Toddler grabs a board book and retreats to a quiet corner. Teen props up in bed, eagerly finishing a well-worn copy of a favorite literary treasure. Home libraries, filled with valued storybook companions, engage minds, move hearts and comfort souls.
Start Small — Build Together
Ideally, home libraries are best started when a child is small. Initial building can be as simple as a wicker basket of board books alongside a reclining chair or as formal as a well-organized, waist-high bookcase in a child’s bedroom. Making books available to small hands encourages frequent reading and promotes the practice as an important part of the child’s life. Involve children in the library building process. Teach them family guidelines regarding acceptable books. Walk with them through the selection process and help them make wise choices from a variety of genres. Families enjoy great satisfaction in the quest of digging through used books at garage or library sales, hunting literary gold.
Home Libraries Grow as Families Grow
No matter what form a family library takes at its inception, the collection should invite children to add books they come to appreciate as they mature. Over time, the organization of the library will change as the family grows or as the library grows. Several attempts may be needed to find an organizational method that benefits all family members. There are many ways to organize books. Designating shelf space for specific topics or genres or sorting non-fiction by subjects may be helpful. Picture books may be best placed on the lowest, most accessible shelves where the youngest readers can choose personal reading selections. Audio books stack neatly on the end of a shelf. Book selection reflects the ages of the children residing in the home. Infants’ and toddlers’ sensory needs require frequent handling and interacting with books. Tactile, texture or cloth books offer perfect solutions for these young “readers.” As children begin to toddle, sturdy board books with colorful, laminated pages — books that can be carried, dropped, chewed, spilled on and loved — become essential. Beware of pop-up pieces that may become tasty snacks and choking hazards. Books should be within reach of readers at any time.
Brown, Margaret Wise, Big Red Barn
Burton, Virginia Lee, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel
Carle, Eric, The Very Busy Spider (and other titles)
Ehlert, Lois, Eating the Alphabet: Fruits and Vegetables from A to Z
Flack, Marjorie, Ask Mr. Bear
Freeman, Don, Corduroy
Galdone, Paul, The Little Red Hen
Keats, Ezra Jack, Whistle for Willie
Stevenson, Robert Louis, A Child’s Garden of Verses
Preschool-aged children appreciate books with large, bold fonts; vibrant illustrations; rhythmic text; and subject matter pertinent to their interests. When children enter elementary school, a need arises for text saturated with eloquent language and challenging vocabulary. Animal characters become popular, especially if family relationships and friendships are central to the plot. Approaching later elementary years, children enjoy adventure, and biographies and informational books satisfy curious minds. Children of this age begin to “claim” books for their own, developing a personal connection with them, often wanting a personal library or bookshelf in their bedroom, away from younger siblings.
Brett, Jan, The Mitten
Fritz, Jean, What’s the Big Idea, Ben Franklin? (and others)
Garelick, May, Where Does Butterfly Go When It Rains?
Hall, Donald, Ox-Cart Man
Hoban, Russell, Bread and Jam for Francis (and others)
Lloyd, Moss, Zin! Zin! A Violin
Martin, Jacqueline Biggs, Snowflake Bentley
McCloskey, Robert, Make Way for Ducklings (and others)
Milne, A.A., When We Were Young
White, E.B., Charlotte’s Web
Older Elementary and Middle School
Older elementary and middle school pre-teens venture toward chapter books, generally paperback versions of classic reads. Taking ownership of their books, they often make purchases with personal money or request favorite titles as gifts. Parents can nurture an older child’s love for reading by helping him create space for his growing library and encouraging him to be accountable for its organization. Personal interest elicits responsibility and enthusiasm as his collection reflects his talents and interests.
Atwater, Richard and Florence, Mr. Popper’s Penguins
Brink, Carol Ryrie, Caddie Woodlawn
Daugherty, James, Daniel Boone
Fritz, Jean, What’s the Big Idea, Ben Franklin? (and others)
Grahame, Kenneth, Wind and the Willows
Green, Roger Lancelyn, The Adventures of Robin Hood
Lawson, Robert, Ben and Me (and others)
Lenski, Lois, Strawberry Girl
Lewis, C.S., The Chronicles of Narnia series
Mac Donald, Betty, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle
Montgomery, Lucy Maud, Anne of Green Gables
Selden, George, The Cricket in Times Square
Speare, Elizabeth George, The Sign of the Beaver (and others)
Wyss, Johann, The Swiss Family Robinson
High School and Beyond
Austen, Jane, Pride and Prejudice
Boom, Corrie Ten, The Hiding Place
Dickens, Charles, Great Expectations
Douglass, Frederick, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
McCullough, David, John Adams
Stowe, Harriet Beecher, Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Parents seeking suggestions for titles and authors have a plethora of resources available. The book lists in this article can jump-start the process. Other lists are available from the reliable sources below:
Bloom, Jan, Who Then Should We Read?
Clarkson, Sarah, Read for the Heart
Hunt, Gladys, Honey for a Child’s Heart
Kilpatrick, William; Wolfe, Gregory; and Wolfe, Suzanne M., Books That Build Character
Wilson, Elizabeth, Books Children Love
Lists circulate in education circles. Any list, including those widely publicized or highly recommended, requires parental discretion. Some of the most valuable literary recommendations will come from trusted friends.
Building Is Worth the Effort
Proper organization of a home library is crucial to its usage. Books within reach will be requested or reread over and over, later reminisced in adulthood, and eventually passed to the next generation. A home library is one of the greatest gifts we can give to our children, a creation worth the time and effort.
Written by: Cheryl A. Bastian, Winter Park, District 7
She encourages the homeschooling community as an author, speaker, leader and mentor. She has been married 22 years and has six children. Her books and resources are available at www.cherylbastian.com.