I have learned in my years of homeschooling that the primary resource necessary for practically every subject is good literature! I have realized that, maybe aside from math, we could get away with using nothing more than a rich living book library and produce well-educated children. Of course, we add in narrations and writing and a lot more in our homeschool, but the foundation of all of it truly is good, quality literature!
Let's start by talking about this term "living books."
What is a living book?
The term "living book" comes from the writings of Charlotte Mason. It is not clearly and specifically defined in her books, but rather an idea that she refers to often in various ways.
“Why in the world should we not give children, while they are at school, the sort of books they can live upon; books alive with thought and feeling, and delight in knowledge, instead of the miserable cram-books on which they are starved?” - Charlotte Mason
After many years of reading, researching, and discovering books for our own homeschool, I have come to a better understanding of what to look for in a book. Here's how we classify a "living book":
- The author typically has a first-hand experience or a passion for the subject.
- It is written in story-form, containing ideas rather than just presenting dry facts (as opposed to "cram books" or textbooks).
- The story lingers with you- you think about it long after you finish reading.
- It's easy to remember what you have read and make real life connections from the story.
- It engages your imagination.
- It moves you to emotions.
It took me awhile to discover how to distinguish a "living book" from twaddle (the opposite of a living book, according to Charlotte Mason), but it really becomes simple once you get the hang of it. It's kind of like being able to distinguish junk food from nutritious food. The more you have nutritious food, the more you crave it and junk food isn't as appealing.
Whenever I need to justify spending money on books, I simply refer to this quote from Charlotte Mason.
“One more thing is of vital importance; children must have books, living books. The best is not too good for them; anything less than the best is not good enough. And if it is needful to exercise economy, let go everything that belongs to soft and luxurious living before letting go the duty of supplying the books, and the frequent changes of books, which are necessary for the constant stimulation of the child’s intellectual life.” -Charlotte Mason
Early on in my home education journey I needed someone to help me find these books. Enter: living book lists! The best way I have found to get quality literature in our home is to gather books from book lists found in curricula and websites that I have came to trust. I started there and then began to compile my own lists.
First, I will start with books for the Early Years (preschool kindergarten).
Living books for preschool to kindergarten
A Year of Picture Books from Read Aloud Revival- This book list is broken down into categorized by months, and I especially love the seasonal and holiday books she lists. She updates it with new finds each year!
Early Reader Books from Read Aloud Revival- If your child is beginning to put letter sounds together to begin to read, I recommend this list of early readers. Obviously, it is difficult to pack a full, inspiring story in a beginning reader, so the "living book" idea is a little different with these books.
First Novels to Read Aloud from Read Aloud Revival- I used this source for the first few years of reading aloud to my young ones. It's a treasure trove!
Year 0 (Pre-K/ Kindergarten) Book List- If you aren’t familiar with Ambleside Online, it is a free curriculum based around Charlotte Mason principles. I have used their book lists continually for all of my children. This list is specific for preschool - kindergarten age.
100 Living Books for the Early Years from Treehouse Schoolhouse- This is my personally compiled list for the early years! It include board books, bible books, early readers, chapter books, treasuries, and more!
Read-Aloud Books for Preschoolers from Simply Charlotte Mason- This is another great book list for the early years that I like to refer to. This includes picture books and chapter books for read-alouds.
Living books for elementary age
Read Aloud Revival- This website is chocked full of book lists for practically every theme and subject. Some of the ones we have referred to over and over are their chapter book recommendations and biographies.
Stories of Color- This is a wonderful, growing list of living books categorized in many ways, including culture, history, and more. Their mission is to be a resource for homeschooling families on the pursuit to bring more diverse, multicultural ideas and perspectives to life for their children. Highly recommend!
Seasonal Picture Book Lists from Treehouse Schoolhouse- These are our favorite picture books for each season. Many of these titles are used in our nature study curriculum, Treehouse Nature Study.
Literature-based curriculum (using living books)
AmblesideOnline- If you aren’t familiar with Ambleside Online, it is a free curriculum based around Charlotte Mason principles. But without using the full curricula, you can simply search by "year" for their booklists. Just click on the link, find the year you would like to see, and then click on "booklist" in the right hand box. I especially refer to the "free reads" for my children for read alouds and independent reading.
Sonlight- If you are looking for a complete literature-based, Christian homeschool curriculum, you may enjoy Sonlight. You can download various book lists on their website.
My Father's World- We have used multiple years of My Father's World core curriculum and while we haven't loved everything about it, I have loved their comprehensive living book lists included in the back of their teacher manuals.
Beautiful Feet Books- This curriculum in a new favorite for us, and one we are diving into more next school year. They have complete guides for geography, history, science, and more completely centered on living books.
Five in a Row- This is another curriculum totally centered on living books. We have enjoyed using this, especially for the early years of our homeschooling. You can find book lists on their website.
A Connected Christmas and An Expectant Easter- These two holiday curriculums have lovely living book lists that you can download for free.
Books about books!
If you’re looking for a resource to help you know how to select good books for children of all ages, Honey for a Child's Heart is great! The author also has a comprehensive list broken down by age in the back of the book. I like to add some of these books to our library haul as well! I hope you enjoyed this round up and you found it useful in creating a plan for a school year full of creating connections over rich literature with your children.
Read for the Heart: Whole Books for Wholehearted Families by Sarah Clarkson
This book is chock-full of timeless classics, modern favorites, picture books, adventure novels, and read-aloud favorites. There are more than 1,000 wonderful stories for children of all ages listed in this resource.
After years of reading and compiling book lists, we now offer our own free curated living book lists for preschool through elementary. This is an ever-growing resource, so check back often!
Browse all of our free book lists here.
Related: My Must-Have Children's Poetry and Story Treasury Books.