Building Your Home Library
Posted by homeschoolmentormom on August 14, 2010
This is (a part of) our home library. I believe that every home should have books in it. I always feel sad when I visit a house with no bookshelves in it….the house feels empty somehow…it just doesn’t feel like a home to me.
We have books in every room of the house (yes, even the bathrooms have books sitting near the potty…perfect for extended “sitting”, LOL.)
I like to say that I “decorate” with books. In fact, I’m so crazy for books that finding room for bookshelves was one of our primary considerations when we purchased our house. In Educating the Wholehearted Child, Sally Clarkson says that her family falls just short of “book envy and book covetousness.” I feel the same way!
Choosing Good Books
I have very high standards when it comes to the books that go into our library. I try to pre-read or at least preview books before they go into our library—especially if I am unfamiliar with the author. I have a shelf in my room nearly full of books just waiting for me to read and approve (or disapprove—often you can tell just a few pages.) Some of my standards are unexplainable—who can account for taste? But some of my standards I can explain—and so I’ll try to do so below.
The overall rule for acceptable content in literature comes from the Word of God. Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” And Psalm 101:3 says, “I will set before my eyes no vile thing.” I therefore avoid books with witches, demons, mythology, and other “paranormal” content, as well as books that directly or indirectly contradict our beliefs or “teach” lies (wrong ways of thinking, evolution, wrong attitudes, etc.) And I ask myself:
-Does the book present an accurate picture of the character of God?
-Does the book encourage good morals? Is sin punished and good behavior rewarded? Does good triumph over evil?
-Does the book “teach” a good lesson?
– Are parents and other authority figures presented in a good light, or made to look “dumb”, cruel, abusive, etc? Are children written as “misunderstood” by adults?
-Does the book encourage rebellion?
-Is the book “twaddle”?
-Does it exist simply to sell a product or promote a television show? Is it based off a movie? If so, it is probably “twaddle” and not worth the time.
-Is it something adults enjoy, too? Something you don’t mind reading over and over?
-Is the book a “classic” or a “living book”?
-Does the book leave you “hanging” (feeling as if the story isn’t really finished? I hate that!)
-I like books that “swallow me up.” You know what I mean—books written so well that your imagination takes over, and instead of seeing the print, you only “see” the story. I also like books that make me think.
-I like books whose characters seem real and have depth (you have to care about what happens to them.)
Where to Find Your Books
If you don’t have lots of money to spend on growing your home library (who does?), you’re going to have to be persistent and patient. Over the years, we’ve built up our library by scouring yard sales, estate sales, thrift stores, and library book sales. You can do the same! (It’s the thrill of the hunt, baby! If you ever go to a yard sale or book sale and find a Landmark book or a Happy Hollister’s book when you know other collectors came before you somehow missed it, you’ll know what I mean.) Other sources you might investigate include Yahoo loops that allow “sale days” (where members can post books for sale via the internet), chat groups devoted to buying and selling books, and the old standbys EBay and Amazon, which also sell used books–some for as little as a penny (plus shipping.) You might consider budgeting for books as part of your homeschool curriculum, which can then be added to you home library.
Organizing Your Books
Why spend all that time and money acquiring a home library if it isn’t organized? Without organization, you won’t know what you have, and you won’t be able to find what you have when you need it. I’ve divided my books into categories. I used to label some of my less “special” (i.e. non-collectable books) using colored tape, stickers, or file labels covered with clear strapping tape (this can damage books, so don’t EVER do this on hard to find/vintage books.)
This obviously makes the books easier to find and re-shelve. But now that my children are growing older, I simply shelve books together by subject, and instruct the children to always put them back where they came from. If they don’t know, they are instructed ask me to put them away.
I do shelve some of our books by author—but only the special authors I that I collect (Gene Stratton Porter, Genevieve Foster, Marguerite D’Angeli, Marguerite Henry, C.W. Anderson, etc.)
Here are my categories: One whole bookshelf is devoted to Picture Books, and one is full of Easy Readers (when my children were young, these were divided into sub-categories.) I also keep chapter books for younger children together (First Chapter Books), and divide the rest into Middle Literature and Preteen-Adult Literature—some grouped by author. Additionally, there is a whole shelf devoted to Famous Animal Stories (especially dogs and horses); a full shelf of Missionary Stories; a couple of shelves of Religious books and Reference, a full shelf of Poetry, a full shelf of Eyewitness books, and a shelf for Art, Artists and Architecture. Holiday books are kept in tubs and placed across the top of the longest wall of shelves (divided by holiday.) I also keep my Seasonal books up there (summertime, wintertime, etc.)
