Hands down, the question most frequently asked of me is, “Where do you find all those book ideas for your booklists, Jen?”
Many of you that plan and execute a Charlotte Mason education enjoy the books recommended by Mater Amabilis, or Ambleside Online, and I also truly enjoy the books that these resources suggest! I also find great joy and satisfaction in building a booklist of our own, a considered booklist.
A considered booklist addresses the topics we are studying for the year while considering the people and season of life we’re living. It is as malleable as I make it, and as accommodating as needed. A considered booklist begins by drawing from my own shelves so that I can make frugal use of resources I already have (so moms – invest wisely in your books and home library and it will serve you well!), and it reflects the period of history we’re studying rather than a rotation someone else may suggest.
It is able to address the science we choose to study for the year, and reflects choices in poetry, artists, and composers that are anchored to a period of history or are culturally relevant at that time. In short, I am able to…
consider our year,
consider the children,
consider the topics and points of interest along this year’s educational journey,
…and from that springs a…
I have always built my own booklists. In the beginning of my home education planning, I was somewhat hesitant and unsure of myself, knowing of only a handful of good authors of living, worthy books, but found reassurance in the recommendations of others whom I trusted and thus began my pattern of building booklists by learning to enjoy books about books and lists about books. I draw from trusted sources that assist me.
Building a booklist from scratch does require a few resources, many of which I am going to suggest to you in this post. After a period of years of building booklists – you, the planner – become familiar with authors and illustrators, names that become good and reliable friends. You become familiar with publishers and reviewers which you grow to trust, and slowly, a circle of loyal friends is built so that building a booklist and choosing books becomes a joy and a thrill as you discover a new (to you) book by an old friend!
History: the pivot upon which the curriculum turns
In a Charlotte Mason education, the first decision one makes is generally the period of history to focus on. (In the younger years (K – 2/3), history as a formal subject is not yet introduced, so literature which is age and reading-ability appropriate is selected in that case. If you’re unsure – think of it as history in stories.) From this period of history, much of the curriculum is chosen – literature and historical fiction reflects the period, sometimes there may be science selections of the period, often the art, composer and poetry of the period is chosen. This common focal point allows the child to relate ideas to a point in time, and though it isn’t necessary for every book on the booklist to spring from the one period of history chosen for the year, it is helpful when much of it reflects the period. An overall context develops and adds to the child’s understanding of a period – the culture, the sights, the sounds, the day-to-day living, the challenges, the sufferings, the joys – it all weaves into a beautiful tapestry of understanding as the child makes connections across a spectrum of topics and ideas and develops relationships with the worthy books they are reading.
Thus, it always makes most sense for me to begin with history, which includes literature. I start by consulting my favorite resources and going directly to the period of history we’re studying. Please don’t be overwhelmed by this list, but rather, consider it a rich selection of tools for your toolbox. Choose a few to work from. You need not consult every.single.one in order to feel like you’ve ferreted out every single available living book on the subject! It is, however, nice to have a variety of lists to look over when you come to a period which offers a sparse selection of books.
Work from Good…to…Great
- The Death of Christian Culture by Dr. John Senior – the original list composed by Dr. John Senior of the Thousand Good Books exists as an appendix in his book, The Death of Christian Culture.
- 1000 Good Books at Classical Homeschooling
- Will Rascals Defend Our Civilization…and What Books Will they Read? – an article at Crisis Magazine by Mr. William Edmund Fahey, discussing the Good Books list by Dr. John Senior.
- Good to Great: Teaching Literature from Grammar To Rhetoric – a 2003 CiRCE talk given by Dr. James Taylor. This is an excellent talk for inspiring your imaginative muscle in choosing very, very “Good” books!
Book Resources: Books About Books
- Let the Authors Speak by Carolyn Hatcher (oop, but pray that one day this book might be revised and updated by the author’s daughter…yours truly.)
- Reading the Saints by Janet McKenzie (This is a fantastic resource!)
- A Literary Education by Catherine Levison
- For the Love of Literature by Maureen Wittmann
- A Picture Perfect Childhood by Cay Gibson
- A Landscape With Dragons by Michael O’Brien (booklist in back of book)
- Books Children Love by Elizabeth Wilson
- Who Reads What When by Jane A. Williams
- Books To Build On by E. D. Hirsch
- Books That Build Character by William Kirkpatrick
- A subscription to mater et magistra, a magazine for Catholic home educators. While it isn’t a book, I must tell you that over the years this periodical has introduced me to so many worthy books.
Online Resources: Web Sites About Books
- Ambleside Online – this site is a treasure for Charlotte Mason home educators. Unsure about building your own booklist? Use the curriculum already thoughtfully and carefully prepared at Ambleside. It’s a rigorous stretch through the classics and my booklists tend to begin and end with a look at Ambleside just to see how we’re lining up!
