Marvelous Monday – Literature

     Those of you who know me, in real life or on line, know I’m all about the books!  I homeschool my children, primarily, through the use of living books.  Our approach to history is a literature approach.  I even shun textbooks for Science, at least until the high school years, and even then they aren’t my first choice.  I even enjoy using “real” books to explain math and grammar concepts.  That being the case, you’ll not find many graded readers in my home.  We’ve used them, and I’ll share in just a bit which graded readers we liked and didn’t like. 

     I do, however, put real books, good books, fine books, in the hands of my children as soon as they are able to read independently.  There is so much rich, wonderful literature available, even for younger children, that I just don’t want to waste their time plowing through a graded reader.  Please understand, I know that graded readers serve a purpose and I have, quite happily, used them.  If these are your choice for your own home, I think that’s great.  I would like, however, to share what we enjoy; and perhaps, give you a look into a new way of looking at Literature in your homeschool situation.
      First, let’s take a look at graded readers.  There are scores of them available.  Graded, or basal, readers allow you to track where your children are in their reading ability.  The ability of a child to not only read the words on the page, but also to comprehend what has been read, are skills that he will need for his entire life.  These are skills we want our children to have early so that they can read the Bible and know what God’s Word says!  Graded readers allow you to keep your eye on your child’s ability to tackle increasingly difficult vocabulary and track with more involved story lines.

    We have used just a few graded readers.  Here they are:
     As I’ve mentioned in past Marvelous Monday posts, we used materials from Bob Jones University Press exclusively for the first two or three years that we homeschooled.  When we started homeschooling I had a first grader and a fourth grader.  The BJU reading program was fine, using graded readers and workbooks for the course.  None of us were especially excited about our reading program, and there was very little discussion about what the girls had read.  The readers, of course, are age/grade appropriate and are from a conservative, Christian viewpoint. 
     We’ve also used The Pathway Readers in our home.  These are the graded readers used in Amish classrooms.  Aaron read through the entire series over the course of about two years, and Will read about half the series in a year or so before we gave up graded readers for good.  He enjoyed the stories for the most part, and often shared with me what he’d read.  The children in the books are not allowed to escape the consequences for the sinful behavior.  Rather, they are encouraged to be obedient, honest and generous.  Loving sibling relationships are also encouraged.  These contain sweet stories of very old-fashioned, large, agrarian Amish families.  Compared to other basal readers, these tend to be a bit above “grade level”.     
     At about that same time, we also used the Reading to Learn series from Christian Light Education.  These come from a Mennonite publisher.  Personally, we did not care for the nonresistance viewpoint, but it was expected.  It did offer us a good discussion point with our boys about what we believe in our own family compared to the Mennonite philosophy.  We didn’t enjoy these readers as much as the Pathway readers.  The stories weren’t quite as engaging for my children, though my boys read several of them.  I’m always suspicious of how much my children are gleaning from a book when they aren’t telling me about what they’ve read.
     Just for fun, we’ve also dabbled a bit in McGuffeys Eclectic Readers.  The set we prefer are the reproduction originals published by Mott Media.  They retain the original Christian content of the original 1830’s version.  Dani remembers enjoying these, and I like the fact that they expose our children to the older language that they’ll encounter as they read Dickens, Shakespeare and the like.  It’s great fun to hear your children using words in their every day conversations that are considered “advanced vocabulary” for most children today.  

      So, if you don’t use basal readers anymore, what do you use?  H
ow do you know what books are appropriate for your children at each age/grade level?  And why give up the ease of using graded readers for something else?
     I can remember my own elementary school days.  The graded readers were filled with short stories that I occasionally enjoyed.  As I got older, the readers featured a chapter or two from a longer work.  I’m sure that was meant to inspire the students to read the whole book at a later date, but I always felt cheated somehow.  Either the story picked up in a place that didn’t make sense, or the entry ended in the middle of a story line.  That did not inspire a love of literature!  I have a very vivid memory of my sixth grade year.  We were to be reading quietly during class time.  Being a fast reader, even then, I had read far ahead in my reading book.  As I was reading one of the last stories in the book, I began to weep at the sad story line involving a blind bird.  (Okay, sappy, I know, but I was only eleven!).  My teacher saw me crying and when she discovered the reason why, I was scolded quite severely for reading ahead (even though I’d already completed the day’s assignment), and was punished by having to write 100 times, “I will not read ahead of the class.”  Talk about killing a child’s love of reading!!  I was, therefore, quite determined that I would do everything I could to foster a love of reading in my own children.  This is one of the main reasons “why” I don’t use graded readers much in my own home.

