Of Making of Books There is No End...

And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh. (Ecclesiastes 12:12)

Solomon’s words, presciently spoken millennia before the advent of the printing press or computers, have never been more true than today when publishers churn out tens of thousands of new books every year. Of course, this applies also to children’s books, which hardly existed as a category until about 150 years ago. So, with the multitude of books around, how can parents weed out the tares from the wheat to find the truly excellent books for their children to read?

Probably the easiest way to pick excellent children’s books is to consult an annotated list written by someone whose opinion you respect. Such useful books include Books Children Love (Elizabeth Wilson), Honey For A Child’s Heart (Gladys Hunt), and How to Grow a Young Reader (Lindskoog and Hunsicker.) If you prefer your books to be organized by historical era, you can find several such lists. You might also want to check out Sonlight Curriculum’s catalog, either online or in print. Here you’ll find thumbnail sketches of hundreds of marvelous books, along with reading and listening levels. (I hope you might not just consult their catalog, but actually purchase some books from them, if you find their lists useful.)

Another way to choose good books is by finding publishing companies which print high quality literature. One that I like is Bethlehem Books, a Catholic publisher of some of the best books written from 1900-1970, sometimes thought of as the “golden age of children’s literature.” Bethlehem’s books are not sappy, poorly written books that are sometimes republished in the mistaken belief that older is necessarily better. (Excellent books are still being written today, but you have to really be careful to sort through the drivel to find those that are remarkable.) The Bethlehem books we have read have been well crafted, interesting volumes which tell tales of heroism, courage, siblings loving one another, strong parents, and men and women whose faith makes a difference in their lives.

Today our family finished The Winged Watchman, a WW II story set in occupied Holland. We’ve thrilled (not for the first time for me) to the story which involves landwatchers (traitors – boo!) and underdivers (underground workers of all ages), a downed British pilot, hidden Jewish children, and more. Some other Bethlehem books that we have enjoyed over the years are: The Hittite Warrior (Joanne Williamson), Archimedes and the Door of Science (Jeanne Bendick), Beowulf the Warrior (Ian Serrallier), The Story of Rolf and the Viking Bow (Allen French), The Red Keep (Allen French), Happy Times in Noisy Village (Astrid Lindgren), and the “Fairchild Family” series by Rebecca Caudill. Many of the books are old ones I’ve found at book sales and only later learned that they have since been republished by Bethlehem. Being a Catholic publisher, they have a preference for books which reflect their beliefs, though this is only an issue in some of the books. In The Winged Watchman for example, we were able to have a discussion about the practice of making confession to a priest and of praying to a saint rather than directly to our Father.

Finally, if like me, you like to own old hardback editions of books (or just want to save money on a used book of any binding) check out www.abebooks.com. This is a collection of used bookstores located around the world, and is a great place to find out-of-print titles, or even currently in print volumes at discount prices.


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