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How to find great books to read to your kids
By Sheila Seifert
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FREE Activity Booklet Parent-Child Book Club

I hadn't carefully screened a book before I started reading it to my kids, and I realised too late that the main character solved his problem by lying, without facing any consequences for his decision. When the book ended, we had a good conversation about how the ends don't justify the means, and I began to consider how I could be more proactive in choosing quality books for my kids.

What books to choose

To start a list of books to read to my children, I wrote down titles that made an impact on me, along with the age I was when I read them. To that, I added recommendations from family members, trusted friends and my children's teachers. Then I verified age and content appropriateness through book review websites such as PluggedIn. Here are a few other ideas:

Challenges
When children go through changes, such as a move to a new school, it's wise to find books that focus on similar situations. Otherwise, look for books with realistic characters who appear to use reason or logic to overcome challenges. These character-driven stories can help kids learn to solve their own challenges.

Worldviews

Research the publisher and author to uncover a book's worldview. A publisher's mission statement or an author's biography gives clues. Even lesser-known authors have brief biographies or links to achievements. This helps to better understand why Philip Pullman (The Amber Spyglass) depicts Christianity poorly and George MacDonald (The Princess and the Goblin) represents it well; or why Frances Hodgson Burnett's earlier books (Sara Crewe) did not have the same Christian Science subtleties as her later work (The Secret Garden). You shouldn't necessarily avoid all books that have a different worldview from yours, but it is important to discuss the books' worldview with your kids if there is one. Unfortunately, a book written by someone with a biblical worldview doesn't guarantee that a book is written well. So use your common sense as you find books for your family to enjoy together.

Book reviews

Read a book review from a trusted source, and then consider the appropriateness of the genre and plot for your children (age, developmental stage, current life challenges). Once you decide on a book that will work with your children's personalities, interests and developmental stage — physically and spiritually — read it to them. When done, discuss the book through free tools such as the parent-child discussion questions at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Reading to 4 to 7 year olds

Book titles listed below have been reviewed by Focus on the Family, though not all books published by Focus on the Family have reviews because they are wholly approved by Focus on the Family. The titles below are intended to help parents create their own list of books to read to their children. There is some overlap of book titles between the age groups because of the wide variety of differences in children at each age and stage. Remember that PluggedIn.com book reviews linked to the title of most of the following books, are not endorsements and cover only the content and theme of a book, not its literary merit.

Adventure

Bible Kidventures: Stories of Danger and Courage*
Kids remain engaged as you read them four Bible stories in this choose-your-own Kidventure. Spiritual topics include trusting God and the power of worship.

The Princess and the Goblin
This 1872 classic fairy tale is ideal to be read to younger children. Spiritual topics include living by faith and how to treat nonbelievers.

Stone Fox
The excitement is gripping in this story that places a boy and his dog against an impossible task — getting the money to pay the taxes to save his family's farm. Character quality: perseverance.

By the Great Horn Spoon!
Loaded with adventure, 12 year old Jack and his aunt's butler head to the California gold fields to get enough money to save Aunt Arabella's home. Character quality: resilience and zeal for life.

Classic stories

Little House in the Big Woods
Take a step back in time to learn about the adventures of the Ingall's family as they work on their 1871 homestead in Wisconsin. Theme: family life of pioneers.

Little House on the Prairie
The Ingall's family moves to the Kansas prairie, and readers can follow their adventures living in a log house in 1868. Character quality: resilience.

Contemporary

The Crazy Christmas Angel*
Eric can't believe what he sees — a Christmas tree angel comes to life!

Frindle
Nick Allen causes all sorts of problems with one simple word: frindle. How much can one word change an entire town?

Jones & Parker Case Files*
There's something mysterious going on in everyone's favourite town . . . Odyssey, of course No mystery is too big or too small for Emily Jones and Matthew Parker.

Mudsharks
Mudshark is smart, but is he smarter than a parrot?

The World According to Humphrey
Humphrey the Hamster learns all about the students in his class and has adventures as the classroom pet.

Fantasy

The BFG
Eight year old Sophie is snatched by a BFG. She must learn to survive in a kingdom of giants. Then one night, she comes up with a plan to destroy all mean giants.

The Chocolate Touch
John has a problem: everything he touches turns to chocolate!

