After a couple of bad experiences, we began reading all the books that our children might be interested in before they do to see that there is nothing overly objectionable. I began posting them to a homeschooling website, and now they are included in my free monthly e-mail homeschooling newsletter and in some other local support group newsletters in our area. Some of them have also been put on the TOS website review pages and HomeSchoolBuzz.com, and a few have appeared in TOS and other homeschooling publications. Here is an article that I wrote after the first of the year but don't think has appeared anywhere else.
THE 26 BEST AUTHORS OF CHILDREN'S LITERATURE (FICTION/BIOGRAPHY) THAT I READ IN 2005
by Wayne S. Walker
Reading good literature should be a large part of every homeschooling curriculum. Since I regularly do book reviews for my own homeschooling newsletter as well as several other homeschooling publications, I thought that I would go back over 2005 and pick out the best authors of children's literature that I read during the year. I originally intended to do just twenty authors but found that it was impossible to stay with that number, so I increased it to 25. However, I could not reduce it past 26, so I justify that somewhat strange number by saying that there is an author here for each letter of the alphabet or one for every other week of the year.
Benge, Janet and Geoff. “Christian Heroes: Then and Now” series. We have read several of these biographies of people whose faith in God played an important part in their lives: Gladys Aylward: The Adventure of a Lifetime; Eric Liddel: Something Greater than Gold; Corrie Ten Boom: Keeper of the Angels' Den; George Muller: The Guardian of Bristol's Orphans; and Nate Saint: On a Wing and a Prayer. Their lives are told in such an exciting and readable way that the books are hard to put down.
Bishop, Claire H. Twenty and Ten (published in 1952; sometimes entitled The Secret Cave). This wonderful little book is still available. Set in 1944 during the Nazi occupation of France, it tells the story of how a group of twenty fifth-grade boys and girls, who have been sent to live at a large house in the country with their teacher, agree to hide ten Jewish children whose parents have been killed. Any child, as well as teenagers and even adults, will love reading about the bravery and resourcefulness of these children, in spite of their fear and deprivation. There is nothing objectionable.
Bond, Douglas. Mr. Pipes and the British Hymn Makers (1999), Mr. Pipes and Psalms and Hymns of the Reformation (2000), Mr. Pipes Comes to America (2001), and The Accidental Voyage (2005). These books tell the background stories to various hymns, but rather than being dry descriptions of history, they weave the stories into interesting fictional plots involving a British organist, Mr. Pipes, and two American young people, Annie and Drew, who become his friends.
Borntrager, Mary C. Ellie (published in 1988). This book, the first in a series about Amish life called “Ellie's People,” begins wtih Ellie Maust as a first-grade girl and continues through her marriage and having her own children. It will be of special interest to those who are interested in knowing more about the Amish. There are some elements in the book of Amish doctrine with which many of us would disagree. However, while we might not agree completely with the Amish way of life, we can still appreciate Ellie's ultimate desire to pass her heritage and values on to her children.
Caudill, Rebecca. Tree of Freedom (published in 1949). This was a Newbery honor book that is no longer in print, although some of Caudill's historical fiction is being reprinted by Bethlehem Books. This one tells the story of a family who moves from North Carolina to Kentucky during the Revolutionary War, and how the daughter plants a tree of freedom near their cabin. Other than a few euphemisms, this is great historical fiction.
Coatsworth, Elizabeth. Jock's Island (published in 1963). The book is out of print, but if you can find it used, it is good reading about a sheep dog which was left alone on an island by his master when a volcano erupts and then finds a new master in a sailor who also stayed behind. Mrs. Coatsworth won the 1931 Newbery Award for The Cat Who Went to Heaven. Some of her historical fiction is being reprinted by Bethlehem Books.
Collins, David R. J. R. R. Tolkien: Master of Fantasy (published in 1992). Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy are some of the best books that I have ever read. With the recent epic films based on The Lord of the Rings, people need to know more about the life of the author and the part that his definite Biblical worldview played in his writing. Collins has written several of the good biographies in the Sowers Series published by Mott Media.
De Jong, Meindert. The Wheel on the School (published in 1954). This book won the 1955 John Newbery Medal. It is the kind of book for which the medal was designed. The more I read, the more I really enjoyed this book which is set in the little Dutch fishing village of Shorra where the school children work together in finding a wheel to put on the top of the school house to attract the storks back to their town. There are a few euphemisms.
George, Jean Craighead. My Side of the Mountain (1959), On the Far Side of the Mountain (1990), and Frightful's Mountain (1999). These books in the Sam Gribley trilogy tell the story of how teenage Sam Gribley leaves his crowded home in New York City to live in the wilds on the old Catskill Mountain farm of his grandfather and tames a peregrine falcone, which he names Frightful, to help him hunt food. Some common euphemisms are used and there is one reference to evolution. I did NOT care for George's Newbery winner, Julie of the Wolves.
