What Then Shall We Read? Fiction Old and New

Read aloud fiction.
Read books just a little above your child’s independent reading level.

Andrew Pudewa: “One of the biggest mistakes we make as parents and teachers is to stop reading out loud to our children when they reach the age of reading faster independently. In doing so, not only do we deprive them of the opportunity to hear these all-important reliably correct and sophisticated language patterns, we lose the chance to read to them above their level, stretching and expanding their vocabulary, interests and understanding.”

Examples of living fiction books, chosen almost at random from my library shelves:

*Hittite Warrior by Joanne Williamson. A story from the time of the judges in the Bible. The publisher Bethlehem Books has re-published a number of exciting and well-written historical novels for children, including Hittite Warrior, Son of Charlemagne by Barbara Willard, The Ides of April by Mary Ray, and many more.

Texas Tomboy by Lois Lenski. Ms. Lenski wrote an entire series of books during the 1940’s and 50’s about American children growing up in different locales throughout the United States. Her book Strawberry Girl, set in rural Florida, won the Newbery Award in 1946. Charlie, the Texas tomboy, is growing on a ranch in West Texas during a drought.

*Eddie and the Fire Engine by Carolyn Haywood. Carolyn Haywood wrote a series of books about a girl, Betsy, and another about Betsy’s friend, Eddie. Betsy and Eddie are ordinary children who engage in rather ordinary neighborhood adventures: getting to ride on the fire engine, making a lemonade stand, playing outdoors, going to school, and other typical 1950’s activities. “There are no great problems solved here, nor great adventures. Yet Carolyn Haywood makes the everyday doings of children exciting and funny, entering into them from a child’s level. That is sheer genius and can’t be done by calculation.” Reviewer Phyllis Fenner.

*The Return of the Twelves by Pauline Clarke. A young boy’s discovery of twelve wooden soldiers that once belonged to the Brontë children leads to an exciting adventure. This fantasy novel was awarded the 1962 Carnegie Medal for the outstanding children’s book by a British author.

The Silver Sword, aka Escape from Warsaw by Ian Serrailer. Four Polish refugee children travel across war-torn Europe in search of their parents. This exciting story includes a cigar-smoking chimpanzee, a dangerous ride on the underside of a lorry (truck), near escapes and great courage on the part of the children and of their father. It’s a great World War Two novel for children who like to read about that time period.

The Gammage Cup by Carolyn Kendall. Another fantasy novel for fans of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. The Minnipins live a sedate and rule-bound life in their own peaceful valley, but everything changes when invaders tunnel through the mountains to disturb the Minnipin way of life. The sequel is The Whisper of Glocken.

Leepike Ridge by N.D. Wilson. This 2007 adventure story tells about 11 year old Tom Hammond, who travels downriver on a heavy piece of refrigerator packing foam. See this review at my blog, Semicolon, for more information about this excellent Tom Sawyer-like tale.

*The Sword in the Tree by Clyde Robert Bulla. This Arthurian easy chapter book was one of my daughters’ favorite book when she was a beginning reader.

*A Tree for Peter by Kate Seredy. Kate Seredy was a Hungarian-born writer and illustrator of children’s books. She won the Newbery Medal once, the Newbery Honor twice, the Caldecott Honor once, and Lewis Carroll Shelf Award. A Tree for Peter tells of a crippled boy who live in Shantytown during the Great Depression of the 1930’s and of how he brings hope to his community by planting a tree.

*Thee, Hannah! By Marguerite de Angeli. Ms. de Angeli is another Newbery Award winning author and another writer who was able to make various places and times come alive by inhabiting them with memorable child-characters who learn and grow as they live in families and in communities. Thee Hannah tells of a Quaker girl living in Philadelphia just before the Civil War.

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson. Mr. Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga consists of four fantasy adventures set in the land, and the nearby seas, of Anniera. The other books in the series are North or Be Eaten!, The Monster in the Hollows, and The Warden and the Wolf King.

*The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright. Two brothers and two sisters pool their allowances and each take a Saturday to go on a solo-adventure. These were “free-range’ children before the term was invented, when it was normal for an eleven year old to ride the bus by himself or for an unaccompanied nine year old to take in the city museum on a Saturday.

51IVLbtnDCL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_*The Sound of Coaches by Leon Garfield. Garfield’s plot and characters and atmosphere owe a lot to Dickens. I was especially reminded of Great Expectations as I read this story of an orphan boy of mysterious parentage who is raised by a common coachman and his wife. See my Semicolon review for more on this great historical novel.

