Category Archives: Books

There have been a LOT of books written about homeschooling. Here are my top recommendations published from the 1960’s to the present.

The Colfaxes: they are THE original modern homeschool family. I love how they just went for it, pre-internet, out in the boonies, their strong family culture of learning, and their academic results. Homeschooling for Excellence and Hard Times in Paradise.

John Holt: a single, childless educator, but you gotta love his deep faith in childrens’ natural ability to learn, if they are allowed time and surroundings conducive to their unique development and interests. Teach Your Own, How Children Learn, How Children Fail, and others.

Raymond and Dorothy Moore: their slant is Better Late than Early, School Can Wait, and others. Service is one of their unique aspects of a balanced education. Their concern about too much reading damaging eye development is outdated, but there are some recent interesting studies about nearsightedness and outdoor time.

David Albert: And the Skylark Sings With Me. He blew my mind with community based education. His family circumstances are about as opposite mine as you can get [a dad educating two daughters widely spaced in age], but this book completely inspired me to embrace our community resources, and just get out there and experience life as much as we possibly can.

Marva Collins: the only other person I know of with this much energy is my MIL. Marva Collins’ Way is an exuberant book . It’s also nice to read something by an educator who is not white and middle class. I guess she could be described as more cottage school than homeschool but her drive to provide individual inner city kids with a classical-ish education is very inspiring.

Dorothy Sayers and Susan Wise Baeur: Lost Tools of Learning, and the Well-Trained Mind. I don’t buy into neo-classical educational theory at all and don’t follow either of these philosophies, but reading the essay and the book helped me articulate some of the ways I don’t want to educate our kids. 🙂 And the Well-Trained Mind forums have been incredibly helpful as I decide on curricula every year.

Ruth Beechick: she has some really strange ideas, and her books sound like the 90’s version of fortress homeschooling, but these two books are what I would want if I had no internet. The Three R’s and You Can Teach Your Child Successfully cover how and when to teach the basics K-8, they are simple and concise, and have a very can-do, encouraging tone.

Grace Llewellyn: caveat–The Teenage Liberation Handbook was published just after I had been homeschooled through the middle of 10th grade and  graduated from community college at age 17. It was a great read about non-conformist kids. I was an anarchistic and a hippie then; now I’m just a libertarian wanna-be hippie, and I haven’t read the book since then, so it might not be as great as I remember. 😉 But back then it was awesome!

Daniel T. Willingham: Why Don’t Students Like School? is a strangely named book. It’s really about brain science, and debunks the myth of learning styles (visual, auditory, kinesthetic) while explaining how people DO learn and how to use those ideas in education. Sounds dry, but it is quite readable and has strongly influenced me in how we do what we do at home.


Thinking Out Loud…Old Books

I go back and forth on using old books (specifically from the late 1800s, which seems to be the majority of AO selections).


  • Older books seem more literary. Maybe because they were more dependent on text vs. photos? Or assumed a high level of interest and ability in the reader?
  • Challenging material is good for learning, and it’s important to me that our kids grow in their ability to understand a wide range of subjects and styles.
  • Big vocabulary!


  • The language and writing style are hard to read and understand for children living 100-150 years after these books were written. This is less of an issue for something in the literature or poetry category; more of a concern in history and science. I would rather give them something easier to read if they will understand the content better. So…Arabella Buckley or Allan W. Eckert…or both?
  • There have been an awful lot of books published in the last century! Some are high quality. I’d like them to read the best books regardless of publication date…but what determines “best”?
  • There’s criticism of kids today not being able to understand old books…but it’s hard for me too! We don’t talk or write that way anymore. It would be the same if a 19th century child was plopped down in the middle of texts and youtube and freeway traffic.
  • Some of the flowery, moralistic Victorian/Edwardian/Georgian style is really hard for me to stomach. And the personification and romanticism of nature is very period-influenced (i.e., the Nature Fakers). It may not be good just because it’s old…it depends on what is the purpose of the reading.

