Finding Good Books, by Jennifer
There’s no shortage of books for kids these days. Walk into Barnes and Noble or look at a book order and you can see that there are multiple books on just about any topic you can think of. At first thought, it seems wonderful that there are so many books available, but as you begin to read through more and more, it becomes painfully clear that many of the books being published are twaddle.
What is twaddle? If you want to read an in-depth definition, Simply Charlotte Mason has a great one, but simply put, twaddle refers to dumbed-down stories that don’t require anything of the reader. I’m not going to throw all mindless books under the bus here; I think there’s a time and place for a fun simple read. I’ll confess to you that SpongeBob books have brought happy harmony to the back seat of my car on several road trips, and for that, they will always have a special place in my heart, even if I will be sending them off to Goodwill instead of saving them for my grandchildren. Just like with food, though, I want my kids to have a steady diet of books that are good for them, that draw them into the story and make them think. So where can you find the good stuff? It’s out there; you just need to know where to look.
The simplest place to start is your library. A good children’s librarian is one of the most valuable resources you can have in your homeschooling journey. I can’t speak to all of the libraries in the metro, but if you live in Norman, Ms. Kim and Ms. Susan are the most amazing librarians I’ve ever met. Give them a book title or topic and within minutes they will be leading you through the shelves and helping you find more than you imagined existed. Even though we’ve moved, I still pick their brains via Facebook from time to time and they’ve never steered me wrong. Find a librarian who knows her stuff and you will be one happy mama.
What if you don’t have a good children’s librarian? Sadly enough, I’ve actually heard the words, “I don’t read children’s books” come out of a children’s librarian’s mouth before (thankfully not in this state, so don’t panic!), so I know it can happen. Thankfully there are plenty of other ways to find good books!
Awards lists are a great place to start. The Newbery Medal is given each year for the “most distinguished American children’s book published the previous year.” These books are usually chapter books, though there are a few exceptions, such as Paul Fleischman’s Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices. If you grew up in the 70s and 80s, you’ll probably remember many of the titles, but don’t forget to look at the older ones, too. Oklahoma’s own Harold Keith was the 1958 winner for Rifles for Watie!
For younger children, the Caldecott Medal list is a good place to start. The Caldecott is given each year to the best children’s picture book. Every year Oklahoma students vote for their favorite books to receive the Sequoyah Book Award. There are three separate age groups for books geared toward kids in third grade through high school. If you check out even one of these lists, you’re sure to find some stories you’ll love.
If you want to find books that come highly recommended and are suitable for your child’s age, many curriculum sites offer book lists that are great resources even if you don’t use their curriculum. We use Five in a Row, which is based on fabulous children’s books, and over the last few years I have collected a large list of go-along books for each story. Ambleside Online, Simply Charlotte Mason, and Sonlight also have book lists available online. One major advantage to choosing books from a prepared list is that if you know who created the list, you have a good idea of what will or won’t be discussed in the books. As your kids get older and it becomes impossible to pre-read everything, it’s nice to know you’re not sending them into a novel about the horrors of drug addiction or child abuse if they’re not ready for something like that. Though it’s really more of a resource than a curriculum, Homeschool Share has a blog with a monthly book review—written by me!
After you’ve found all these good books, you may read everything your favorite author has written and find yourself wanting more. Sites like What Should I Read Next? can help you out! Just type in a title or author and up pops a list of similar stories and writers. Where was this when I was a kid?!
My last suggestion for finding good books is the simplest: Find a friend who is a reader, too. My friend Amber and I not only have similar tastes in books for ourselves, we also have children who are the same ages, so I get plenty of ideas from her. If she tells me she likes a book, I go right to my library account and put it on hold. She hasn’t failed me yet!
Hopefully these ideas will give you a place to start as you’re looking for summer reading ideas and planning for next year. Happy reading!