- Mater Amabilis – another treasure for Catholic Charlotte Mason home educators. Use Mater Amabilis if you want to ensure beautiful Catholic selections following a structured Charlotte Mason approach.
- RC History Booklists (**FAVORITE**):
- Penny Gardner’s History booklists
- Literature to Supplement History
- ReadingWell Step-Up Books – for beginning readers
- Julian Messner Biography Series
- Mary’s Books has helpful lists of oop classics: (**FAVORITE**)
- World Landmark
- American Landmark
- Discovery Series – Garrard Publishing
- World Explorers – Garrard Publishing
- Americans All Series – Garrard Publishing
- American Indian Series – Garrard Publishing
- How They Lived – Garrard Publishing
- North Star Books
- Dujarie Press Booklist – this is a wonderful Catholic series of books that are mostly oop, although Mary’s Books is in the process of reprinting them. They were published from the 1940’s – 1960’s. These are wonderful biographies.
- Mary O. Daly :: Ye Hedge School – History Booklist – Ms. Daly has earned my respect for her thoughtful and insightful offerings in the area of science, especially as it relates to a Catholic perspective of Creation which is neither strict Creationist, nor agenda-driven evolution. I enjoy any booklist she makes available.
- Amazon.com – I know – this is not popular, but Amazon’s search engine can be a very useful tool in discovering books that others might be using. Let’s walk through an example of how this might work:
- Let’s say that you know you’ll be using The Red Keep by Allen French as part of your booklist this year…so you click on over to Amazon and look up The Red Keep…
- …and you scroll down to see what *Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought*
- …and you find a few other books that seem promising, look interesting, and you click on them one at a time…
- …and one at a time, you discover another new book and another…
- …and you may just find a treasure you knew nothing about…
- …if you do…make sure you click on that author’s name to see what else they’ve written!!!
- HOW MANY treasures have I uncovered by doing just that??!!
- Let’s say that you know you’ll be using The Red Keep by Allen French as part of your booklist this year…so you click on over to Amazon and look up The Red Keep…
- 4Real Learning – I enjoy these boards so much and find in them a treasure trove of ideas and book recommendations for Catholic home educators who build their own curriculum using living books! By the way, I’m MACKFAM. 🙂
- Love2Learn.net – which isn’t so much a booklist site, as it is a review site, but it’s still very helpful for looking up books.
Science Book Recommendations and Booklists:
- MacBeth Durham has a website she maintains, MacBeth’s Opinion, and offers several suggestions for science reading across the different science branches. This web resource is simply invaluable for anyone tackling science using living books as opposed to textbooks. (**ENTIRE SITE FAVORITE**)
Living Math Recommendations:
- Penny Gardner’s living math recommendations
- MacBeth’s Opinion living math
- Living Math reader lists (**FAVORITE**)
I didn’t list the many home education catalogs that can be used to inspire booklists because I’m assuming that you probably know about those already.
Nice links….but HOW DO I BUILD A BOOKLIST and THEN WHAT????
I wanted to walk you through in a step-by-step way exactly HOW I build a booklist so that with the above tools in your hands, you might be able to see how one home educating mom does this, and you might begin to visualize how you too can build booklists. I hear from so many of you, and the booklist is just the beginning for you…what from there? Well, I’d like to share with you how I do this right from the beginning with a fresh, blank piece of paper. How I narrow in and focus our reading and book selections. And how we refine and polish so that what we end with is joyfully liveable. So, I would ask you to keep in mind that this is one way, our way, and I offer it as a starting point for you to consider:
The Beginning of it all…
- books that already live on your shelves
- availability from your library
- ability to secure books inexpensively through used sources
You don’t have to buy every single book on your booklist right now! More on how I stagger purchases at step 3!!
- Scheduling books and pages: I get many questions about how many books to choose for a year….for a term, and this is an excellent question! I compiled a tool to use as a reference table for approximating how many books to choose based on age/grade and broken down by term and year. It is based on a sample PNEU schedule which can be accessed online. I’ll share with you, but you must use it as a tool, not an unforgiving measuring stick or a dictatorial administrator, ok? Ok! Remember to be CONSIDERATE in choosing books…Consider your children, their needs, abilities, your days and a variety of other factors…and then consider how many books you have chosen.
- On combining and scheduling across ages – (edited July 2014) Be sure to spend some time at Nicole’s blog and read/view her entire series on Preparing a Charlotte Mason Schedule. Her series transforms how I build booklists and lesson plans. I complete her exercises first, THEN I go through my steps (listed below) in building a booklist. This works better for me because of the number of children I have.