     My children are given a wide variety of literature to read throughout the school year.  I try to choose a wide variety for them so that they are exposed to all genre – classic children’s fiction, poetry, biography, nonfiction books on topics of interest to them or subjects we’re studying in our other school subjects, even age appropriate Shakespeare.  American literature.  British Literature.  Fantasy.  Historical fiction.  Classic fairy tales.  Allegory.     You get the idea. 
     I don’t often question them about what they’ve read, and we don’t do any sort of formal narration.  Book reports are rare, and I’ll address these when we cover English/Grammar in a future post.  The nature of things in my home is that my children will just naturally tell me about what they’re reading as we converse.  Sometimes it’s as I pass by the still reading child, who will start of with, “Hey, Mom!…..” and then they’ll begin.  Other times, I’ll hear, “You know in that book I’m reading about……” and the information will follow.  If your children don’t naturally come to you this way, you might read up on narration on any of the Charlotte Mason sites on the web, or just gently, GENTLY, prompt with a question or two to get them started.  Show interest.  Be amazed at what amazes them.  Laugh at what makes them laugh.  Be concerned over what concerns them.  When appropriate, use the discussion to see how what they’ve read might line up with what they know to be true from Scripture, but only when it’s a natural link to Scripture.     

      Finding good literature to put into your budding young readers hands can be difficult if this is a new concept for you.  However, we are blessed to have many really good resources at our disposal.  Here are a few resources you can use to find age/grade appropriate reading material for your own children.

     Honey for a Child’s Heart, by Gladys Hunt.  Subtitled, The Imaginative Use of Books in Family Life, this little book has been a trusted resource in my home for twenty years!  The opening chapters are terrific reading for all parents, homeschooling or not.  But for our purposes here, it’s the latter portion of the book that you’ll find useful.  Divided by age level and beginning with the very youngest “read to me” crowd through teen and mature readers, Mrs. Hunt lists books by author that she considers “good reading”.  There may only be a single title recommended for an author, or they may be a dozen.  There are also titles given in her “Poetry for Pleasure” and “Helping Families Grow as Christians”  sections.  I have pencil notations in my book with my children’s initials and the years that they read some of these books.  A highly recommended resource with a Christian world view.

     Books Children Love: A Guide to the Best Children’s Literature, by Elizabeth Wilson.  Unlike Honey for a Child’s Heart, this book is almost completely filled with book lists!  The lists are divided by subject matter, and cover almost every subject imaginable.  Animals, Art, Architecture, right on through Physical Education, Science and Special Days & Seasons.  A vast Literature selection is also included broken into three reading levels, and each level is subdivided into the categories of Fables, Folk Tales and Fairy Tales; Fantasies; Realistic Stories – Historical; Realistic Stories -Modern, with Myths and Legends included in the upper levels only.  A highly recommended resource, also with a Christian world view.   

     Read for Your Life: Turning Teens into Readers, by Gladys Hunt and Barbara Hampton.  In much the same way that her Honey for a Child’s Heart is written, this book was developed for older readers, teens and up.  The opening sections of the book help us understand how a book should be read, and how to choose good books to read.  These opening chapters are required reading here for high school.  Unlike her book for the younger crowd, Read for Your Life  is divided by genre rather than age/reading level – Adventure, Animals, Contemporary, Fantasy, Historical, Mystery, Nonfiction, Science Fiction, etc. 

     Who Should We Then Read, Volume I and Volume II, by Jan Bloom.  Wow!  I just found out about Volume II as I was researching for this post!  I’ll be ordering it as soon as I can swing it  You see, Jan Bloom has published for us, in a simple, easy to read format, her vast wealth of knowledge of living books.  She is a treasure of information about terrific books and she specializes in helping us find and use some of the great books that are now, unfortunately, out of print.  If Books Bloom is in the exhibit hall of your local homeschool conference, don’t miss them!  If either of the Blooms are speaking, don’t miss them!  Jan is delightful, helpful and knowledgable, and her book is a super recourse for your home.  Using the book’s index, you can find book lists either by author, genre, awards won or series.  If you’re only going to be able to buy one of the resources I’m mentioning here, buy this one!

