by Tamara Eaton
Lazy warm summer afternoons are perfect times to stretch out in a cool place with a good book! We also enjoy reading aloud to the younger children from chapter books. Since it's fairly easy to find good children's picture books, but more difficult to screen chapter books for content (especially if your children are heavy readers--it's difficult to keep up!), I'm sharing some of our family's favorite chapter books for light summer reading, along with a few reviews--two positive and one negative. These books should be found easily in your local public library or through Inter-Library Loan. You can also order many of them online from our CHFWeb Favorite Books Bookstore in association with Amazon.com (look in the Children's Best-Loved books section!). We'll be adding more books soon!
We have always sought to provide good, wholesome reading material for our children and while our family considers the books we recommend here in our lists of favorites to be well worth reading, there are things we would not agree with and issues we discuss with our children as we read these books. (Isn't that true of everything except the Bible!) Occasionally, we have listed an author's name with the notation "All of his or her books"--obviously it's possible that we might not have read everything the author's written, so please forgive us if you come across one (especially a new one) that you don't feel is up to the usual wholesome standards.
H. Clay Trumbull (1830-1903), Christian father of eight, had this to say about cultivating a child's taste in reading in his book, Hints on Child Training:
"As one of the fathers of English poetry has told us, "Books should to one of these four ends conduce, For wisdom, piety, delight, or use"; and that reading which conduces merely to "delight" for the time being, has its essential part in the formation of a character that includes wisdom and piety and useful knowledge. But it is to be understood that no child should be left to read only those books to which his untutored tastes naturally incline him; nor should he be made to read other books simply as a dry task. His taste for instructive books as well for amusing ones should be so cultivated by the judicious and persistent endeavors of his parents, that he will find enjoyment in the one class as truly as in the other."
We hope you'll enjoy some of these books with your family if you haven't already read them and please feel free to email us any of your family's favorites. We'll be updating this list from time to time as we think of more good books to share. Happy Reading!
GONE-AWAY LAKE by Elizabeth Enright
We just finished reading aloud one of my favorite childhood books, Gone Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright (ISBN O-590-40904-2). This is a chapter book that appeals to all ages and to those who enjoy history, nature, mysteries and just a good story! The writing is excellent and needs to be read out loud to be properly appreciated and savored. Some of the vocabulary was over the heads of my 5 1/2 and 7 year olds but they still were able to follow the story and loved it.
Here is a brief summary of the plot: An loveable elderly brother (Mr. Payton) and sister (Mrs. Cheever) find themselves low on money and decide they've had enough of this world anyway--so they go back to Gone Away Lake which used to be a lovely lake resort where they spent their childhood summers. Now it's dried up and muddy, with deserted homes, much like a ghost town. But they choose homes and make the most of the old items they find and live off the land--only the brother goes to town once a month for supplies.
Two cousins, Portia and Julian, discover this place when they get lost in the woods one day at the beginning of summer vacation--it's like stepping back in time. They love the elderly brother and sister from the start and these older people are so excited to have children around once more. They share childhood memories with the children and give them a clubhouse, all the while teaching them about nature, "the good old days", and that the gift of friendship transcends ages and generations.
"Mrs. Cheever's kitchen was calm and cool. Mr. Payton, in a chair by the window, was reading a very old newspaper. "Old news is more soothing to read about," he said, " You know that you lived through it all right."
On the table, where four places were set, there was a chocolate cake under a glass bell. Julian noted with pleasure (so did Portia) that it was a triple-decker, with the frosting laid on one inch thick.
"It's my belief that a fudge cake should be built, " Mrs. Cheever said, "strong and thick, the way the Mexicans build adobe houses. You may wash your hands here at the pump, children, and I suggest you do so. A. P. Decoction [homemade mosquito repellent!] has a fearful flavor."
...More than half of the mighty cake was gone. The teapot was cold as a stone, Portia carried plates and cups to the iron sink.
"Do you know what I would like to offer you, children?" said Mrs. Cheever, tying another apron over the one she was already wearing. "Pin, do you know what I would like to offer them?" She paused dramatically. "A house!" she said, "Here are all these old houses! Nothing ever uses them but bats and birds, and some of them are still quite safe. You could pick a safe one and have it for a clubhouse; bring your friends if you wanted. Oh, Pin, wouldn't it be nice to hear children's voices here at Tarrigo again? Though perhaps they wouldn't care for the idea--" she added hesitantly, looking at them. But Portia, clasping a dish towel to her wishbone cried: "Heavenly! Oh, Mrs. Cheever, what a *heavenly idea!" And Julian said: "Brother! Would that be neat!"