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
Four siblings are sent to the countryside during World War II. Once there, they find their way into a magical land, but this unknown kingdom is in need of deliverance from evil.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
When a little girl and her rabbit are separated, the lost rabbit looks for his young owner.

The Mouse With the Question Mark Tail
A tiny mouse travels around Buckingham Palace in search for answers.

Nurk
A small shrew is on a quest to answer a mysterious plea for help.

The Whipping Boy
Prince Brat kidnaps Jemmy, but the kingdom looks for Jemmy, who is blamed for the prince's disappearance!

Historical fiction

#1 Voyage With the Vikings*
Cousins Patrick and Beth travel back in time to Viking-occupied Greenland, but while searching for an item that Mr. Whittaker asked them to bring back, they encounter a less than-friendly Viking.

#2 Attack at the Arena*
Mr. Whittaker’s ancestor Albert is in trouble and needs a monk’s silver chalice. Cousins Patrick and Beth travel back in time to Rome in the Imagination Station to find it.

#3 Peril in the Palace*
Cousins Patrick and Beth travel to ancient China in the Imagination Station and meet Marco Polo. They need to find the golden tablet of Kublai Khan to save Mr. Whittaker’s ancestor, Albert.

#4 Revenge of the Red Knight*
The Imagination Station takes cousins Patrick and Beth to medieval England rather than returning them to Whit's End. They continue their quest to help Mr. Whittaker's ancestor while looking for a way home.

#5 Showdown With the Shepherd*
Cousins Patrick and Beth saved Albert, but an evil man named Hugh escapes in the Imagination Station. They must find him and keep him from helping Goliath and the Philistines defeat the Israelites.

#6 Problems in Plymouth*
Cousins Patrick and Beth travel to Plymouth to keep a time-traveling villain named Hugh from changing history and ruining the first Thanksgiving. They must find a way to return him to his own time.

#7 Secret of the Prince’s Tomb*
Patrick and Beth try to help the Habiru people, who are being enslaved by the Egyptians. If they can't free them, they want to give them hope.

#8 Battle for Cannibal Island*
The Imagination Station takes Patrick and Beth on an adventure on the high seas. They meet a ship’s captain and a missionary named James Calvert before coming face to face with cannibals.

#9 Escape to the Hiding Place*
Patrick and Beth arrive in World War II Holland in the farm country. The children learn to appreciate the bravery and sacrifice of everyday people who helped the Jews.

#10 Challenge on the Hill of Fire*
Beth and Patrick meet St. Patrick teaching the Irish about Christianity. In Ireland, druids control the people through fear until the king and his people accept St. Patrick’s God.

#11 Hunt for the Devil’s Dragon*
If you're brave, follow cousins Beth and Patrick to Libya in the 13th century. The town of Silene is being terrorised by a vicious animal that is eating livestock.

#12 Danger on a Silent Night*
Patrick and Beth ponder the origins of giving gifts at Christmas. Whit uses the Imagination Station to introduce them to the wise men who sought Jesus.

#13 The Redcoats Are Coming*
Cousins Patrick and Beth find themselves in the first battles of the Revolutionary War. They must avoid the loyalists and not be mistaken as spies while trying to deliver a letter to Paul Revere.

#14 Captured on the High Seas*
Beth and Patrick become prisoners of war on a British ship during the American Revolution. They try to help an American officer and an African American sailor escape.

#15 Surprise at Yorktown*
Beth and Patrick help slaves escape at Yorktown. They also track a suspected spy and meet Generals Cornwallis, Lafayette and Washington during negotiations for the surrender of the British army.

#16 Doomsday in Pompeii*
When Patrick takes a trip alone in the Imagination Station, he ends up in Pompeii in 79 A.D. a day before Mount Vesuvius erupts

#17 In Fear of the Spear*
Mr. Silva and Beth escape a jaguar and are captured by tribesmen. They learn about Kimo, the first Auca to know Jesus, and Kimo baptises Dr. Silva.

#18 Trouble on the Orphan Train*
Patrick and Beth arrive on an orphan train, heading west. They befriend an orphan who is falsely accused of being part of a train robbery.

#19 Light in the Lion's Den*
Beth and Patrick learn about Babylon and how Daniel chose to serve God even when it meant disobeying an earthly king.

