introduction to building a home library

“I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.” ~ author Anna Quindlen

I recently attended a baby shower for a young woman who looks forward to being a homeschooling mom and it was exciting to see lots of children’s books in the gift bags. Experts all agree: exposing even very young children to books is the #1 best guarantee of reading success in the elementary years. But how do you begin to assemble a home library?

Cultivate an atmosphere of reading and researching in your home. Keep stacks of books by your bed and near a cozy chair for reading with your little ones. Arrange small “book nooks” in special places: in an unused closet, under the stairs, or in a tent in a corner of the family room. Pile large floor pillows near shelves to encourage quiet reading and place reading lamps (and flashlights) near beds for late night literary adventures. Preschoolers love to have their own books in a spot on the shelf or in a special basket. Cover their picture books with clear contact paper for longer “shelf” life! Make books more accessible than TV or video games!

Keep a running list of books you would like to own. Think ahead! You never know what you might find that will be perfect in another 10 years! Remember that books are a long-term investment in your whole family. Share your list with grandparents and others who might like to add to your family library. Our children keep Amazon book lists for us for each child so shopping for the grandchildren is easy! Be sure to include “real” or “living” books in your budget each year along with curriculum and take note of topics and titles that will interest individual family members.

Keep your eyes open for used book resources. Let everyone know you will gladly accept hand-me-down books. Frequently visit garage sales, Goodwill, and church and local library discard sales. Find a connection at your local school who can give you books before they are sent to the dumpster. One of our friends who was an elementary school janitor brought us hundreds of books each year, many of them now hard-to-find classics. And our very best garage sale find: a complete set of The Great Books for $10.00!

Collect a wide variety of books, both fiction and non-fiction, and for all age levels. My preschoolers enjoyed the Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness books long before they were able to read the text; they loved the interaction and cuddle time as we “read” together. Most new children’s books include a suggested reading level or you can use the Microsoft Works reading level feature or one of the many online formulas to decipher the level of particular books. Living history books like The Little House Series are “graded” in that they increase in difficulty in reading as you progress through the series, making them perfect for reading aloud to a variety of ages of children and the D’Aulaire books, with their delightful drawings, are the ideal introduction to history and mythology for young children.

Read aloud to the whole family. We have enjoyed many adventures as a family with Dad reading to all of us right after dinner. When I asked our now-grown children to share their favorite, The Hobbit won! A close second was Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which I read every day after lunch one year, creating all the voices! Be sure to include biographies and missionary stories for reading aloud to all ages. Hearing how God has worked in the real lives of real people is a tremendous faith builder!

Have a storage plan. This is still a challenge in our home! Peruse Pinterest for ideas for building shelves. I have seen amazing bookcases made from old pallets, repurposed dressers, and even sturdy planks on heavy cement blocks. Our first built-ins used defunct kitchen cabinets as a base with shelving on top! As a homeschooler, you will probably never have enough bookshelves!

Recommended books for toddlers and pre-schoolers:

Harold and the Purple Crayon
Owl Babies
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
We’re Going on a Bear Hunt
Where’s Spot
Guess How Much I Love You
Go, Dog, Go!
The Tawny Scrawny Lion
Knuffle Bunny
The Snowy Day
Where the Wild Things Are
The Giving Tree
The Paper Bag Princess
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
Make Way for Ducklings
The Mitten (and other titles by Jan Brett)
The Monster Bed
I Can’t Said the Ant
Cricktor the Boa Constrictor
Mouse Paint
Minerva Louise
Miss Rumphius
Make Way for Ducklings
A Little Bit of Winter
One Kitten is Not Too Many
The Egg
The Carrot Seed
Blueberries for Sal
Goodnight Moon
Caps for Sale
Jesus Storybook Bible
Baby Beluga
Brown Bear
How Many Goodnight Kisses
Owen’s Walk
I’m Special, I’m Me
Big Green Pocket Book
Caps for Sale
The Corduroy Books
The Mitten
Are You My Mother?
Go, Dog, Go
Who is Coming to Our House?
Where the Wild Things Are
The Tale of Tricky Fox
Chicken Little
Can I Keep Him?
Give the Dog a Bone
What’s Under My Bed?
Winnie the Pooh
My Side of the Mountain
Caddie Woodlawn
Indian in the Cupboard
American Girl series
Jesus Storybook Bible
The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes
The Children’s Story Bible
Goodnight, Gorilla
Complete Tales of Peter Rabbit
Danny the Champion of the World
My First 100 Words (Spanish/English)
Curious George
All titles by Sandra Boynton, Virginia Lee Burton, Alexandra Day, Dr. Seuss, Leslie Patricelli, and Richard Scarry

Early Elementary and Read Alouds

Frog and Toad
Amelia Bedelila
Billy and Blaze
Mr. Popper’s Penguins
James and the Giant Peach (and other titles by Roald Dahl)
Mrs. Piggle Wiggle
Pippi Longstocking
The Phantom Tollbooth
The first four Betsy-Tacy books
Little House on the Prairie series
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh
In Grandma’s Attic
Trumpet of the Swan
Chronicles of Narnia
The Boxcar Children series
The Little Princess
The Series of Unfortunate Events
The Enormous Crocodile
The Mouse and the Motorcycle
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar
Danny the Champion of the World
The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me
Esio Trot
The Twits
George’s Marvelous Medicine
The Magic Finger
Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator
The Enormous Crocodile
All the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary

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  1. says

    Karen, you make me want to run out to a bookstore for a few more children’s books. As if I don’t already have enough! I kept my kids’ favorites, and I keep adding to the stash–from garage sales, usually.

  2. Paula says

    Such a lovely article! Books are my one true weakness, too, and I suspect my daughter’s as well. 🙂

  3. says

    You have a great blog, Karen. I enjoyed reading your recommended list. Girls and I are reading all the Ramona books right now and loving it. 🙂

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