7 Ways to Recognize Great Books, Part 1

When I became a mom, I had no idea how important a role wonderful children’s literature would play in our family’s life. We have spent countless hours reading together, my love for reading has been reignited, and I have two out of two children who are professed book-lovers! I did not have a childhood filled with rich books. I had to learn along the way that not all children’s books are the same and it IS worth the effort it takes to seek out the truly wonderful books. Here are some of the criteria I keep in mind when I am looking for a new book for my kiddos to read:

1. It teaches something important in an engaging and impactful manner.

When I was in high school, our world history teacher would start at one corner of the room and have each student read a paragraph in our textbook. We spent day after countless day listening to each other read the already dry material—some students struggled to read aloud, making the already tortuous drudgery that much worse to get through. Needless to say, I lost all interest in learning world history for the rest of my formal education–really until I started homeschooling my children–when I realized there are fascinating STORIES that can tell world history so much better than a dry textbook. History is simply about people and the things that happened to them, but I had been exposed only to a bunch of dates and dry facts.


History is not the only subject that can be taught in an engaging manner using stories. There are math stories, science stories, music stories, stories about reading, spelling, grammar, and art. Children’s minds truly are like sponges—ready to absorb so much, but only if what their exposed to is engaging and stimulating.
Some of our favorite books that present an alternative to dry, mind-numbing textbooks are:

The Bee People

      by Margaret Warner Morley

Magic School Bus

      Books by Joanna Cole

Mr. Revere and I

      by Robert Lawson

Usborne See-Inside

      series (Math, Human Body, Underground, etc.)


    Jean Fritz history books

2. It inspires to goodness.

Are you familiar with formula books? Books in a series, published rapidly one after another and all relatively the same? So many of them are either all about “me”, are morally pointless or are about very dark topics. I’m not suggesting that our children only read Pollyanna-ish books. Some very worthy books, especially for older children, cover dark topics (The Hiding Place, for example). But ultimately, the books they read should somehow in the end speak to that part of a child that hungers for goodness and truth, and inspire them to know they can have a part in making the world a better place. When children are very young, they should be protected from dark subjects. They should be shown examples of beauty and love and goodness in the characters they are reading about. Truly great books can inspire kids to see they have a purpose and that they too can share goodness with others.

Miss Rumphius

      by Barbara Cooney

The Hiding Place

      by Corrie Ten Boom

The True Princess

    by Angela Elwell Hunt

3. It conveys imaginative and memorable ideas.

These are the books that take us to places outside of our own worlds. They may take us to lands faraway, to imaginary worlds, to personally unexplored territories like deep oceans, space, the microscopic world, into the past, or into emotions we’ve not yet experienced. These books rouse and shape the soul and are the books we remember long after we’ve read them.

Phantom Tollbooth

      by Norton Juster

Little House on the Prairie

      Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Chronicles of Narnia

    by C.S. Lewis

4. It upholds traditional biblical values and models good character traits.

This doesn’t suggest only reading “Christian” books. There are so many amazing and wonderful books out there that are not considered “Christian”. However, a truly great book cannot glorify or uphold any idea that contradicts biblical principles. Sometimes this is tricky and full of grey areas that some may disagree on, but if a book is overtly against an ideal the Bible is clear on, how can it be considered a great book? This is an issue especially prevalent in the teen genre, where the library and bookstore shelves are overflowing with dark, seductive, and carnal topics. Many popular commercial characters for the younger set are disrespectful and mocking of parents and others in authority. No matter how popular a book is, or how entertaining for our youth to read, a book that harms their souls isn’t worth reading. How better to learn what great character is than by reading about someone who lived out a particular character trait in his or her life—often through difficult circumstances?

Here are a few ideas for books modeling strong character and/or biblical values:

      Biographies: Helen Keller, Joni, Jim Eliot


      Lamplighter books

Christian Heroes Then & Now

    Series, published by YWAM

Next month, the other three criteria I keep in mind to judge whether a book is worthy of the time and thoughts of my children and our family. What do you consider when looking for books for your children?

Katrina McAllister writes from the foot of the Colorado Rockies, where she lives with her husband and two kiddos she educates at home. She has a particular fondness for children’s books, dark chocolate, and nature, and is on a perpetual quest to learn more about healthy eating and cooking. She is currently “between” blogs and looks forward to sharing her new home on the web soon. She is daily in awe that she knows a Savior who would love her enough to save her.

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