#20 Inferno in Tokyo*
Eugene tells Patrick and Beth they need to find Nicholas Tesla. They do not know who he is, but find themselves in Tokyo, Japan, during a 1923 tsunami, earthquake and fire. They help the survivors.

#21 Madman in Manhattan*
Nikola Tesla has taken Beth, and now he wants to use the Imagination Station to go back in history and register his patents for inventions before Thomas Edison and Henry Ford can register theirs.

#22 Freedom at the Falls*
Patrick and Beth help Sally, a slave on the Underground Railroad, escape, as they ride the Lincoln Special, a train that is taking Abraham Lincoln, his family and friends to his inauguration.

#23 Terror in the Tunnel*
Beth and Patrick near Washington, D.C., on a train with Abraham Lincoln, who is heading to his first inauguration. But a band of assassins plan to meet Lincoln in Baltimore and end his presidency before it starts. Can the cousins help get him through the city safely and on to his big history-making day?

The Boxcar Children
Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny search for a place to call home after their parents die.

Don't Forget Winona
Winona and her family move west by traveling on Route 66.

A Lion to Guard Us
In 1609, preteen Amanda and her younger siblings do whatever they can to reach their father who is awaiting them in the New World.

Strawberry Girl
The Boyer family moves from the mountains of northern Florida to the state's southern lakes area in the early 1900s. They raise cattle, tend an orange grove and plant a variety of crops — including strawberries.

The Wheel on the School
The storks of Shora are gone, and children of the village try to draw them back.

Reading to 8 to 11 year olds

Book titles listed below have been reviewed by Focus on the Family, though not all books published by Focus on the Family have reviews because they are wholly approved by Focus on the Family. The titles below are intended to help parents create their own list of books to read to their children. There is some overlap of book titles between the age groups because of the wide variety of differences in children at each age and stage. Remember that PluggedIn.com book reviews, that are linked to the title of most of the following books, are not endorsements and cover only the content and theme of a book, not its literary merit.

Adventure

Bible Kidventures: New Testament*
These action-packed tales follow fictional kids through real events from the New Testament. Bible Kidventures helps children manage the transition from Bible story picture books to reading the Bible on their own.

Bible Kidventures: Old Testament*
These action-packed tales from Focus on the Family for children ages 10 and up follow fictional kids through real events from the Old Testament. Written by respected Christian authors, this series will help children manage the transition from Bible story picture books to reading the Bible on their own, and show them that even at a young age they can be a part of God's larger story.

Bible Kidventures: Stories of Danger and Courage*
Choose-your-own ending in four different Bible stories: the battle of Jericho, crossing the Red Sea, escaping Saul and using worship against enemy armies.

Black Beauty
Black Beauty is born into a good situation and is raised to be a faithful horse. His life is forever changed when his kind master is forced to sell him.

The Great Turkey Walk
In 1860, 15 year old Simon Green buys a large herd of turkeys to sell out West. On his 1000 mile walk to Denver, he gains new friends and finds his family.

Jump Into the Sky
Young African-American Levi travels through the Jim Crow South looking for his father.

My Side of the Mountain
Sam Gribley leaves New York City and travels to a mountain.

Raiders From the Sea*
Briana O'Toole (Bree) and her brother are kidnapped by Viking marauders. Will God help them escape and return home?

Classic stories

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
When Alice follows the White Rabbit down a rabbit hole, she finds herself in a unbelievable land where she can change her size.

Anne of Green Gables
Brother and sister Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert want to adopt a boy to help them care for their land. When Anne Shirley shows up, she changes them forever.

Call It Courage
Mafatu's history of being afraid leads him to a determined voyage.

Carry on Mr. Bowditch
Nathaniel Bowditch grows up in the sailing community of Salem.

Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates
Hans Brinkers' wooden skates challenge other skaters with silver blades.

The Jungle Book: Mowgli's Story
Kipling's collection of stories includes Mowgli, the boy raised by wolves.

Oliver Twist
An orphan boy becomes a pickpocket in London.

Peter Pan
Three siblings Wendy, Michael, and John travel to Never Land.

Pilgrim's Progress*
Christian leaves his comfortable life to go on a dangerous journey, all for the hope of a godly life.

Treasure Island
When sea captain Billy Bones dies at the Admiral Benbow Inn, young Jim finds the pirate’s map and embarks on a perilous journey in search of treasure.

