In some ways, we're more careful about choosing which reading lists we carry than actual titles. Everything we do should be honoring to God, and that includes choosing the books we read—it's important, therefore, that assemblers of booklists share our values and Christian worldview, as well as our love for reading quality material.
Our best advice for choosing books is summed up by the apostle Paul: "Finally brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and there be any praise, think on these things" (Philippians 4:8).
This verse addresses the two essential elements of good literature: good content and good style. Obviously, we shouldn't read garbage, novels and stories filled with unwholesome content, especially if unrighteous behavior is glorified; but at the same time (and this is a crucial element Christians often overlook), our reading material should be well-written and pleasing to hear.
A book that promotes good morals but is sloppily constructed won't do much toward helping us model the attitudes it supports. Because our human minds are made in God's image, we're drawn to beauty and goodness, and a classic novel like To Kill a Mockingbird is much more likely to help us see our own prejudices and bigotry than one that simply says "racism is bad," or that presents stock characters, or that doesn't read as much like poetry.
Booklists like The Book Tree and Honey for a Child's Heart have been compiled by educators who understand the need for good content and good style, and also understand that reading is part of an individual's growth as a person of virtue and character. Titles are selected accordingly, and only books that will have a positive impact are chosen, while morally ambiguous stories are generally avoided.
That's not to say you won't have to discuss everything your children or family reads, however. One of the ways children are able to understand and internalize the messages of good books is by interacting with them, and with others who've read them. You don't want to give your kids The Wind in the Willows and never talk about it; you want to know they learned what they were supposed to learn from Mr. Toad's wild antics.
We've managed to assemble a list of guides that reflect every stage of literary development and education, from preschool to the elementary grades, and from high school through college and adult study. A few are more education-oriented (like All Through the Ages, which is specifically for choosing history books), but most are simply literature-related, and can be used to choose both school and free-time reading.
Not every family or individual shares the same tastes, not by a long shot. None of these booklists are intended to be rigorously followed; each one contains more titles than anyone can read, but enough information is provided for individual books to help you make educated choices about which ones you'll have your kids read. These are invaluable tools, and especially if you're new to homeschooling, we recommend purchasing one or two to help you get started.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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