     Here are just a couple of the on line sites I use:

     1,000 Good Books List, created by and for Classical Christian homeschoolers.  Though I do not homeschool in the classical method, I have enjoyed referring to this list.  Divided into levels that encompass three grades at a time (1st – 3rd, 4th – 6th, 7th – 9th, 10th – 12th), there are hundreds of titles listed. 

     There are some great books to be found in the graded book lists from the AmblesideOnline curriculum, too.  This site, dedicated to reproducing as closely as possible a true Charlotte Mason education, has a lot of  other wonderful resources, too. 

     Once you get started, you’ll begin to find books on your own.  My boys have both discovered favorite authors, and we oblige by providing more books by those authors.  You’ll discover series of books that your family enjoys.  As you discuss your choices with your friends, you’ll start exchanging titles and authors.  Jot down books discovered on blogs that read.  Use Amazon as a resource, too.  Run a search for a book that you know you like and then scroll down for the “customers who bought this item  also bought” and “what do customers ultimately buy after viewing this item” sections.  I have discovered, literally, dozens of great titles this way.
     Just a few closing words.  Not all families, Christian or not, have the same standards for what they allow their children to read.  Some reject all fantasy stories and fairy tales.  Others reject certain pieces of literature because there may be a word or two that they object to.  We all, of course, are accountable to the Lord for the way we educate our children, as well as for the things we expose them to.  While we want to carefully protect our children and not expose them to anything that would cause them to stumble, we also need to prepare them for the world they live in.  Scripture tells us we are to be in the world, not of it.  I would much rather tackle the difficult issues of profanity, bigotry and reality with my children under the controlled circumstances of our home, rather than having them encounter these things unprepared as they begin to venture out away from our homes.  All of our children will one day leave home.  Let us fit them for that in all ways so that they will know how to deal with the sins of the world when they encounter them. 

     Be sure to head over to Kendra’s to read her Marvelous Monday – Literature post. 

God bless you as you look well to the ways of your household!
Proverbs 31:27

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8 comments to Marvelous Monday – Literature

  • How did you come across such lovely bookshelves?  They are just right for me as I’m an avid reader and would love to display my books neatly.  Thanks for any help you can give.
    Have a wonderful Monday.

  • any advice for a first year homeschooler (dd is 8 and aspergers, very bookish and bright…ds is 6 and potentially adhd, or aspie..and can’t sit still much…we’re working on it..we’re having a tough time finding our groove……so i’d love to maybe i’m not the only one who found the first year hard and that we shouldnt give up????   thanks for all you do, this site inspires so many of us…and any time you dedicate to it…means so much for us..

  • @Rita – Our bookshelves are from IKEA.  They are very sturdy, were easy to put together and I love them!

  • What a great post, Cheryl!  Thanks!
    I appreciate your passion for living books, and all the resources you’ve provided within your post.

    We’ve done the Pathway Readers, too.  Our daughter loved them and I think they were helpful to get her started.  I, too- appreciated the obedient children within them!

    The picture of your bookshelves made me comment to my husband, “Okay, that’s one thing we should do with some of our tax-refund money.  Invest in several bookshelves so that we can have a FULL wall of bookshelves!”  🙂  [I guessed they were from IKEA, too.  :)]


  • @wifetomark –  We have bookshelves on almost all of the walls of that room, which we call our “school room”, though we school all over the house and property.  Some of our older shelves are solid oak.  We are every bit as pleased, maybe even more pleased, with the IKEA book shelves and the long wall of those in the pictures cost just a few dollars more than one double oak bookcase.  They’ve been up for over a year now and even the most heavily laden shelves show no signs of bowing under the weight.  

  • Oh I just love reading and am so glad that both my children do too!
    I have such sweet memories of us reading books together and especially the chapter books…
    What wonderful adventures we had!
    Wishing you a blessed Monday Cheryl!

  • Oh I just love reading and am so glad that both my children do too!
    I have such sweet memories of us reading books together and especially the chapter books…
    What wonderful adventures we had!
    Wishing you a blessed Monday Cheryl!

  • Awesome post. I am off to check out the links to the book lists. We love to read in our house. Mostly fiction, but I am hoping to expand the arena as we homeschool next fall. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing your Literature info.