".....Portia scrubbed the glass panes with vigor and enthusiasm; Julian, on all fours, polished the floor boards with a will. If their parents could have seen them, they would have been astounded. Through the open windows the sweet in-coming smell of the marsh mingled with the strong practical odors of floor wax, soap, and A.P. Decoction. (Mrs. Cheever had thoughtfully provided a bottle for the use of club members.)
When at last the place was clean enough to suit them, they returned to the Big House to get their furniture. It was hard, hot work hauling the stuff up all the stairs, but when they finally had it in place, after a great deal of haggling and arguing, it looked very fine.
"Jule, it's going to be absolutely beautiful," said Portia, in an awed voice.
"It's going to be terrific. Just wait till I get the moose up!" (Julian)
"Just wait till I get the curtains up!" said Portia.
...The reeds of the swamp looked washed, too; green and refreshed. They could see Mr. Payton pottering about his beehives. The little goats were capering nearby and the chickens strutting in the sun. The Machine [their auto], newly polished, was taking a sun bath outside the stable, glaring brightly with all its brass. Everything they saw before them delighted Portia and Julian."
There are a very few cautions, which is why I liked reading it aloud to the younger ones so we could discuss these issues:
- Euphemisms are scattered throughout the book--"heck", "by Jove", "gosh", "gee", etc. We don't use these and since the younger children see everything in black and white, they were kind of shocked by them and I was able to explain.
- The children at first make Gone Away Lake a secret and don't tell their parents. We discussed our family policy--"We don't keep secrets from mom and dad and remember, this is just a story, but make sure you don't follow their example."
- Once Portia meets a new friend and they discuss how much they have in common, including the same zodiac sign. We talked about why we don't do horoscopes, etc., but this was just a couple of sentences in the whole book.
- The terms magic, witches and ghosts are mentioned a couple of times each, but there are no instances of magic, witches and ghosts at all. (Our family doesn't read books that contain anything to do with the occult at all--including "white magic" or "good witches".) But sometimes young children are confused when those terms are mentioned so I was glad to talk about these instances with them. (For example, the "ghost" was a squirrel" running over the piano keys.)
- One time one of the children in the book crossed his fingers and told a lie---another opportunity to explain that we don't EVER lie, and crossed fingers mean nothing!
I hope that if you haven't read this, you can share it with your children and enjoy it as much as we have! No boy-girl romances or sibling fussing; learning is looked upon as something delightful and "socialization" includes families with all different ages being involved. Now we're enjoying reading the sequel Return to Gone Away!
THIMBLE SUMMER by Elizabeth Enright
Thimble Summer is a delightful story of a ten year old girl's adventures in the early 1900's growing up on a farm. This book really is geared more toward children ages nine and up, although younger ones will enjoy parts if read aloud. Our favorite part was when she and a friend were accidentally locked in the public library (with no electricity or telephone!) after closing.
"The room was very dark now; strange, unknown and filled with shadows. It was as though it wakened at nightfall; as though it breathed and wakened and began to wait. There were tiny creaking sounds and rustlings, and airy scamperings of mouse feet.
"I don't like it," whispered Citronella. "I don't like it all: My own voice scares me. I don't dare talk out loud."
"Neither do I," murmured Garnet. "I feel as if all those books were alive and listening."
"I wonder why our folks don't come after us," said Citronella.
"They don't know where we are, that's why" answered Garnet. "They don't even know we came to town: and we didn't tell Mr. Freebody that we were going to the library."
"I wish I'd never learned to read," sighed Citronella. "I wish I was some kind of animal and didn't have to be educated."
"It might be fun to be a panther," agreed Garnet, "or a kangaroo, or a monkey."
"Or a pig, even," said Citronella. "A safe, happy pig asleep in its own pen with its own family!"
"One that had never seen a library and couldn't even spell pork" added Garnet, and giggled. Citronella giggled too, and they both felt much better."
[Later, after being found, they were fed late suppers by their fathers in the local little restaurant and their next door neighbor, Mr. Freebody, walked in...]
" Yes sir!" said Mr. Freebody coming in the door. "Don't you be fooled! Those ain't two little girls you see settin' up there; those are two genuwine bookworms, couldn't stop reading long enough to come home. Planning to take up permanent residence in the liberry from now on, ain'tcha?"