Gregory, Kristiana. A Journey of Faith (2003), A Grateful Harvest (2003) and Winter Tidings (2004). Set in 1865 right after the end of the Civil War, these three books in the “Prairie River” series tell the story of fourteen-year-old Vanessa Clemens who runs away from an orphanage in Independence, MO, because the director has decided to marry her off to a local minister, and finds work as a school teacher in Prairie River, KS. A few common euphemisms are found, and there are some references to denominational practices, but mostly Vanessa faces her problems with faith in the Lord and trust in the scriptures.
Halverson, Mathew. Concord Cunningham: The Scripture Sleuth (2000), Concord Cunningham Returns: The Scripture Sleuth 2 (2001), and Concord Cunningham on the Case: The Scripture Sleuth 3 (2003). A young man named Concord Cunningham, who lives in Pine Tops, WA, with his parents, older brother Cody, and younger sister Charlotte, solves mysteries using the Bible for clues. Each book has twelve cases set forth in the manner of the old “Encyclopedia Brown” books where the story with the clues are laid out and then the reader finds the solution in the back of the book. The third book does contain some denominational doctrine.
Hines, Mary. Reading Well (published in 2004). Somewhat like Bill Bennett's Book of Virtues, this book has the added benefit that not only do the classic stories, poems, and other items from great literature illustrate general principles of virtue, but they are also used to illustrate specific Bible principles with the Bible passages and reinforcement activities included. The stories in this book are absolutely fascinating.
Jenkins, Jerry B. In Deep Water (published in 1986 as part of “The Bradford Family Adventures”). This is Jenkins before “Left Behind.” The Bradfords invite their friends the Hubers to spend a week at the beach with them, but the Hubers are prejudiced against the Bradfords' newly adopted daughter of Mexican descent, Yolanda. When the Huber children tease her she runs away and sails to a nearby island. Two boys, Daniel Bradford and Tommy Huber sail through a storm to rescue her and are almost killed themselves. I liked this book because it has mystery and adventure with a godly message. These books are out of print, but if you can find them, I think that your children will enjoy and benefit from them.
Lampman, Evelyn Sibley. Tree Wagon (published in 1953). This historical fiction book tells the story of twelve-year-old Asenath (Seenie) Luelling and her family as they leave Iowa in 1846 to emigrate by wagon to Oregon. The Luellings actually existed, and Seenie's father, Henderson Luelling, was the first to bring grafted fruit trees to the Oregon territory. The book also refers to Jason Lee, the missionary who first explored the Oregon territory, and includes an appearance by Dr. Marcus Whitman, another missionary who helped to settle it. This is historical fiction as it ought to be. Unfortunately, the book is out of print, but if you can find it used, snatch it up. It is great.
Ludwig, Charles. Michael Faraday: Father of Electronics (published in 1978). This book won the Children/Youth Book of the Year award from the National Religious Book Awards. It is a fictionalized biography of the great English scientist Michael Faraday whose work resulted in the electric motor, the transformer, the generator, benzene, improved steel alloys, and liquid chlorine. He was a firm, lifelong believer in God. Also, he was a member of the “Sandemanians” a group that broke away from the Presbyterians to call for a return to the New Testament order and had an influence on Alexander Campbell's thinking. Ludwig has also written some good biographies in the Sowers Series published by Mott Media. There are a few doctrinal items mentioned with which we would not agree.
McSwigan, Marie. Snow Treasure (published in 1942). This exciting and extremely readable book is a fictional version of a story that was told as being true, although there is no proof that it ever really happened. In 1940, after the Nazis captured Norway, a cargo of gold bullion worth nine million dollars was said to have been slipped past German guards by boys and girls on sleds to be shipped to the United States. The author's imagined account of how this might have happened is a great book that illustrates courage, patriotism, self-sacrifice, and perseverance in spite of fears.
Oard, Michael and Beverly. Life in the Great Ice Age (published in 1993). This really great book explains how the ice age developed as a result of the flood, what life was like for “Cro-Magnon” and “Neanderthal” (both HUMAN) tribes during that time, and why so many different sorts of animals became extinct then, all from a Biblical creationist perspective, using the “historical fiction” story of young Jabeth and his family who lived in the caves of Northern Europe.
