Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Book Lists: Bane or Blessing

As a homeschool librarian I am often asked by prospective patrons if I have the books listed on various homeschool curricula book lists.  I remember as a new homeschooler 18 years ago trying to find a curriculum that utilized real, living books.  After we finished our time with Five in a Row, we definitely did not want to settle for dry facts common in the textbooks listed in most homeschool catalogs and marketed at homeschool conventions.  I found only one such curriculum at the time.  We plunged in, enjoying the books we could locate on that list, substituting books we could not find or...gasp...leaving them out altogether.  It really never occured to me that my child's education would somehow be ruined if I did not have the exact book recommended on a particular list.

I so appreciate the variety and sheer volume of book lists available today.  I collect these lists, mull over them, mark what I own, eagerly scour used book stores, library sales and internet websites to add to my collection.  But I don't own everything.  I never will own everything.  But I try to make every purchase count in my effort to put the best that the golden age of children's literature has to offer into the hands of eager young readers.  I have literally thousands and thousands of books, mostly out of print and written during a time when authors sought to edify their audience of young minds, on my shelves and add more almost weekly.

I can understand a new homeschool mom's panic when faced with the great responsibility of the education of her children and the outside pressure of doing everything "right."  She studies the homeschool catalogs, talks to veteran moms, goes to conferences, previews curriculum, and on it goes.  Mom brings the new, expensive curriculum to my library in anticipation of returning home with a tote full of the books she will need to fill her children's minds with all that is necessary for a well-rounded education...and I have only three of them. 

Let me explain.  By default, most producers of curriculum, even those that utilize living books, must use books that are in print.  Most public libraries have discarded the best books and are left with twaddle at best and poison at worst.  Unfortunately, although the homeschool library movement is growing, there are very few of us in the country.  So the vast majority of the moms will only be able to locate books that are in print.  Are these books the best that are written on the topic?  Maybe.  Probably not.  They are the best that the curriculum writer had available at the time of writing.  But I find so many moms distraught that they will somehow be shortchanging their children's education if the exact book is not found.  Also is the fact that there are often specific lesson plans that revolve around said book and mom has no idea how to deviate from those plans to make a substitution. 

Freedom is a wonderful thing.  I very much appreciate the admonition Michelle Miller gives to families who use her TruthQuest guides.  Use what you have!  If you are blessed to live near a homeschool lending library that specilizes in living books, become a patron and select the best of the best to lavish upon the minds of your children.  Read book lists, learn from them.  But don't be a slave to them.  Be willing to step outside the box of the curriculum to choose something better if it is available to you.  You will be amazed and blessed by the treasures you may find.


  1. Thank you for writing this! I needed to read it today. :)

  2. I'm so glad it was helpful, Shannon! Blessings as you seek out literary treasures.

  3. Yes, it's true, but it can be a hard nut to crack when you're a newbie homeschooler. Now that I'm in my fourth year, I feel it's okay to deviate. Now if my children were just younger so I had more time with them.

  4. Everything you wrote is true! I know when I started out on my homeschool journey, I needed a list. I didn't necessarily follow it to a tee, but there was security in having it. I can understand why moms continue to cling to lists. I bet most moms don't know the reasons they are put together as they are and would benefit so much from reading this!

    I am grateful for the freedom I enjoy now, but I still admit to wondering, at times, if I am leaving something important out. That fear is fading, though, and I suspect it will disappear altogether in the not-too-distant future.

    God bless!