I guess it depends on the goal of the reading….if a book is used for literature (Treasure Island, Pride and Prejudice, Tom Sawyer) or poetry (Goblin Market), then I am enthusiastic about reading old books. They are part of our culture, and I’d like our kids to be able to appreciate them and enjoy reading them. If they are for history, I would like the kids to practice comprehension so they are able to read and understand original sources (the Declaration of Independence, Livingston’s Missionary Travels, Plutarch’s Lives). But if they are simply books about history, written in the 1800s, I’m inclined to look for more modern books. That way, the kids don’t have to decipher the language AND assimilate new content. Science seems similar. I hate Usborne and DK style books for science read-alouds (they aren’t literary or cohesive), although some have nice projects, illustrations, and photos. But I also dislike books like Madame How Lady Why or the Burgess Bird book–the personification is annoying and the science is outdated. They may have literary value, but I don’t really want to use them for learning science. There must be a sweet spot in the middle, something like Wild Season, or Jim Arnosky’s books, or Jean Craighead George…

How We Do…Picture Books

This one’s for you, Team P! 🙂

First my disclaimer(s): I am really picky about picture books! Life is too short to read bad books. And if your kids are like mine, when they latch on to a particular book, you will be reading it overandoverandoverandoverandOVER!

Inaccuracies bug me. Here’s my confession for the day: I got rid of The Very Hungry Caterpillar because I couldn’t stand the upside down butterfly illustration and the reference to a butterfly emerging from a cocoon…if it’s a butterfly, it’s a chrysalis! Ugh. Don’t get me started on bison vs. buffalo and pronghorn vs. antelope, either. We have some really nice Smithsonian nature books, but in one the text says “maple tree” while the illustration shows a oak tree. What’s up with that? I’m keeping that one, but am seriously considering correcting it with permanent marker. Some people cover up nudity in their art books; I just want some accuracy in my science books! OK, moving on…

Branded books don’t stay around here. Nor any other book whose main purpose is something other than storytelling. If it’s My Little Pony, Disney Princess, Strawberry Shortcake, Little People, Nickelodeon, Barbie, or anything else based on a movie or TV, it’s outta here. Not because we are so anti-media, but because they are horribly obnoxious to read aloud, and their main reason for existing is to hook my children into major marketing schemes and consume their little lives with shallow consumerism.

Educational books are also iffy for me. This is sort of a hazy category, but I’m thinking of Usborne, DK, Magic Schoolbus types. If a book’s purpose is to educate a child, in general they seem more textbooky than storybooky. I’m fine with the kids looking at them or reading them, but for reading aloud, I usually stick with stories. Unless they are really interesting non-fiction, with cool photos and stuff 🙂

And the last thing that annoys the crap out of me is poor editing. Where have all the editors gone?! Seriously, there must be a worldwide shortage of them, because in the last two years I have read so many books  that are filled with typos, misspellings, fragments, and so on. Are you listening, Mom? Your dream job awaits. We have beautifully illustrated versions of Brer Rabbit and The City Mouse and the Country Mouse, but they may be going in the discard pile too, because I hate reading around the typos and lousy sentence structure 😦

Whew! So what’s left after all my anti-this and anti-that? Plenty 🙂 My favorite picture books tell a great story in an engaging way, have wonderful illustrations, are fun to read aloud, have a unique approach to the world, are nostalgic for me (books I loved growing up), have amazing photos, or all of the above.  Here’s a rundown of some great picture books, in no particular order (you can read reviews on Amazon or wherever; I’m just including little blurbs about why we like them):

Tikki Tikki Tembo: I don’t think this qualifies for outstanding Chinese cultural awareness, but it is the most fun book ever to read fast, and have your kids memorize his name 🙂

The Day the Babies Crawled Away: So fun to read, and unique illustrations.

Hush! and Peek!: We were introduced to these by my sister-in-law who is half Thai, and they are sweet, lyrical, and colorful.

Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, The Twelve Dancing Princesses, King Midas: When the older girls were getting into princesses, I started hunting for alternatives to Disney. These have stunning illustrations, and are well told. The font is a bit difficult to read.

