier elements probably earlier than most parents think. I think, especially for those of us that have adult children, we know that now, but I didn’t know it when Katie was seven. I figured it out by the time she was 18. I was sometimes late to the game that she was actually maturing at a little faster rate than what I was aware of. So, there is the discernment for when to bring up certain topics, but the modeling of that is answer a question with a question. Sometimes you can get kids to tell you what they’re thinking, and then you figure out how far you should go.

Mike Siciliano [00:15:55] Okay. So, maybe there’s some people listening who haven’t read aloud much to their children and are thinking, “Where do I put this in our life? How do I start this? Do I just pick up and start reading?” What advice would you give them for some ways to start?

Amanda Walker [00:16:11] Well, I would say pick a time that works for your family. I like bedtime. It seems just natural, and it’s a good way to wind down. There’s also some really good research about that it’s good for the brain as it turns off and winds down, and actually will help them get to sleep. Then I would choose a book that looks good to you. It doesn’t have to be a long, arduous process to choose a book. If it’s a picture book or, actually, a chapter book, I would recommend reading it ahead. Preview it before reading it together, because sometimes you’re just more in tune with what’s in there then, and you won’t be taken by surprise. But yeah, then just simply read aloud. Adding silly voices is optional.

Mike Siciliano [00:16:50] I think adding silly voices is mandatory, but you know…

Rod Gilbert [00:16:53] It depends on how exhausted you are.

Mike Siciliano [00:16:56] Are there questions that are your go-to questions, or you’ve just read something aloud and you want to engage about it?

Amanda Walker [00:17:04] I mentioned this before, but I think that reading aloud gives you an opportunity to develop some emotional vocabulary for your child, which sometimes we don’t do. Some emotions like, “How do you think they’re feeling?” or, “How would it make you feel?” Just really minor. Especially children’s picture books are filled with opportunities for that, and it helps them tune in to how others are feeling.

Mike Siciliano [00:17:29] And probably normalize their own feelings. I can imagine as a child sometimes you feel things and you’re like, “Am I supposed to feel this way?” or, “Do other people feel this way?”

Rod Gilbert [00:17:40] They get a friend that’s right there in the book. Back to when to read, I would say Ryan was a bouncy boy. He was like Tigger—bouncy, bouncy, bouncy. So, for him to sit still for me to read a chapter book was less likely, because he, also, was tired. I actually read Pinocchio to him out in the front yard at night. He was teaching himself to kick penalty kicks into the soccer goal in the front yard. So, he had flashlights tied to the net of the front yard goal, which our neighbors didn’t like. But I read all of Pinocchio sitting in a lawn chair with a flashlight, with Ryan running back and forth kicking the soccer ball. So, the whole book was him in this kinetic moment of kicking balls and running around in the dirt, and me not being bothered by that.

Mike Siciliano [00:18:28] Well, I have really enjoyed this. I know I, as a parent of young children, I’m excited to go home tonight and read to my girls. Now I just have to decide what book.

Rod Gilbert [00:18:39] I’d say Pinocchio.

Mike Siciliano [00:18:40] Maybe. Maybe so. Well, thank you at home for listening. We’re looking forward to joining you again on our Eagle Perspective Podcast. Stay tuned for more in our series, A Yard of Books. If this is your first time joining us, we’d love for you to listen to some of our other podcasts. You can find us on Spotify, or Apple Music, or other places where podcasts are available. Rod and Amanda, thank you both very much. Those of you at home, we’ll catch you next time.