Finding Great Books for Your Kids (and Yourself!) to Read
(Scroll to the bottom to get to the booklists.)
The single most frequently asked question I get is this:
“How do you find great books for your kids to read?”
And usually, what people are really looking for is how to weed out the great literature from the bad. We all know how to go to a library and grab books off the shelves. (Our toddlers are experts at this.) But how do we make sure we are encouraging our children to read truth, goodness, and beauty? How to we help them to avoid twaddle (a Charlotte Mason term for junky fluffy books)? How do we screen their books when we may not have time to pre-read them all ourselves?
I’m far from an expert. But I’ve accumulated a little wisdom and experience, and if I can help anyone avoid the trouble I’ve had in locating good books, I want to do it! Here are my best tips.
1 – Whatever you do, don’t allow your children free reign of the library.
Just like most homeschooling moms out there, I have a love-hate relationship with the library. Books! Media! Technology! More books! For free! It sounds so wholesome. But really, it has the potential to be disastrous. Our job is to protect young minds, educate them, guide them. Give them a lens through which to view the world. Not shove them into a place with endless information and let them figure things out for themselves. Just like the internet can be both wonderful and terrible, so is the library. And just like internet filters are a good idea, so are library filters. You are the library filter! You need to be aware of every book that gets checked out and taken home.
Does this mean you must personally read every book before it enters your home? Not necessarily. Egads, that would never work around here. I have six children, all avid readers and/or books lovers of some sort, and we regularly bring home 50 books weekly from the library. And since I homeschool all those kids, and also try to take care of the home, and be a good wife and mom, I barely have any time to read a book every quarter for myself – much less pre-read 50 books a week for my kids.
What it does mean is you need to be aware of what’s going in the cart. If you let your kids choose books from the library, perhaps make a rule that you need to sort through them before they are read. Quietly tuck away the questionable ones and make them unavailable.
Or, do what I do – teach your oldest children to reserve good books online and pick them up once a week. No kids in the library for this. Only the good stuff comes home. You can plan fun trips to the library every month or so, just for the joy of browsing books, when you are available to read aloud and gently screen. And only bring home what you can approve on those days.
But how do you teach your kids to find only the best?
2 – Employ trusted others to screen your books for you.
I don’t have time to pre-read all those books, and likely, neither do you. (No matter how much we would like to. Doesn’t that sound like a dreamy existence?) But some people read and study books for their job. Or do it as a passion and decide to write a book about it to help others. Use those people to help you! The classics are classics because they’ve been around a while – and other educators, authors, and publishers have already wrestled through the tough job of deciding which books are worth their time (and that of their children). I’m happy to pre-screen a few trusted resources and then let my kids choose books from those resources. I still make sure to thumb through everything that comes into my house, and I still remove the occasional silly or too-mature book, but this tip alone has saved me so much time and stress.
At the bottom of this post, I will list the resources that I personally use for screening my children’s books. Don’t trust me implicitly on this – decide for yourself what is important and screen each resource yourself. I suggest you make a list of what’s important to you and then make sure your reading lists meet those criteria. For me, I want my book reviewers to be Christian, with a love of classics and a heart like Charlotte Mason. That doesn’t mean every book that is read is Christian and classic and would be approved by Charlotte Mason, but it does mean that I try to only take book recommendations from those who value what I do.
3 – Read with your child.
The best way to know if your child is reading a good book is to read it with him. My kids have ever so much more time to read than I do, and that’s as it should be – but that doesn’t mean I should throw in the towel and never read a book with them again! On the contrary, I make it a point to read aloud to my kids (of all ages) daily, as well as reading alongside them as they study literature for learning purposes. Having your voracious readers slow down and read only a chapter at a time – to think, to learn, to let things simmer and stew a bit – is a great practice not only for school, but also for you, the busy parent. That means you may actually have time to keep up! My older children may read 50 books a month in free reading, but only 3-6 a year for study purposes. So sometimes I even have time to read a book along side each child, and this is a good thing for both of us.
Another benefit to reading together is discussion. When you encounter new ideas or potentially difficult material, you can discuss them together. This turns what could be awkward into a learning experience for the child.
Resources for finding good books:
Another great tip that I use frequently is to check the literature curriculum and reading lists at great homeschool websites: