Homeschool Tidbits: Living Books Recommendations

January 28, 2022

Welcome to Build Your Library’s “Homeschool Tidbits: Episode 4 – Living Books Recommendations”. In this new weekly video series, I will delve briefly into a topic related to homeschooling and will share some of my knowledge and expertise as a long-time homeschooling mother of 4 children. Three of whom have graduated!

Over the past two weeks, I gave you the definition of a living book and shared some tips for how to use them in your homeschool. So to wrap up this three-part series, I want to share some recommendations for living books you might like to check out!

To keep me in check and to ensure I give you a feast of ideas, I’m only going to share three books for each subject. We’re going to run through history, literature, poetry, science, math, and art. For even more recommendations, all of the Build Your Library curriculum levels are chock full of living books!

Historical Living Books:

Absolutely Everything: A History of Earth, Dinosaurs, Rulers, Robots and Other Things Too Numerous to Mention by Christopher Lloyd

I love this book because it combines history and science in a really interesting way. It’s a sort of greatest hits of world history, focusing on how history and science are interconnected.  Covering the Big Bang through modern-day in only 352 pages is quite an undertaking, but though it may not be the most comprehensive text, the author does a wonderful job of introducing big ideas and whetting your appetite to go out and learn more. I’d recommend this book for ages 9+.

Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France by Mara Rockliff

This is a fantastic non-fiction picture book blending history and science, telling the story of when Benjamin Franklin visited France and used the scientific method to disprove the enigmatic Dr. Mesmer’s magic. I love when history books can mix in other subjects. This one not only introduces young learners to the fascinating figure of Benjamin Franklin but also the scientific method and critical thinking!

Displacement by Kiku Hughes

This was one of my favorite books last year. This graphic novel does one of my favorite things – adding an element of fantasy to a historical story. This is also a sort of memoir, as the author is experiencing her grandmother’s time in the Japanese internment camps in the 1940s. She has these strange periods of time travel, sometimes for a few minutes, sometimes for months at a time. This is a story about the camps, but also about the inter-generational trauma that experiences like this cause. It’s a beautiful book and a great introduction to this time period. I recommend this one for ages 12+.

Literary Living Books:

Martin and Anne: The Kindred Spirits of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Anne Frank by Nancy Churnin

This beautiful picture book is one of my new favorites. I’ve always heard that Martin Luther King and Anne Frank were born the same year as a way to explain that things we tend to think of as being a long time ago weren’t really that far back. When I discovered that Nancy Churnin wrote a picture book about that, I had to have it in my collection.

Not only is this book beautiful, but it’s inspiring and informative. It introduces young children to these two people who lived parallel lives, both longing for freedom and ultimately dying for it. It’s a great introduction to these historic figures as well as to the holocaust and the civil rights movement.

Ophie’s Ghosts by Justina Ireland

This is a new favorite for me. I loved this story about a young Black girl in 1920s Pittsburgh discovering that she has the ability to see ghosts. Again, I love a historical story with a dash of magic. Ophie and her mother have to move up north after her father is murdered, and they get jobs working in an estate that is haunted by the ghosts of its past. Ophie is a fantastic heroine and the writing in this book is just beautiful. I recommend this for ages 10+.

Eva by Peter Dickinson

I read this book about 5 years ago and I STILL think about it all the time. Eva is a story about a future in which there isn’t much of the natural world left, but humans are still studying the surviving chimpanzees who are nearly all living in captivity. When Eva is in a terrible accident that leaves her body broken, her parents decide to try something new – they put her brain into the body of a chimpanzee!

This story makes for some great discussion – what makes a human, human? Can science go too far? The writing is also very vivid – I almost feel like I was watching a movie when I think back on this book. I recommend this story for ages 12+.

Poetic Living Books:

Poetry for Young People series

I love this series of books because they give children the chance to really hear a poet’s voice. Each book includes a biography of the poet as well as a collection of their poetry. We’ve read several of them and loved each one. These are perfect for the elementary/middle-grade years.

Why Poetry by Matthew Zapruder

This is the perfect book to hand to teens who question why we need to read poetry. Not only did this book inspire me to read more poetry, but it also made me want to try writing it as well! The author gives a compelling argument as to why we should read poetry, and explains that the way most of us learn to read it is what prevents us from enjoying it in the first place.

Favorite Poems Old and New collected by Hellen Ferris

Hands down, this is my favorite classic children’s poetry collection. If you can only manage one collection of poetry, make it this one. This is the kind of book that gets handed down through the generations. It has all the classics from Emily Dickinson, Robert Lewis Stevenson, J.R.R. Tolkein, to Lewis Carroll. I’ve read it through with all four of my children many times over the years, and always look forward to coming back to it.

Scientific Living Books:

Scientists in the Field series

I love this series because it introduces children to current-day scientists and how they conduct their research. The series covers a wide array of subjects from animals to climate change, to space and natural disasters, so there is something to interest every young scientist! I particularly like to use these to supplement our science studies and give kids a peek into how scientists think and work. Not only that, but the series covers so many different topics, you can also learn quite a lot of geography! This series is best for ages 8+.

Coral Reefs: A Journey Through an Aquatic World Full of Wonder by Jason Chin

All of Jason Chin’s books are fantastic, but this one is my favorite. I love the art style, but I also love the way the subject matter is introduced. This story will fascinate children and make them fall in love with coral reefs. I guarantee they will be asking to learn more!

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

I love Bill Bryson’s writing, and this is my favorite of his books that I’ve read. Bryson could honestly make watching paint dry sound interesting. This book covers a wide array of topics in astronomy, chemistry, and physics. He gives you just enough information to make you want to seek out more, so this is a great gateway book to inspire teens (and adults) to learn to love science!

Mathematic Living Books:

How Much is a Million by David M. Schwartz

This is a great way to explain big numbers to children. The illustrations make this book a lot of fun and add to the story. While this book is aimed at a young audience, I think it can be helpful for all ages to better understand the difference between a million and a billion.

Mathstart series by Stuart J. Murphy

I love this series for elementary-age students. It’s a great way to explore new concepts in a fun and interesting way. My oldest daughter, looking over my shoulder as I write this, commented, “ah yes, back when math was fun and there were funky picture books to make it interesting.” She remembers this series fondly, and I have to say, as a non-math person, this series even made it less painful for me to teach.

Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature by Sarah C. Campbell

This is a beautiful book that combines a math concept (Fibonacci numbers) with science and art. Because it covers a math concept, this picture book appeals to a wide age range. That’s one of the things I love about living math books – for the most part, they can work across grade levels to make math inspiring and exciting!

Artist Living Books:

Why is Art Full of Naked People? by Susie Hodges

I won’t lie – I originally picked this one up just because of the title. It cracked me up and I wanted to know what other kinds of questions it answered. This book is a fantastic introduction to art and art movements. It explains how to look at art and why artists do what they do. It is one of my youngest daughter’s favorite art books, and I love it so much I included it in Levels 1 – 4 of Build Your Library.

The Art Lesson by Tomie de Paola

This book is a family favorite, and we were lucky enough to get it signed by Tomie de Paola just a year or so before he passed away. This is the story of how his family encouraged him to become an artist. This book encouraged three of my four children to become artists as well. It’s a beautiful story about how we can embrace our children’s passions and inspire them to learn and grow.

Vincent’s Starry Night and Other Stories: A Children’s History of Art by Michael Bird

This has been in our morning basket for several years, we just keep coming back to it. The author introduces children to art history through stories about pieces of art and the artists that created them. From cave paintings to the present day, this is a gorgeous book to include in your art and history studies!

Coming up next…

This wraps up our discussion of living books. I hope that you found it informative! Next week, we will be discussing another tenet of Charlotte Mason’s homeschool methodology that ties into living books – Narration! Until then, happy reading!

See Also:
Charlotte Mason in the Secular Homeschool
A Literary Education book
About Build Your Library
Homeschool Tidbits: Build Your Library’s Weekly Video Blog Series


Emily Cook is the author and creator of the secular homeschool curriculum Build Your Library, a literature-based K-12 program infused with the teachings of Charlotte Mason. She writes full-year lesson plans as well as shorter topical unit studies. Emily has been homeschooling her four children in Southern NH for 18 years. She is passionate about reading aloud to children of all ages and loves to share her love of literature with others. She and her family also make incredibly dorky videos about homeschooling, books, and more on Youtube at ARRRGH! Schooling. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. You can also check out her author page on Amazon.

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Have you been looking for a literature based homeschool curriculum that is secular? How about a way to incorporate narration, copywork, dictation and memory work into your child’s education? Or art study that ties into history?

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