Book Lists

Every year in an attempt to sell us more books, publishers release thousands of new volumes. Over 21,000 new children's titles were released in 2004 alone!With so many books available, both newly minted ones and old treasures, how do you sift through the chaff and decide just what you want your children to read? And what books should be on your family read aloud list for the coming year? There are just so many books and so little time! While it would be great to have time to pre-read everything each child reads, often that just isn't possible.

Each summer I make individual reading and family read aloud lists for the coming school year, but starting new lists at this new calendar year also makes sense. As I do this annual task, several resources help me. First, I consider what direction our history studies will be taking us and then choose many books to supplement this. I spend time perusing the shelves throughout the house, pulling books and making lists. Finally, I turn to resources to complete each individual's list with age appropriate books.

First - a word of caution. You will not likely find any single resource list that you completely endorse. Everyone has different opinions of what makes great literature and what is worthy of spending the time reading. (Tim and I, who agree on almost everything, even differ on the merits of certain children's books.) So use these types of resources, but cultivate your own discernment and preferences. And don't forget that one terrific way to do this is by reading aloud books to your children.

Here are some of my favorites books of book lists:

1. Who Should We Then Read? (Jan Bloom)  

 Though this book has tons of helpful information, the bulk of the book (and the most fun part!) consists of biographical information for 140 some top authors along with lists of their books. I love learning the background of favorite authors like Marguerite de Angeli, E. Nesbit or Arthur Conan Doyle and discovering new ones with this book. Very useful if you want to find titles of out-of-print books by a beloved author or in a good series. (Check out to comparison shop for used books from 1000s of bookstores.) Does not include annotations with the book lists. Conservative perspective, and focuses almost exclusively on older books.

 2. The Book Tree: A Christian Reference for Children's Literature (Elizabeth McCallum and Jane Scott)

Published by Canon Press, this book has an excellent selection of annotated books organized largely by reading age. My copy has post-it notes hanging out the side and top with all the interesting books that are new to me. (And we already have a library of thousands!)

3. A Reader's Guide: A Reading List and Plan for Classical Students and Parents

This small booklet published by Classical Academic Press reproduces a carefully selected book list created over several years for a classical school in Pennsylvania. The reading list was designed to meet three goals:
a. Encourage a life-long love of reading
b. Develop a taste for the best literature
c. Guide students' reading in an incremental, topical manner

This guide is organized into Kindergarten, Lower and Upper Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric sections. Book suggestions are not annotated, but have notations which identify reading level and difficulty and genre. Some of the books were chosen because they dovetail with the history studies of that level of the Christian school, but most work well for any child in that age range. Short, but in my opinion, handy.

And because no one book covers everything, sometimes I dig into some other book-list resources I have. Here are a few more that may be of some help:

4. Honey for a Child's Heart (Gladys Hunt) This one is probably the granddaddy of all other similar booklists! Half the book contains inspiration for why and what to read, and the second half provides you with annotated lists. My edition is quite old (1978), but the 4th edition (2002) that I checked out from the library is significantly longer and more complete. Mrs. Hunt also penned Honey for a Teen's Heart and Honey for a Woman's Heart which I do not own, but have checked out from the library. The teen book focuses on using books as a means to communicate with your young adults. Yes! While I don't agree with every literary pick, I really like this emphasis and many of the suggested questions for particular books.

5. Books Children Love (Elizabeth Wilson) Contains annotated lists on subjects from Art and Architecture to Special Days and Seasons. Most recent edition is from 2002. This books was designed to present "living books" a la Charlotte Mason's ideas. I'm not sure exactly why, but for some reason, I don't end up referring to this one as much as some of the others.

6. How to Grow a Young Reader (Kathryn Lindskoog and Ranelda Hansicker). Also revised in 2002. Similar to the above books, though this one goes deeper into the whys and less on the whats. Some of the brief book reviews are quite insightful, though. For example, this summer some of my children and I individually read The Dark Is Rising series by Susan Cooper, a set of five "good vs. evil" fantasy stories which is recommended in The Book Tree.  I wondered however, where the author was coming from, as she neither presents a Christian worldview, nor is she openly antagonistic to such. Lindskoog and Hansicker discuss how Ms. Cooper uses biblical allusions, but because she turned from Christianity at the age of 16, presents a dualistic world with good and evil coexisting, and salvation coming only from within oneself. Reading their description of these books helped me frame my discussions with my teens, and helped me decide not to have our 10 year old read these books until he is older. (And actually, there is an even more complete discussion of the series in Honey for a Teen's Heart.)

And now, if I haven't worn you out altogether, here are a few online resources:

A. Institute for Excellence in Writing (Andrew Pudewa's popular writing company) has a very nice list of "Books for Boys and Other Children Who Would Rather Make Forts All Day." Actually there are a couple of lists here. It's not too long (11 pages), so you can print it and keep it handy. From the IEW site, go to the free downloads and look for the "Recommended Book lists."

B.  You can also find  some good book suggestions by perusing particular curricula such as Sonlight, Tapestry of Grace (Bookshelf Central handles their book supplies), Ambleside Online (Charlotte Mason approach) and Five in a Row (picture books).      

C. Redeemed Reader Blog
Insightful reviews of books, old and new, from a Reformed Christian perspective.Super helpful blog!

Finally, I would be remiss if I failed to mention my favorite source of new titles to read myself: World Magazine. Marvin (and especially) Susan Olasky's book reviews alone make up for the cost of annual subscription, in my opinion. Most often after reading their reviews, I head to my public library website to request one or more titles. Currently I'm reading the absorbing story of private schools for the poor in the developing world, The Beautiful Tree, recently reviewed by Dr. Olasky. Fascinating to see how the free market is more successful than the erudite wisdom of development "experts" and government officials.


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