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
"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
"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
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
- 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!)
"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
" 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
Alcott, Louisa May
- Little Women (unabridged)
- Little Men
- Jo's Boys
- Eight Cousins
- Rose in Bloom
- An Old Fashioned Girl
- Under the Lilacs
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
Burnett, Frances H.
Burstein, Chaya M.
- Rifka Bangs the Tea Kettle
- Somebody Go Bang a Drum
- Tree of Freedom
Curtis, Alice T.
- The Little Maid of Old Maine
- 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.
- 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
- The Exiles
- The Exiles at Home
Meadowcroft, Enid L.
- Silver for General Washington
- Anne of Green Gables and others in series
Reece, Colleen L.
- The Grandma's Attic Series (The first 6)
Roop, Connie & Peter
- Pilgrim Voices: Our First Year
- The Good Master
- The Singing Tree
- Open Gate Farm
- Five Little Peppers and How They Grew (and rest of the series)
- Encyclopedia Brown Series
- The Bronze Bow
- Calico Captive
- 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
- 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
Bjorn, Thyra Ferre
Bro, Margueritte Harmon
- One Vision Only (Life of Isabel Kuhn)
Gilbreth, Frank & Ernestine
- Across Five Aprils
- Up a Road Slowly
- No Promises in the Wind
- 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
- Secret of the Rose series
Sheldon, Charles M.
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.
[ Please don't forget to include your email address within the body of your
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"And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord;
and great shall be the peace of thy children."