Oke, Janette. Love Comes Softly (published in 1979). As a guy, I am not that much into “romantic” novels, but Janette Oke is one of my wife's favorite authors. The plot of this book involves nineteen-year-old Marty whose husband is killed and Clark whose wife died leaving him with a two-year-old daughter Melissa. The two marry as somewhat of a “business relationship” but eventually come to love each other. There are some common denominational concepts and a few euphemisms that Marty uses but ultimately decides are wrong. The series of which this is the first was not written for children, but there is nothing objectionable for young people.
Rogers, Jonathan. The Bark of the Bog Owl (published in 2004). The first of the “Wilderking Trilogy,” this book is an adolescent adventure/fantasy story loosely based on the story Biblical story of David written by a homeschooling father. It is easy reading for pre-teen and early teenage boys and filled with illustrations of good character traits such as courage, perseverance, and trust in God.
St. John, Patricia. The Runaway (originally entitled The Victor, published in 1983). This is wonderful historical fiction based on Biblical events about a first-century Syro-Phoenician boy, Philo, whose sister is possessed by a demon but is healed by Jesus (read Mark 7:24-30). Although Philo himself never gets to meet Jesus, he does go with his uncle to Jerusalem and hears a follower of Jesus preach an important sermon (Acts 2). Even the fictional elements are well within the realm of possibility. There is one reference to denominational doctrine. Other good books by Patricia St. John that I have read recently include Twice Freed, The Secret of Pheasant Cottage, Star of Light, and The Tanglewoods' Secret.
Sewell, Anna. Black Beauty (published in 1877). This is a truly lovely book. There is absolutely no bad language. The author maintains a good balance between the fact that horses are part of God's creation put on earth to serve the needs of mankind and the need for man to be a good steward of God's creation by treating animals with kindness. She also has a lot to say about the evils of drinking alcohol and how it causes misery for both humans and animals.
Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom's Cabin (published in 1852). This is one of the most important books in American history. Mrs. Stowe's aim was to present both “the best side of slavery and something approaching the worst” and let the reader draw his own conclusions. Apparently, the conclusions were quite obvious because the book galvanized opposition to slavery in the North and it was banned in many Southern states. In addition to its historical importance, it is an interesting and heart-tugging story.
Stuart, Jessie. “Illustrated Junior Books.” Stuart is best known as the author of regional fiction set in eastern Kentucky, such as Taps for Private Tussie and Mr. Gallion's School. He also wrote smaller books for young people such as The Beatenist Boy (1952), A Penny's Worth of Character (1954), Red Mule (1955), The Rightful Owner (1960), Old Ben (1970), Andy Finds a Way (1961), and A Ride With Huey the Engineer (1966). There are a few common euphemisms, but otherwise nothing objectionble, and important lessons on honesty, friendship, loyalty, respect to parents, and love of family are illustrated.
Tolkien, J. R. R. The Silmarillion (published in 1977). I have already expressed my affection for Tolkien's work. The Silmarillion was in effect both his first and last books. He began it in 1917 to create an English mythology similar to that of the Norse, Greeks, and Romans, only based on a Biblical worldview rather than a pagan one. It describes the beginning and history of the land of Middle Earth, out of which the later Hobbit and Lord of the Rings tales are drawn. Then he continued to work on it and revise it until his death. Published posthumously, it is not an easy read, but I enjoyed it and fans of Tolkien should find it interesting and helpful.
Yates, Elizabeth. Sarah Whitcher's Story: A Folk Tale from New Hampshire (published in 1970, republished in 1994). Elizabeth Yates won the Newbery Award for her excellent Amos Fortune, Free Man. Sara Whitcher's Story is based on a real event, where a little girl wanders away from her family's cabin into the New Hampshire forest. While neighbors search, her father's trust in God holds firm.
Ytreeide, Arnold. Jotham's Journey (published in 1997). This is identified as one of three “Stories for Advent” that also include Bartholomew's Passage and Tabitha's Travels, but even those who do not observe the season of Advent as a religious celebration can enjoy this book as good historical fiction for children which ties into the Biblical account of Jesus's birth. Ytreeide is a wonderful storyteller. There are a couple of statements with which I did not agree, but otherwise I really enjoyed reading this book simply as didactic, historical fiction based on a Bible story. There seems to be some story tie-in between the books.
All of these books would be suitable for reading aloud. We do a lot of that in our home. After lunch each day we have a family read aloud, usually historical fiction. Later in the evening, I read aloud to Jeremy (age 9), and then just before bed I read aloud to both the boys. There were other books that would have made the list despite a few objectionable elements in some if I had not cut it off at 26–The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman, Among the Enemy by Margaret P. Haddix, King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard, Shadows on the Sea by Joan H. Harlow, Mossflower by Brian Jacques, Ben and Me and Mr. Revere and I by Robert Lawson, Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, and Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. Happy reading!