Rumplestiltskin: Again, fabulous illustrations and a good story. I’d like to get Rapunzel, too.

The Falling Stars: Classic, and lovely watercolors.

Hans Christian Anderson Fairytales: The un-disneyfied versions. Beautiful pictures.

anything by the Provensens. We started with A Year at Maple Hill Farm.

anything by Robert McCloskey. We started with Blueberries for Sal.

Mike Mulligan and More: If you are ok with reading anti-capitalist and Luddite-esque stories to your children, Virgina Burton is your woman!

Going on a Lion Hunt: Every single child of ours has been obsessed with this one even though it fits none of my criteria. So I kept it.

Least of All: Kind of an odd book, but the kids love it.

The Pumpkin Runner: I have a huge weakness for anything remotely Australian. And running and true stories. This one is all of the above.

Flip Flap Body Book: I do like this Usborne book, if for no other reason than it convinced my children that boy babies are made from orange sperm and girl babies from pink  sperm! (It’s actually highly age-appropriate).

anything by Richard Scarry. Try What Do People Do All Day?

anything by Tomie de Paola. I like The Clown of God, Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs, and The Cloud Book.  Great stories and fun illustrations. I skip the Italian words because I don’t know how to prounounce them :/

Whose Garden Is It? Every time we read this, my kids seem to have a discussion about who the garden belongs to.

A Ride on Mother’s Back: If you wear your babies, this is a refreshing antidote to the bottle-and-stroller illustrations in most children’s books.

Fancy Nancy: some are better than others. My girly daughters relate to her. And the kids’ bedroom frequently looks like hers.  🙂

The Jesus Storybook Bible and Egermeier’s: After much perusing of children’s Bibles (No offense, but I can’t stand any of Kenneth Taylor’s blah-blah-blah versions) these are the two we read regularly. They are very different from each other.

Mama, Is It Summer Yet? and some others by Nikki Mclure: I love her amazing paper-cut illustrations. The stories are so-so, but sweet. BTW, if you need a baby book, hers is the nicest out there, IMHO. I got it for each of my three youngest kids.

anything by Beatrix Potter: Classics. Reading them felt a bit stilted at first, but they grew on me. I think the kids’ favorite is The Tale of Two Bad Mice. I prefer the little individual books over the big collection, though it is nice too.

The Little Pig, The Little Duck, The Little Goat, etc., by the Dunns. : My animal-lover especially loves these. Great photos.

Wild Tracks, 25 Fish Every Child Should Know, and everything else by Jim Arnosky: Beautifully illustrated, and non-fiction presented in a readable way. I love Crinkleroot!

Manatee Winter, Little Black Ant on Park Street, etc. Smithsonian books: The stories aren’t the most engaging, but they are informative, and the illustrations are great. If you ignore the oak/maple mix up 🙂

Olivia: A sophisticated, slightly naughty pig.

Eloise Wilkin Stories: I love her books mainly for the beautiful, detailed watercolors that look like my grandmother’s house.

Arm in Arm, Fortunately, and probably others by Remy Charlip. Kid Dos loves language–rhyming, punning, etc. This author is a recent addition I got mainly for her, and we’ve had fun reading these two. Older and unique.

An Edward Lear Alphabet: This is for Kid Dos, too. I’d like to get more of his books.

So Many Bunnies: Rhyming, counting, and the alphabet.

Berenstain Bears’ Big Book of Science and Nature: We don’t do Berenstain Bears around here (DH does not appreciate the negative portrayal of papa) but we do read this one…the bumbling, lame father is toned down, and the science is great for this age. I think all the kids learned learned solids, liquids, and gases from reading it.

Eric Carle’s Animals Animals: Most of his books are so formulaic, I passed them on, but this is a nice collection of short poems (by other poets) illustrated by him.