History/Geography is divided into these major categories (these topics have at least one shelf each):
–General World History; Ancient History; Middle Ages/Renaissance (Kings, Queens, castles, etc); Geography/Places to Know/Cultures; Early American History (Columbus until Civil War); Civil War/Slavery/Reconstruction; Later American History (approximately from the late 1800’s until the present, excluding the major wars); Wars and Warfare (World Wars, later wars, war craft, weapons, etc); Biographies (some biographies are shelved with their time period—i.e. Lincoln is shelved with the Civil War). California History shares part of a shelf with the topic, Ships, Sailors and the Sea (pirates, etc).
Science is divided up into these major categories (most are only a part of a shelf): Field guides/General Nature Study; Creation Science/Dinosaurs/Archeology (one shelf); Science Experiments/Microscopes/Disaster Science and Spies share a shelf; Human Body/Medicine (& history of—one full shelf); Mammals, Birds, Reptiles, Amphibians (one shelf), Insects, Trees and Plants (one shelf); Oceans/Ocean Life (one shelf); Habitats (one shelf); Disaster Science/Weird Science/Spy Technology (one shelf); Science Sets/Reference (one shelf); Space/Astronomy/Weather share a shelf, as do Rocks, Caves, and Volcanoes (earth science); How Things Are Made/How Things Work; Energy, Gravity, Physics, and Technology (engines, machines, inventions—including airplanes, etc).
Book Lists and Books About Books
There are many ways to “find” good books. A good place to start is in homeschool catalogs. I you see a certain book praised in several different catalogs, it is probably a fairly safe bet. However, even within homeschool catalogs I have found books that I would never want my children to read and some that I felt were a waste of time (twaddle…as I said, I’m very picky. Additionally, some books fall into another special category—books we don’t read because we find their content objectionable, but for the sake of cultural relevance, we’ll discuss the premise of the book and/or read a summary of it.)
Here are my favorite ways to find good quality literature books:
-Stick to the classics. It’s disturbing to me that so many of the great classics don’t even appear on book lists nowadays (especially government school book lists.) It’s better to have a few of the very best books than shelves and shelves of “twaddle”.
-It’s not always true, but in general, books written before the 1950’s will be less likely to contain offensive material and MORE likely to include references to God or good morals.
-Learn about the great authors. Once again, there are exceptions, but in general, when you find an author you like, it’s a good idea to seek out the other books s/he has written.
-Seek out a mentor/friend who has the same standards as you do, and ask for recommendations.
There are many others, but these are my favorites.
If you have a preschooler, you will find that these books list very few picture books. That’s why I included an almost chapter-long list of books especially for preschool-third grade (25 pages of mostly picture books!)
There are also some good booklists online. Here are some of the more popular ones (remember, I can’t vouch for each and every book on these lists–they are just a “jumping off” point for you. You must still investigate your books before purchasing. Some of these lists DO contain books relating to mythology and magic..use your own judgement. These lists can introduce you to authors and titles that you may not be familiar with, but tread carefully.)
Five In a Row Book Lists (very highly recomended; no objectionable content that I am aware of.)
My favorite catalogs for literature (not mentioned above):
Purple House Press (reprints of classic picture books!)
Final tips: When you’re just starting your library, take your wish list, a list of the books you already have (especially the books from any series you’re collecting) AND a book about books with you whenever you hunt for books (better yet, just keep it in your purse/car.) This will help you decide if a book is appropriate, remember what you’re looking for, AND help you avoid buying doubles.
Books I Collect: Landmark books, “First” books, Gene Stratton Porter books, Marguerite Henry books (this website does not contain a complete list of her books. Cinnabar the One O’Clock Fox is missing, among others, I’m sure), Happy Hollister Books, Marguerite de Angeli books, and many, many others!!
Portions of this post were paraphrased from Homepreschool and Beyond, used with permission. © 2010 Susan Lemons all rights reserved. Remember, copyrighted materials may not be used or re-posted without permission.