Choosing and Finding Classic Picture Books
Posted by homeschoolmentormom on March 4, 2010
Choose your books and your friends carefully, because they both exercise tremendous influence over you. When you and your child finish reading a book, has it added to your knowledge and virtue? Are you somehow left a better person? Have you been edified and grown in spirit? If yes, then the book is worth reading. If it is mere fluff and brain candy, read sparingly, if at all. Reading should help develop character and empower knowledge.-Mark and Christine Field, Homeschooling 101: The Essential Handbook
Once you’ve made a plan for the units you’d like your preschoolers to learn you’re ready to choose the books you want to read to them. But how?
We’ve all heard the “experts” touting the importance of reading to our children during the early years, and of course, we agree with them. The problem with this push is that parents are often told, “It doesn’t matter WHAT you read to preschoolers… as long as you READ to them.” Parents of older children are told, “ANY book is acceptable reading material for your children, as long as it gets them to read independently.” I couldn’t disagree more.
It DOES matter what we read to our preschool children!
Once our children learn to read, it DOES matter what they read.
It matters what we read to our children, no matter what their ages.
During the preschool years, we are developing our children’s attitudes and appetites towards books. We want them to hunger after the best–so only the best, most uplifting and educational books will do. Just as children need a steady diet of healthy food that is good for their bodies, ALL children need a steady “diet” of quality books to feed their minds. The problem is, many of us grew up on “junk food” ourselves, and don’t know what makes quality literature—especially for preschoolers. Others of us have forgotten the classics we cut our teeth on.
What Is a “Living Book”?
“Living book” is a term coined by the famous turn-of-the-century British educator Charlotte Mason. A “living book” is a book that is written by a single author, versus text books which often have many “authors.” Living books are written in a narrative (story-like) style by authors who know and loved their subject well.
The “Classic” books we all are familiar with are living books. These are the books that are rich in imagery and emotion…books that children can’t put down…books worthy of our time and attention.
What is a “classic” picture book?
- A book that has stood the test of time– beloved by generations (although there are occasional “instant classics”).
- A classic book is appealing to all ages; parents enjoy reading them, too
- Classic books are well written and descriptive.
- The characters and settings in these books are memorable and meaningful to us.
Additionally, a Classic Picture Book Should:
- Appeal to/be appropriate for young children– in subject matter, content and style.
- Include many interesting if not beautiful illustrations. Illustrations help children visualize the story in greater detail, sparking imagination and conversation.
- Teach lessons about the world, about people, about emotions.
- Set an example of positive character traits; give our children heroes.
- Inspire the imagination–not only during the reading of the book, but after as well. (You know you have found a good book when children incorporate it into their play.)
- Good books give young children “something to think about” (Charlotte Mason). They often inspire play, art, discussion or further research (“Can we read another book about ducks, Mommy?”)
- Many contain appealing elements such as humor, word play, repetition, or rhyme.
(Note: To find out what a classic picture book is not, you’ll have to pick up a copy of my book! Charlotte Mason calls such worthless books “twaddle”.)
How to Find Quality Books
Even having the standards listed above, many parents tell me that they still don’t know which books they should be reading to their preschoolers. They don’t know how to choose quality books, OR how to find them.
There are many literature lists and books about choosing literature, but unfortunately, most don’t include very many picture books; some skip them altogether. The best books about finding and using classic preschool books that I have found are Peak With Books, by Marjorie R. Nelsen and Jan Nelson-Parish, and Before Five In a Row / Five In A Row, volume 1, by Jane Claire Lambert. Each of these books contains booklists with recommended picture books; you can find Five In a Row’s complete booklists HERE and HERE. (Note: My book includes a chapter long book list, divided up by topic.)
Many of the Five in a Row titles that used to be hard to find are now being reprinted by Purple House Press along with other old, classic picture books.
Another good way to discover great literature for children of all ages is through browsing curriculum catalogs. Catalogs such as Beautiful Feet, Sonlight, Winter Promise, and Book Peddler contain excellent book lists. (Note: Since each family’s standards are different, choose carefully. For instance, I like Sonlight’s book choices for grades pre-K-3, but afterwards, the catalog includes some books I dislike or consider inappropriate. It is a good idea, if you have any doubts, to read or at least skim books before giving them to your impressionable children.)
Where to find them used: We’ve had great luck at our local library sales and at Thrift stores (we’re lucky enough to have a Goodwill Store here that only carries books!) Other places to look: Homeschool curriculum sales, online curriculum/literature loops, yard sales…..and for harder to find books, check out Amazon and EBay.
Remember to guide your child’s appetite towards the best. Junk food is all right to eat once in a while, but it should not become our usual diet. Instead, guide your children towards the best in literature. Use books to teach moral lessons, and to teach about the world. Enjoy books with your children, taking time to look carefully at the pictures, answering questions and discussing each book. If you do this, you will be well on your way to a happy and healthy homeschooling lifestyle.
This post is excerpted from the book, “Homepreschool and Beyond”; used with permission.
© 2010 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.