Maybe you’re not as addicted to book lists as I am. But I often get questions about what books are really good to read aloud or to give to my seven year old or nine year old. Or what should I give to my son who reads nothing except Redwall or Encyclopedia Brown or whatever the latest fad is? Or how can I help my voracious reader find more good books? Or what books do you suggest that are set during the Middle Ages? What about books for science-loving children?
Well, I almost always have some to suggest. However, when I run out of ideas, or when I want to dream about more books for my future reading or for my library, or when I want to remind myself of all the great books I’ve already enjoyed, these are the books I go to. Books about books for children and for young adults:
Picture Book Preschool by Sherry Early. I am putting my book first, not because it’s the best, but because it’s for the youngest of our children—and their parents, of course. The simple spiral-bound book is a preschool curriculum, suitable for ages three to five, based on picture books that I have been reading to my children for the past twenty years. Each week of Picture Book Preschool is built around a theme, and includes a suggested character trait to work on, a Bible verse, and at least seven suggested picture books to read to your children. Available in print from Cafe Press or on Amazon as an e-book.
Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt. First published in 1969, this guide to “the imaginative use of books in family life”, is in its fourth edition (2002). Ms. Hunt recommends Harry Potter and other “modern classics” as well as as older books by more established authors, writing about all of these varied authors and books from a Christian perspective. Even if you’re anti-Potter, you can still get a lot out of this well-loved book about the joys of reading together as a family. Gladys Hunt also has two other books, Honey for a Teen’s Heart and Honey for a Woman’s Heart, both with excellent reading recommendations.
The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. Mr. Trelease’s book has been around for quite a while in several editions. (Latest seventh edition, 2013) It’s not written from a specifically Christian or homeschool perspective, but I didn’t find any of the ideas or the recommended books to be offensive or inappropriate for Christian readers. About half the book talks about why you should read aloud to your children, impediments to reading aloud, studies and thoughts about how reading aloud to children is foundational to their education, and the creation of a climate of reading the home and at school. The other half is an extensive list of suggested books: wordless books, predictable picture books, reference books, whimsical picture books, short novels, full-length novels, poetry, anthologies, and fairy and folk tales. I have the 2006-2007 edition in my library, and in it Mr. Trelease recommends lots of good books, some of which I have yet to experience and others of which I am quite fond myself.
Read for the Heart by Sarah Clarkson. Sarah Clarkson is the daughter of Christian homeschooling inspiration, Sally Clarkson, and her book, subtitled Whole Books for the Wholehearted Family, is a treasury of wonderful reading suggestions. Sarah is a kindred spirit, including many of of my slightly lesser-known favorite authors such as Nancy White Carlstrom, Mem Fox (Australian, not as well known in the U.S.), Joan Aiken, Caroline Dale Snedeker, Brinton Turkle, Sydney Taylor, Barbara Willard, and many more. Ms. Clarkson’s newest book is Caught Up in a Story: Fostering a Storyformed Life of Great Books and Imagination with Your Children. Long title, great book with even more reading suggestions.
Books Children Love: A Guide to the Best Chidren’s Literature by Elizabeth Wilson and Susan Schaeffer Macaulay. (Revised edition: 2002) Susan Macaulay is another daughter of a well-known Christian thinker, Francis Schaeffer. Her book of book lists is based on Charlotte Mason’s ideas about the use of “living books” (another term for good, enriching books) in the education of children. The books are listed by grade level, and many of them are old classic books that would enrich any child’s, or adult’s, education.
Who Should We Then Read? by Jan Bloom. The ungrammatical title notwithstanding (the author explains and defends her reasons for choosing to use “who” rather than “whom”), this guide to “authors of good books for children and young adults” is invaluable for its listing of wonderful authors and series from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, authors who wrote wonderful, imaginative books for children and who are in danger of being forgotten and not enjoyed by a new generation. Some of my favorites listed in this book, with information about the author and an exhaustive list of each one’s works, are: Patricia Beatty, L.M. Boston, Leon Garfield, Elizabeth Janet Gray, Cornela Miegs, Lois Lenski, F.N. Monjo, Leonard Wibberly, Glen Rounds, Katherine Shippen, John Tunis, and again, many, many more. Ms. Bloom’s book is ring-bound so that it lies flat, and there’s a sequel: Who Should We Then Read, Volume 2.
The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had by Susan Wise Bauer. This book is more for mature students and for adults who want some sort of guide to reading the “best” books that they never managed to read in high school or college. Ms. Bauer writes about training your mind to read thoughtfully and wrestling with books and keeping a reading journal, and then she recommends books for “jumping into the Great Conversation” in the areas of classic novels, autobiography and memoir, history and politics, drama and poetry. The book is somewhat intimidating to some folks, but I just read it as another book of old friends and new book suggestions, not as a definitive list of the books one must read in order be properly educated.
You should know that these books were all published at least ten years ago. Many of the books in them are out of print, and many public libraries have weeded these older books out of their collections in spite of their quality and excellence. Librarians must keep up with the new and the popular because of public demand, but when they do so, these older books are endangered. That’s why some homeschoolers and others I know are making it their work to preserve, publicize, and in some cases loan to others, these endangered titles.
If you have any of the books on this list or any of the out of print and hard to find books that are listed in these guides that you would like to donate to my library, please feel free to contact me.