Saturday, April 8, 2006

Reading Good Books

This entry was originally posted at my other site, Twice Bloomed Wisteria.

One of the most wonderful benefits homeschooling offers is the time and flexibility to explore timeless books. Some books just cannot be scheduled. They must be read when they are discovered, in their entirety, and with passion. I have been reading to my children since birth and will continue to do so (even though they are becoming readers) until they shove me out of the bed or off the couch. I love sharing books at bedtime or on the porch swing or on the couch or . . . I have abdicated some reading responsibility as they have grown, but will continue to find time to read as long as they want me.

We have read thousands of books and it seems that each good book leads to another. We read The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth Speare and Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes last year for history. Both mentioned Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. My son had to read that book last summer. We don't always follow literary allusion or recommendations of characters to books. Sometimes we follow authors. My son loved The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, so we have also read Tom Sawyer. My daughter enjoyed The Little Princess by Frances Burnett last year, so this year we read The Secret Garden. Other times we follow stories through to their conclusions by reading a series like the Harry Potter novels by J.K. Rowling, The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis or The Little House series by Laura Ingals Wilder.

We also find books through our study of history by reading historically significant literature. We studied the Civil War this year and read The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane and Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt. We are reading Gay Neck:The Story of a Pigeon for WWI study and plan to read The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boon and Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl for WWII. My little ballerina also led us to Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night Dream. After watching the ballet, I suggested we read the play (I would have found an excuse to read Shakespeare even if she had hated the ballet).

Once you start reading good books there is no where to stop. The question is where to start. I love book lists. I check several, periodically, to make sure we haven't forgotten some wonderful, age appropriate, historically appropriate or just perfect piece of literature. Here is a smattering of the lists I use to help guide my children's reading and enjoyment of literature.
  • Honey for a Child's Heart by Gladys Hunt -- My sister in law gave this book to me years ago and I still enjoy it. Though her lists are not exhaustive or organized as I sometimes need them I have come back to this book many times because Gladys Hunt chooses quality. Over 1/2 the book is commentary on the importance of reading quality books. If you are just starting and have young children, the commentary can confirm your ideals and cement your plans in reality.
  • Let the Authors Speak by Carolyn Hatcher -- This book organizes titles historically by reading levels, type of book, and location. Having all this information at your fingertips is indispensable if you like to structure some historical fiction and non fiction with your history study. There is little commentary. Three fourths of the book is comprised of lists sorted by period, title and author.
  • The Literature Teacher's Book of Lists by Judie Strouf is an older book. I got it in my past life as a literature teacher. This book does not stop at lists of books but has an assortment of other "useful" or maybe "useless" information. Book lists are sorted by age, classics, popular, fiction, non-fiction, autobiography, comics, and on and on and on.
  • The Story of the World Activity Guides by Susan Bauer and others -- I bought the first two of these and used them quite a bit. I don't like blind ordering from the library and enjoyed the historically significant literature choices. After the second activity book the activities and book choices seem sloppy and somewhat haphazard. The Guides do have lists of books by chapter significance, but the information is somewhat vague and the books are often redundant. You shouldn't have to read the same book each time you go to China in history.
  • For free online lists try these:

    • Award winning book lists -- Though these are the source of exhaustive official ALA lists, the format is not great. They are difficult to read and print. This list does not have the all important short summaries for each listing.
    • Newbery Books -- Each entry has a short summary and winners are divided by century. The Caldecott Medal Books are accessible from this page, but are not organized for printing as you have an extra click so that you only get one book per page.
    • The Great Books Academy -- This online school provides lists for great books and good books arranged by grade level.
    • Great Books Online -- This list is for the older student and for people who don't mind reading online or printing books. The list is free and so are the books!
    • Ambleside Online -- AO has reading lists for each grade level. Click on the grade level of your children and scroll down to the bottom for literature and free reading selections. They also have an alphabetical by authors list.
    • Finally, though many of the books on these lists are drivel, here is the resource for the much touted Accelerated Reader program. I sometimes use these to find a grade level.
Armed with lists, I feel I can choose books that will make a lasting impression on my children, fill their minds with questions, and lead them to more books.

No comments: