With thanks to Nana, whose literary legacy, passed on by Mom and my older sisters, enriched my childhood so profoundly.
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Looking for books for your kids but don't know where to start? Ta-da! (Cue magic entrance.) In this series, you'll meet over 100 engaging books for children aged toddler to teenager. When I first promised this list, I estimated I'd have 50 books to recommend. Then I started writing everything down, and the list kept growing! (Oh, darn 😉 )
Preschool through Elementary titles are below, except for some favorite authors that just needed their own showcase! Stay tuned for Author Spotlights, and Late Elementary/Middle School+ titles!
P.S. The age groupings below are absolutely just a suggestion. Everyone's reading level and subject interest varies, and “older” books can often be turned into read-alouds (which happens to be a great homeschooling hack), so there's lots of wiggle room!
There are still more titles to add, and I'd love to hear your family's favorites! (Because I have too many books, said me, NEVER.)
Toddler/Preschool Books (available in board book editions)
Science nerds, rejoice! Now you can have discussions with your baby on Bayesian Probability, Quantum Computing, and Neural Networks - with sturdy picture-books to round out the conversation! Chris Ferrie distills many scientific topics to a level even parents who shudder at the term "science" can enjoy. (Just be prepared for your 6-year-old to ingest them all and know more about Newtonian Physics by dinnertime than you ever remembered from college.) Bedtime stories have never been so...enlightening.
Elementary, Single Books
Frog and Toad Storybook Favorites (Lobel) (originally titled Frog and Toad Storybook Treasury)– This is actually sixteen books in one, each delightful short story sharing an adventure (and life lesson) of two amphibian best friends. Considered an "I Can Read" Level 2. NOTE: with very young listeners, you may wish to skip is Shivers, a “ghost” type story of a giant frog that hunts at night for little frogs.
When Jessie Came Across the Sea (Hest/Lynch) – This sumptuously-illustrated picture book is an excellent introduction to the experiences of young immigrants in the early 1900s. Hest weaves the journey of hopes and fears alongside the delicate lace embroidery with which the heroine brings hope to others.
That's Right, Edie (Johnston/Galdone) – If you can snag this vintage book at a used book sale, its a delightful tale of a plucky first-grader who initially thinks she “doesn't have time” to write her name neatly...until she has to sign for her long-awaited birthday package.
Goodnight Moon (Brown/Hurd) – A list of classics wouldn't be complete without Margaret Wise Brown's lilting goodnight poem. For you Charolotte Mason art purists, don't skip this just because the overabundance of green and red in the illustrations (no offense, Mr. Hurd 🙂 ). This magical rhyme will put YOU to sleep by the end!
The Story About Ping (Flack/Wiese) – Ping prefers to play in the waters of the Yangtze river rather than pay attention to the call to return to the safety of his houseboat. When he gets left behind one night, he has a adventure that nearly ends playtime forever, and learns that a little bit of trouble for arriving home late is worth being with his family again. Bonus: social studies exposure: Chinese river-boat life.
Elementary Series (NOTE: I haven't read every single installment in each series below. Please preview books for your children so you know what they'll encounter in the material. 🙂 )
Detective Dan (Roland) – This early-reader sleuthing series is plenty of fun, with a short, Scripture-based character lesson woven in, as well as “case notes” (review) at the conclusion of each mystery. My son wishes there were more than four of these! For read-alone, these are a reading level (or two) above Mr. Putter.
Little House (Ingalls Wilder/Williams) – You can't have a list on children's series without Laura Ingalls' captivating memoirs on early pioneer life. A short description here doesn't do justice to the breadth of Ingalls' work in documenting the pioneer experience with its toil, uncertainty, and simple beauty; all from the perspective of a young girl-grown-to-young woman who lived it. While mostly covering the Ingalls family's (and specifically, Laura's) journeys, the series offers much as a springboard for further discussion and study. Garth Williams memorable illustrations complete the series.
Grandma's Attic (Richardson/various) – Four volumes, each with a separate vignette per chapter, makes this a series easy to gobble up. Mabel (whom the author knew as grandma) is a spunky girl growing up on a farm in the early 1900's Michigan countryside. What happens when you try to sneak into church wearing a borrowed hoop skirt for the first time? Life for Mabel was everything but boring, as her (mis)adventures relate. SURPRISE! I thought there were only four volumes in this collection – the entire Grandma's Attic series comprises ten books! Excuse me while I sneak out to complete my collection.
Uncle Arthur's Storytime - Children's True Adventures (Maxwell/various) – This 3-book series offers a collection of short stories with character lessons for kids. Now out-of-print, the stories may seem a bit dated, as they don't reference cell phones or the Internet. Nevertheless, the lessons of perseverance, self-control, kindness, etc are ever-relevant.
The Millers series by Mildred Martin offer short, engaging stories that follow a group of siblings as they grow, make and learn from their choices. This is one of the few children's series I've found where healthy relationships are truly modeled. There are plenty of sibling spats, whispering friends, envy, greed, laziness, and a whole host of struggles common to children (and adults!). Through it all, the children are encouraged to seek and apply God's wisdom to the situation. NOTE: I can't recall any specific Mennonite theology presented. Mostly there is a Bible verse or two that applies to the situation for the children to reflect upon. The most “Mennonite” part are the illustrations, where everyone dresses according to Mennonite code.
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle (MacDonald/Knight) – Do your children yearn for the day when they don't have to clean their room, take a bath, eat what they're served, or go to bed before midnight? Mrs. Piggle Wiggle knows all about children, and all about how to let them learn, through (humorously outlandish) natural consequences.
Miss. Pickerell Goes to Mars (MacGregor/Galdone) – So much has happened in the world since the indomitable Miss Pickerell stepped into the experimental rocket found in her meadow. But with space exploration again in the news, it may be the perfect time to pull out this series of adventures. BONUS: Did you catch the illustrator's name? Anatole lovers rejoice, Paul Galdone illustrated the first four Miss Pickerell installments!
Amelia Bedelia (Peggy Parish/various) – What would happen if someone literally “dusted the furniture”, "hit the road", and “collected the garbage”? The lovable, literal Amelia Bedelia turns all our common expressions on their heads in this fun, easy-reader (usually Level 2) series. NOTE: Herman Parish, Peggy Parish's nephew, has taken up the Amelia legacy and written both a young Amelia series as well as more tales of the grown-up character. Have you read any of the new installments? What did you think?