"Just the same, "whispered Garnet to Citronella. "I sort of wish they hadn't found us until morning. Then we could have told our grandchildren that once we stayed in the public library all night long!"
Again, there were a few cautions so you might want to either skip or explain some parts if you read it aloud to younger children:
- The title comes from when Garnet finds a silver thimble at the beginning of summer-- she tells her brother she thinks it's magic and that it will bring her good luck. The only other mention of it is in the end when she says: "There is something wonderful about this thimble; everything began to happen as soon as I found it....As long as I live I'm always going to call this summer the thimble summer." We discussed the fact that as Christians, we look to the Lord to bless our days and take care of us--not "luck" or "magic" which is occult.
- In one chapter, Garnet gets angry with her older brother and decides to leave home and hitch-hike into a nearby town. Once there she quickly gets over her anger and decides to buy presents for everyone, including her big brother. But there are consequences to her actions and by the time her "adventure" is over, Garnet has learned some valuable lessons. We discussed her very unwise actions and decisions and the consequences with our younger children.
- There is also a small frightening part when an old great-grandmother in the neighborhood tells a childhood story of how she was disobedient one time and learned her lesson. This is short, and I chose to skip it with my younger children just so they wouldn't have bad dreams!
Elizabeth Enright also wrote a wonderful series that our daughters have loved about the Melendy Family: The Saturdays; The Four-Story Mistake; Then There Were Five; Spiderweb for Two; The Melendy Family (a three-in-one collection containing The Saturdays, The Four-Story Mistake, and Then There Were Five)
[Note: The Enright books are very old (Thimble Summer was originally published in 1938 and won a Newbery Medal in 1939)) but most of them are still in print. If you can't find these at your local library, via Inter-library loan, or bookstore, check http://www.amazon.com , they have several of these available in paperback at low prices.]
THE BABYSITTER CLUB Series By Ann Martin
A few years ago when the first Babysitter's Club books came out, I thought, "Oh, what a cute idea!" We checked a few out from the library but I was disappointed in the content and told my daughters that they were not the sort of thing that I wanted them to read. Recently, I read another one since some homeschool moms had told me how much their girls enjoyed them. This is what I found:
- a lot of name-calling
- siblings weren't appreciated
- so-called "white" lies were told
- some of the girls called a girl who was babysitting for two small children and told her that the house was on fire (it wasn't)
- another girl ordered two weeks of diaper service delivered as a practical joke to a "snob"
- one character ordered pizzas to be delivered to a girl who was considered an "enemy"
Although in the end, everyone became friendly, it was never even implied that anyone had done anything wrong. It's a shame, because the idea of the book is cute-- girls who like babies and children and desire to form a club and a business. We decided that for our family, we would prefer to skip this series and enjoy books like Baby Island by Carol Brink instead!
Some of our Family's Favorite Children's Novels:
[You can order some of these online from our CHFWeb Favorite Books Bookstore in association with Amazon.com (look in the Children's Best-Loved books section for more ideas!). We'll be adding more books soon!]
Alcott, Louisa May
- Little Women (unabridged)
- Little Men
- Jo's Boys
- Eight Cousins
- Rose in Bloom
- An Old Fashioned Girl
- Under the Lilacs
- A Lantern in Her Hand
Anderson, Margaret J
- Journey of the Shadow Bairns
- A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl's Journal (1830-32)
Brink, Carol Ryrie
- Baby Island
- Caddie Woodlawn
- Magical Melons [Nothing to do with Magic!]
- Andy Buckram's Tin Man
- Family Sabbatical
Bulla, Clyde Robert
- The Secret Valley
Burnett, Frances H.
- Little Lord Fauntleroy
Burstein, Chaya M.
- Rifka Bangs the Tea Kettle
- Understood Betsy
- Somebody Go Bang a Drum
- Tree of Freedom
Curtis, Alice T.
- The Little Maid of Old Maine
- The Trolley Car Family
- The Silver Pencil
- Pilgrim Kate
- The Young Brahms
- Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates
- Gone Away Lake
- Return to Gone Away
- Thimble Summer
- The Saturdays (warning, contains short portion about visiting a fortune-teller, which is occult--we skipped this!)
- The Four-Story Mistake
- Then There Were Five
- Spiderweb for Two
- The Melendy Family (3 in 1 collection)
Fitzgerald, John D.
