Books are an incredibly important part of our homeschool – in fact, they are central to just about every part of our homeschool! But how do you choose books for your homeschool? What should you look for and what should you avoid? How can you tell a good quality book from a poorly written one? Let’s get into it and talk about how to choose the best books for your homeschool!
Choose living books
Have you heard of living books? This is a phrase that Charlotte Mason coined about high quality books that make subjects come to life. Instead of reading dry textbooks, living books bring your child from the living room to the ends of the earth.
Charlotte Mason believed that just as we can’t feed our kids junk food and expect them to flourish, we must provide a feast to nourish their minds. So when we choose living books, we engage our kids’ hearts, minds, and imaginations. And when kids connect to a book, they remember more of what they read!
Choose books according to your values
It’s important that the books you choose for your homeschool align with your family’s values. For example, we prefer to chose books that uplift and encourage instead of books that dwell on darkness.
Because kids immerse themselves in stories, books are a powerful way to convey your values. So when you give your kids books that encourage them to grow in character, they will (hopefully) absorb those character traits. If you give them books that share stories of people who are strong in their faith, we hope that this example will remain in their memory when they are put in a tough situation.
If the content of a book isn’t clear by looking at the back cover, read online reviews or pre-read the book yourself. I always preview picture books – that’s really easy to do – but it’s tricky with chapter books, especially if you have kids who read books faster than you can keep up with them! So I rely heavily on online summaries and reviews if I have any concerns about the book.
I also maintain an open dialogue with my kids about the content of the books they’re reading. Do they read books with questionable content sometimes – or content that I think they are not ready for or goes against our family values? Yes. It happens! This is why it’s important for us to talk about the books together. If something comes up in a book, we approach it just as we would if it came up in a TV show or in real life – we discuss our family values, what Scripture says, etc.
Here are a few resources for book reviews:
- Common Sense Media
- Plugged In
- Redeemed Reader (I recently came across this site and it seems like a great resource)
Choose from reading lists or blog posts
There are many reading lists and blog posts that will give you book suggestions. Of course, not every single blog post or reading list you come across will recommend perfect books, but they can be a great place to start. Here are some lists, blog posts, or books to start with:
- Ambleside Online
- Read Aloud Revival
- Give Your Child the World
- Honey for a Child’s Heart
- Blog posts – search for book lists on Pinterest or check out some of my book lists here on the blog or in my Amazon storefront
Choose a literature-based curriculum
If you aren’t sure which books to chose, pick a curriculum that is built around books! Not sure you want to use the whole curriculum? Check out the books used within these curricula and use them on your own.
A few literature-based curricula options:
Choose books on topics you want to study
We love literature based unit studies in our house, so I will choose books according to the topic we want to study. I like to create my own unit studies, but there are many that are already out there – created for you! You don’t need a full unit study though, you can just pick up a few books about a topic, read them, and learn about the topic together!
Choose according to your child’s ability
If you want your child to read books, you have to have books they’re able to read! So choose books that are appropriate to their reading level and their age. Just because your child can read a young adult book doesn’t mean they should. If the content is too mature, skip it and save it for later.
On the flip side, once they move past simple picture books, don’t get rid of them all! Reading “easy” books is good – your child will be able to focus on the content rather than struggling through the words. Plus going back to familiar books is a beautiful part of reading, even if the book is “below” their ability level. My older boys still love to read picture books – especially non-fiction books.
Likewise, it’s good to let your child be challenged with books that are a little bit difficult. If a book is so far past their ability level that it’s frustrating, though, try these books as audiobooks or read alouds.
I have more tips on how to shop for used books
and build a homeschool library on a budget in this post
Ask a librarian to help you choose books
I’ve never met a librarian who doesn’t want to help you find the right book! Give them an idea of what you’re looking for, and they can easily point you in the right direction and give recommendations.
Avoid TV/cartoon character books
In our home, we try to avoid books that are based around TV or cartoon characters. We find that these books don’t usually have quality story lines or characters. Now here’s a caveat: sometimes kids who are very resistant to reading will be able to connect to a book from a TV show they love. For example, one of my boys didn’t enjoy reading until he found a Star Wars book. Suddenly he was very interested in reading! In the Charlotte Mason world you’ll hear this referred to as “twaddle” – books that don’t bring a lot of value. While living books are generally the best, I don’t draw hard and fast lines in this area.
Choose a variety of genres
Vary the genre and type of book your kids are reading – or that you’re reading for lessons or read alouds. If your kids love fantasy books, that’s great, but make sure you provide other types of books like historical fiction or realistic fiction. You want to expose your kids to lots of different types of books, writing styles, authors, etc.
Choose books that stand the test of time
The best books are the ones that can be read over and over – no matter what generation reads them! Books from well-known authors or books that have won Newberry (or other) awards are also great places to start. This is also where living books come in – good quality books won’t stop being good quality 10-20 years after they’re published. Twaddle, like books based on movies, will be irrelevant in a few years. When it comes to non-fiction books, choose books that you know you’ll reach for time and time again when covering a topic.
If you’re interested in Charlotte Mason style learning, the Charlotte Mason inspired learning bundle: A Quiet Growing Time is available right now, though May 2nd! This bundle is filled with $300 worth of printables, hands-on activities, and literature suggestions for early learners up to 8 years old (but at a fraction of the price). It is carefully curated from a variety of shops to encourage gentle learning through play.