*The Black Fawn by Jim Kjelgaard. Jim Kjelgaard was the author of more than forty novels, the most famous of which was 1945’s dog story Big Red. In The Black Fawn a boy adopted by an older couple, in turn “adopts” a black orphaned fawn and tries to protect the fawn from hunters.

*Treasures of the Snow by Patricia St. John. A story set in Switzerland about bullying, and injury, and forgiveness.

*Pegeen by Hilda van Stockum. An Irish orphan girl, Pegeen, who loses her only guardian and the only family member she knows, her grandmother. She goes to live with friends while the village priest searches for her uncle who has emigrated to America. The O’Sullivan family of Bantry Bay take care of Pegeen in the meantime—even though Pegeen is a very naughty little girl. More at Semicolon.

The starred books were the ones that were not available for check out in the entire Harris County Library system. All of the books listed are available at Meriadoc Homeschool Library.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.

What Then Should We Read? Picture Books

More notes from my talk at GCCHS Expo on Saturday, May 30, 2015:

Read picture books.
Lots and lots and lots of picture books. Look at the pictures together. Draw pictures together. If you need a curriculum or a list, use Five in a Row (which will complicate your life with more ideas than you will have time to do) or my preschool/kindergarten curriculum, Picture Book Preschool (more simple or maybe too simple?). Or use any other list of high quality, living picture books. Enjoy that one book that your preschooler wants to read over and over and over. Eliminate twaddle (silly, annoying, empty books) from your home, and then your child can only pick good, living books to ask you to read.

Melissa Wiley: “One of the homeschooling questions I am asked most frequently is “What do you use to teach your kids to read?”
I usually explain that I haven’t yet had to do any formal reading instruction with any of my kids. I have three fluent, eager readers now, and every one of them learned pretty much the same way:
1) (And so very important, it should be numbers 1-50.) Lots and lots and lots of read-alouds from the time they are teeny tiny. Poetry, picture books, novels, magazine articles, fairy tales, biographies, all sorts of very good, high-quality, literary writing. We read and read and read and read.
51) When at some point I notice the child is beginning to recognize her name and other simple, common words, I pull out our trusty Bob Books.
Read-alouds and Bob, that’s how we’ve done it three times in a row.”

OK. I admit I taught each of my eight children to read. I used a phonics curriculum, and I taught them to sound out the words. But if I had it to do over again, I would try Melissa’s way, especially with my youngest, who loved to be read to but had no desire to learn to read. I think if I had been able to just let it go, not worry about what anyone else thought, and keep reading to her, she would be a more enthusiastic reader now.

Maybe not. But in the meantime, whatever else you do to teach them to read, read picture books. And keep reading picture books after they can read to themselves because there are a lot of really good picture books to read and enjoy and read over again.

How to Establish a Reading Life in Your Home

Second installment of notes from my talk at the Gulf Coast Home Scholars Expo last Saturday:

So what does all of this reading encouragement and motivation have to do with the practical day-to-day business of homeschooling?


In order to take full advantage of the way God made us to love stories and to learn from each other and from WORDS, we’re going to have to change the way we live and the way we do school. I think they should be the same, or as near as we can get them. To homeschool effectively and, dare I say, joyfully we need to have a learning lifestyle. And my advice to you, after almost thirty years of experience in living with and teaching my own children, is to make books and discussion and observation the center of that lifestyle of learning.

“Education is a life. That life is sustained on ideas…we must sustain a child’s inner life with ideas as we sustain his body with food.” ~Charlotte Mason


Simplify, Simplify, Simplify.
Morning time (Cindy Rollins): Read the Bible, prayer, read aloud(s). You can add lots of things: a history read aloud, a hymn, art, a poem a day, science read aloud, Shakespeare, nature study, journaling . . . But start off simple.
Math time: choose a math curriculum and do math every day. But spend less than an hour a day on math, maybe just thirty minutes a day.
Independent reading time: Everybody reads.
No grammar, no writing practice (until they ask), no spelling, no PE (except going outdoors to play), music practice only if that’s what you want to do, art if you and your children enjoy art.
Chores: assigned each day

This list is very similar to Melissa Wiley’s (Here in the Bonny Glen) Rule of Six. She says that in each day for herself and her children she tries to include six things:
• Good books
• Imaginative play
• Encounters with beauty (through art, music, and the natural world—this includes our nature walks)
• Ideas to ponder and discuss (there’s Miss Mason’s “something to think about”)
Meaningful work
• Prayer