- The Great Brain series
- By the Great Horn Spoon
- The Cabin Faced West
- Johnny Tremain
- My Side of the Mountain
- All of her books (for younger children)
- Indian Captive : The Story of Mary Jemison
- Strawberry Girl
- Judy's Journey
- Bound Girl of Cobble Hill
- All of her books
- Spring Begins in March
- One to Grow on
- Mine for Keeps
- All of her books
Lovelace, Maud H.
- Betsy Tacy
- Betsy and Tacy Go over the Big Hill
- Betsy-Tacy and Tib
- Betsy in Spite of Herself
- Betsy Was a Junior
- Betsy and Joe
- Betsy and the Great World
- Betsy's Wedding
- Centerburg Tales
- The Exiles
- The Exiles at Home
- Snow Treasure
Meadowcroft, Enid L.
- Silver for General Washington
- Anne of Green Gables and others in series
- The Railway Children
- Little Rascal
- Pollyanna (unabridged)
Reece, Colleen L.
- The Mayflower Adventures
- The Grandma's Attic Series (The first 6)
- In My Father's House
- All the Henry Reed books
Roop, Connie & Peter
- Pilgrim Voices: Our First Year
- The Good Master
- The Singing Tree
- Open Gate Farm
- Black Beauty
- Five Little Peppers and How They Grew (and rest of the series)
- Einstein Anderson Series
- Encyclopedia Brown Series
- The Bronze Bow
- Calico Captive
- Heidi (Unabridged)
- All his books (historical fiction)
- When the Sirens Wailed
- Ballet Shoes
- All of her others
- All of a Kind Family
- More All of a Kind Family
- All-of-a-kind-family downtown
- All-of-a-kind Family Uptown
- Ella of all-of-a-kind family
Wiggins, Kate Douglas
- Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm
Wiggins, Eric E.
- Rebecca: The Girl
- Rebecca: The Woman
Wilder, Laura Ingalls
- Little House on the Prairie books
Williams & Abrashkin
- Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine. (And others in the Danny Dunn series)
- Swiss Family Robinson (unabridged)
Favorite Mystery Series:
- Trixie Belden Mysteries by Kathryn Kenny & Julie Campbell
- The Original Boxcar Children series by Gertrude Warner
? And how about the Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys mysteries?
We wouldn't want our children to have a steady diet of these books alone because we believe they can spoil their appetite for better literature that takes more effort to read and understand, but we have never been opposed to these mysteries as a little "light" diversion. We do make sure that the books don't contain occult material and there are a few that we skip. (In my opinion, the older ones in the series are best!)
Some Favorite Books for Teens
(I'm separating these from the above list due to slightly mature themes at times or the occasional bad language in Red Badge of Courage and some of the Ralph Moody books. We read some of the Moody books aloud as a family, skipping any bad language spoken by the occasional "rough cowboy". Some of these may also be suitable for 11-12 yr. olds, use your own judgement according to your family's standards and the maturity level of your children!)
Bjorn, Thyra Ferre
- Papa's Wife
Bro, Margueritte Harmon
- One Vision Only (Life of Isabel Kuhn)
- The Red Badge of Courage
Gilbreth, Frank & Ernestine
- Cheaper by the Dozen
- Across Five Aprils
- Up a Road Slowly
- No Promises in the Wind
- First We Have Coffee
- Rifles for Watie
- Mother of an Army/Champion of Freedom
- Little Britches
- Man of the Family
- The Home Ranch
- Shaking the Nickel Bush
- Mary, Emma & Co
- The Fields of Home
- The Dry Divide
- A Horse of a Different Color
- All of her books
- Secret of the Rose series
Sheldon, Charles M.
- In His Steps
For more suggestions, visit our online bookstore CHFWeb Favorite Books in association with Amazon.com
© Copyright Tamara Eaton 1994-2000, all rights reserved.
Permission is given to reprint any of Tamara's articles in non-profit publications as long as the article is reprinted in full and contains the copyright information and website address. Please send a copy of the publication to :Deeper Life Family Ministries, P.O. Box 909, Killen, AL 35645.
We have always homeschooled our six children (elementary through high school and beyond!) and enjoy encouraging other families in their homeschooling, parenting and in the Lord! For more help and information, please join us on the Christian Homeschool Fellowship Message Board.
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"And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord;
and great shall be the peace of thy children."