How to Dig a Hole to the Other Side of the World by McNulty, and anything by Robert E. Wells…such as What’s Smaller Than a Pygmy Shrew? : Physical science for little kids…and me! Love these. Except now Kid Tres thinks he can get through the other side of the world if he has the proper suit. He also was afraid to go to sleep one night because he’d convinced himself there was a black hole under his bed…but that was from a library book.

Children’s Book of Virtues: Classic stories, very moral.

A Child’s Book of Art: We use this for their first introduction to picture-study. It’s a game, at this age.

Anno’s Counting Book, Anno’s Mysterious Multiplying Jar: I guess these are old too, but I never heard of them till I started hunting for some interesting math books. They are pretty cool. No words. I just got a couple others of his, but haven’t looked at ’em closely yet.

Once Upon a Potty (girl) and (boy): These are fun to break out when someone is potty training.

Feathers For LunchWaiting for Wings, and probably anything else by Lois Ehlert.

anything by Lois Lenski. Kid Tres likes Mr. Small.

White Rabbit’s Color Book and Color Dance. I also have a weakness for tie dye, so these are a nice intro to color mixing.

Marguerite Makes a Book: Interesting and beautiful.

Owl Moon. Fun to look for the semi-hidden animals.

The Listening Walk: Any book about listening is good, right? 🙂

Johnny Appleseed by Will Moses. The illustrations in this version are great. And we are supposedly distant relatives of Johnny Appleseed, so it’s fun telling the kids he was real AND he was their great-great-something.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Kid Uno thought this was pretty funny.

The Llama Who Had No Pajama. Fun poetry.

any collection of Mother Goose

The Ark: Very cool pop-up, though the story is kinda long.

As the Crow Flies: A First Book of Maps. This one is newer for us, and was an instant hit.

Harold and the Purple Crayon: A book that doesn’t grow old.

Millions of Cats: An oldie but a goody.

Madeline series. A classic.

How Do Dinosaurs…formulaic and obviously have an agenda (teaching manners and social skills) but my kids love them, so they stay.

Saint Nicholas: We need some more saints books…this is the only one we have. It’s a good one.

any of Laurence Anholt’s artist books, such as Picasso and the Girl with a Ponytail.  Very interesting.

Finally, I think the Five in a Row booklists are amazing. We’ve read about one third of them, and have liked almost all of them. And our library has a lot of them, which is extra nice.

Oh, and they aren’t exactly picture books, but for coloring books and paper dolls, I have been really impressed with almost everything Dover and Peterson. There’s something for every interest.

OK, that’s enough books for the day…or for a couple years! Have fun looking 🙂

An aside: Did you know Charlotte Mason recommended not reading much to children under age five or six?! This is where I part ways with her 🙂

How We Do….Books for Babies

We love babies here (obviously) 🙂

And we love books…so here is a short list of books, many of which have lasted from Kid Uno to Kid Cinco. That means books we can stand reading over, and over, and over. And they generally have nice illustrations. Most of these come as board books. Some other time I’ll post our favorite non-board books (for little kids).

First, some authors:

anything by Iza Trapani

anything by Sylvia Long

anything by Maurice Pledger

anything by Eloise Wilkin (if you don’t like 1940s culture, you may not like these)

many by Karen Katz

many by Cyndy Szekeres

Hop on Pop, Dr. Suess’s ABC, and Mr. Brown Can Moo by Dr. Seuss

some Corduroy books

some Curious George books

the Carl books (our kids love these; DH and I not so much. They are mostly wordless, so you have to make up the story)

a few by Sandra Boynton

And some titles:


Chicka Chicka ABC

The Napping House

Pat the Bunny

Wheels on the Bus

I Went Walking

Clap Your Hands

Five Little Ladybugs

Buzz-Buzz Busy Bees

Five Little Monkeys

(those last three don’t have much of a story, but the kids love the rhyming and counting)


So if you have a little (or big) baby who needs some little books, maybe these could be a beginning. But don’t pay full price! They are cheap used if you get ’em online, and I’ve seen lots of them at thrift stores and garage sales and library sales. If you have any favorites not on this list, let me know…board books are quick reads, so I’m always looking for new ones.