Early Readers

When it comes to choosing books for your young reader, sorting through titles can be overwhelming. Ah, for the days when the choices were the Bible, Pilgrim’s Progress, and Gulliver’s Travels!

That may be simplifying it just a bit, but not much. Until about the 1700s, no one was writing books just for children. And yet, children were learning to read. This ought to give us pause when we’re agonizing over the hundreds and thousands of books available to us today for teaching children to read. 

At Plumfield and Paideia, it’s obvious we value books. But what is it that makes a book valuable? This question seems particularly pertinent in our modern world where millions of books are published each year, and many can be had for less than the price of your daily coffee. 

One way to answer the question is to consider what you want from a particular book. If you are looking for a book, the sole purpose of which is to teach your child the sounds of the letter a, you can find that. But you then need twenty-five other books to cover the rest of the alphabet. It’s unlikely you learned to read that way, but somehow you did learn. 

Here’s another question: Do you remember any of the stories from the graded readers inflicted on you in school? Sally, Dick, and Jane were supposed to teach me to read. What I remember is the illustrations. A story written strictly to supply the right number and difficulty of words may actually do the job of teaching a child to read, but will it teach love for reading?

I know that, with all their activity and friendliness, Sally, Dick, and Jane would not have developed a love of reading for me. What did that was other books available to me that cultivated my imagination, modeled the virtues of obedience, valor, persistence, faith, and selflessness, and became true companions. 

My desires for such stories meant that I often attempted books that were technically above my reading level. This didn’t discourage me, it stretched and challenged me.    

“I Can Read” Books were introduced in 1957. When I was a kid our family had a couple dozen of them. The HarperCollins website now features nearly 900 selections! Are children reading better now, for all that?

Because truth is true, goodness is good and badness is not. And there is less gray area between the two than is popular to acknowledge. The standard for beauty comes from truth and goodness. This is not to say there is no room for taste, but there is likely less gray area between beauty and ugliness than we want to admit. And it seems beauty has been out of fashion for a long time. 

All that being said, if we want our children’s tastes to be properly formed, that formation ought to begin in the cradle. By the time you are looking for books appropriate for early readers, I hope your children have been hearing good stories all their lives. I won’t say it’s never too late to start . . . but, since we can’t know when the point of no return has been reached, let’s start now. 

We don’t believe in wasting money or shelf space on books that don’t have value. Their value has nothing to do with their price. Some of the most valuable books are going cheap on Amazon. The most expensive book with the most beautiful illustrations may still be unworthy of your attention. 

This page will be the starting place for our recommendations and reviews for books for young readers.  

Here are some of the qualities we’ll be using for our choices:

Timelessness

Is the book a classic that has been delighting children for decades, or does it seem likely to us that it will be a classic decades from now? 

Age-appropriate Situations 

Just because it is popular to broach a particular topic doesn’t mean the topic is edifying or appropriate to every audience. Has the author placed the characters in situations comprehensible and relatable to readers the age of the target audience? The story should be authentic, something realistic and believable, not exploitative for the sake of popular marketing. 

High Moral Standards

Does the story demonstrate high moral standards, or does it stoop to the level of children whose discernment hasn’t yet been refined, and drag readers down with it? Because we are Christians, we unapologetically filter everything through a Christian worldview. And, as Christians, we subscribe to a traditional standard of behavior that has served man and our culture well throughout the ages.

Good Taste

Will the story contribute to a child’s training in good taste?

Behavioral Consequences

Does the story show consequences for bad behavior? 

Do disobedience and poor choices work out well in the end without repentance? 

Worthy Illustration

Are the illustrations beautiful or winsome?

Content Concerns

Is the story unnecessarily vulgar, or perhaps merely insipid?

Recommendations for “Read to Me” Books

Alexander
The Blueberry Pie Elf

Amos and Boris

Escargot
Frances: A Baby Sister for Frances
Frances: Bedtime for Frances
Giants Come in Different Sizes
The Little Old Man Who Could Not Read
Miss Suzy

Recommendations for “Learning to Read” Books

A Fly Went By

Danny and the Dinosaur

Mr. Putter & Tabby series

Robert the Rose Horse
Stick