- I prefer to build booklists in a table format. (I’ll share my current booklists [10th, 6th, 2nd grade] at the bottom of this post.) I create my yearly booklist table with the following columns:
- Subject (and credit hours for my high school student)
- Book title
- Term the book will be read (this may list one term, or it may list all 3)
- Term notes (this is where I note how many pages will be read per term/per day)
2) Break the yearly booklist down into terms (divide up the books you’ve listed into the 3 terms).
- Print it.
- Write all over it.
- Look at the books if you already have them.
- Flip through the pages.
- Look at the table of contents.
- Eliminate a few books at this point (this isn’t a goal, but it always happens as I begin to narrow and focus).
I’m narrowing more here….
3) The yearly booklist is now divided into terms…from there divide up books into term total # of reading pages
- –> this is purely mathematical –> number of pages in a book [divided by] number of terms the book will be read….or number of pages in a book [divided by] number of weeks the book will be read.
- This is the point at which I begin to purchase books if I’m going to. I purchase books one term at a time and find that this is a huge help on our budget.
4) Start building a weekly lesson plan for the term.
- Just like my yearly booklist, I prefer to build using a table. I find them easy to build, helpful in terms of organizing information, and useful and intuitive enough for my children to read them and be responsible for living them without me having to TRANSLATE! Building one weekly plan which works for an entire term of work means I can print fresh weekly plans at the end of each week (Thursday or Friday) and put them on the child’s clipboard and they’re READY TO ROLL….without having to stay up until 2 am on Sunday night writing lesson plans out for the next week…..you know what I’m talking about don’t you?
- I use Pages for mac, but you could do this with any word processing program. Just drop a table into a document. Tell it how big to make the table (x number of columns by x number of rows), and you’re off! I guess at how many rows I’ll need and adjust as I build. For our weekly plan I like to list the days of the week across the top and the different learning blocks down the left side of the table. I’ll share a sample with you at the bottom of this post.
- List the books and humanities we’ll do daily on the weekly lesson plan.
- List the books we’ll do on a daily basis on the lesson plan.
- Further the mathematical computations and take the page counts down to a weekly and daily level.
- Write all over the plan. (once it’s written and printed it’s often EASY to see areas that are over or under planned)
- Look at each day of the week on the weekly plan and count up the number of pages assigned for that day – circle totals at the top of each day.
- Is it waaaaaaay more than CM used?
- Waaaaay under?
- Does it seem balanced overall?
- Is the amount assigned going to overwhelm a particular child?
- Does the amount of reading allow time for margin in the day so that it doesn’t snuff out opportunities for creativity and Masterly Inactivity?
- Have I taken into consideration other things going on in a given day (if we have Mass and errands on one morning, then the day’s page counts need to be significantly lower!)
- Are we immersed in a unit study/rabbit trail? Page counts should not be as heavy.
6) Adjust pages and books assigned as needed –> this may affect the weekly plan, the term plan, and the yearly booklist.
I’m really narrowing this plan into something workable now!!!
It’s time to live it!
7) Print again with the new changes reflected. If I’m working with an older child, I sit down with them at this point and invite their thoughts. Make further adjustments.
8) Print WEEK 1 and live it!!!! — OBSERVE EVERYTHING —
Make notes directly on the lesson plans!!! Write all over it in a color that stands out!
- Is the child overwhelmed?
- Is it clear that the amount of reading is a burden?
- Is the child able to read through the subjects of the day in a balanced way – in other words, some subjects aren’t toppling others in terms of amount read?
- We enjoy making use of weekly meetings and I find it is super helpful for me in inviting the child’s input. This can be done even with smaller children in a limited way, but it is such a wonderful way to communicate with your older student about the plan, what’s working, what’s not, what is especially enjoyed, and what is completed out of discipline. It is NOT inviting a decision from them…it IS inviting input and respecting it and really listening to what they’re saying! I would go as far as to say that this is integral with a high school student completing a Charlotte Mason education.
9) Further refine the lesson plans and continue living them.
By now, you should have a basic plan, should have lived it a little, adjusted here and there, and learned a lot! Give yourself a term (about 12 weeks) to really pay attention to how your plans work themselves out in the day to day. You may find you need a different format – a different look. Or perhaps you have too many details and those cripple your creative potential each day? Maybe you really overscheduled and you need to back off a bit – margin in your day is so important, moms! Leave enough white space around the edges of your day for doodling and creativity or you and your kids will burn out fast!
In the end, this is all about considering all of those things in our lives that we sometimes forget about when we see a shiny new curriculum, or something someone else is doing that looks positively delicious and we’re just certain it will transform our children into academic angels. Consider first.
I hope this has been a help in seeing how this works here….starting out considering a yearly booklist, building it from a variety of resources, narrowing it based on the considerations of the child and the family, and living it joyfully in the every day!
Consider your own booklist!
I hope that this post has been a help as you consider in your own home, with your own beautiful children, the worthy books that shall become delightful friends next year. Happy booklisting!