Contemporary

Asking for Trouble*
Savannah (Savvy) Smith has moved to England with her family and is trying to fit into her new school, Wexburg Academy.

The Christy Miller Collection, vol. 1*
A volume set of the first three Christy Miller series books.

Danger Lies Ahead!*
Discover the adventures that happen in the town of Odyssey with this 4-in-1 book! Featuring the stories, Lights Out At Camp What-a-Nut, The King's Quest, Danger Lies Ahead and A Carnival of Secrets.

The Fight for Kidsboro*
Kidsboro is a small town in the woods behind Whit's End in Odyssey. It's a nice little place. It has a church, a store, a police station, a bakery, a weekly newspaper . . . and a total of zero citizens over the age of 14.

Jones & Parker Case Files*
There's something mysterious going on in everyone's favourite town . . . Odyssey, of course! No mystery is too big or too small for Emily Jones and Matthew Parker.

Losers, Inc.
Two friends start competing to become the best after celebrating being the worst.

Pitcher's Duel
Chip pitches in the state tourney while fighting for his coach's future.

Point of No Return*
Fans of the long-running audio series Adventures in Odyssey can hardly remember a time when there wasn't a Connie or a Eugene - or an Imagination Station. But there was.

Snap Decision*
Chase must decide what to do when a situation hurts his friend Tripp.

Strange Journey Back*
This anthology brings together four books from the hugely popular Adventures in Odyssey series - Strange Journey Back, High Flyer, Secret Cave, and Behind the Locked Door. Join Mark Prescott and his best friend Patti as they learn priceless lessons about friendship, change, and forgiveness.

Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer
Theo is suspected of being a murderer and must clear his name.

Creative Nonfiction

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
From June 1942 to August 1944, Anne Frank kept a diary of her experiences in the Netherlands, after the Netherlands fell to the Nazis during World War II.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
William Kamkwamba is a young man from Malawi, a small nation in southeastern Africa, doesn't let hard times get him down.

Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers
A boy and his father begin homesteading in early Colorado.

Fantasy

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Charlie is a poor boy who wins a Golden Ticket.

The Dark Is Rising
Will Stanton learns about his destiny to stop the forces of evil.

Holes
Stanley Yelnats fights against an age old family curse.

Inkheart
An evil ruler is on the loose from his book prison.

Kingdom's Dawn*
An allegory of knights and medieval battles leading to a final battle.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe*
Your English siblings enter a magical world spellbound by a wicked witch.

Redwall
A group of peace-loving mice must defend themselves.

Historical fiction

The Door in the Wall

Elijah of Buxton

Journey to Jo'burg

Life Behind the Wall*

Little Women

The Marus Manuscripts: Books 1-3*

The Marus Manuscripts: Books 4-6*

Miracles on Maple Hill

Race for Freedom

Shiloh

Snow Treasure

Reading to kids 12 and above

Book titles listed below have been reviewed by Focus on the Family, though not all books published by Focus on the Family have reviews because they are wholly approved by Focus on the Family. Those that don't have reviews are linked to an online bookstore where you can read descriptions about the books. The titles below are intended to help parents create their own list of books to read to their children. There is some overlap of book titles between the age groups because of the wide variety of differences in children at each age and stage. Remember that PluggedIn.com book reviews, linked to the title of most of the following books, are not endorsements and cover only the content and theme of a book, not its literary merit.

Classic stories

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
A professor and his companions expect to find a giant sea monster, not a metal ship that travels underwater that holds them prisoner.

The Bronze Bow
Daniels' revenge for his father's death meets an unlikely message.

Jane Eyre
Jane Eyre's growth into adulthood is accentuated by her love for Mr. Rochester.

Ivanhoe
Sir Ivanhoe defends England against the manipulation of Prince John.

Les Miserables
Jean Valjean is a criminal transformed into a guardian, shaped by forces of good and evil masquerading as men.

Pygmalion
Professor Henry Higgins falls in love with his pupil, after helping her transform from a flower girl into a lady.

The Scarlet Pimpernel
Who is the Scarlet Pimpernel? Those in danger look to him for help, and those behind the French Revolution will stop at nothing to learn his identity.

A Tale of Two Cities
A family is reunited during the French Revolution.

To Kill a Mockingbird
A young African-American man must defend his name in the South.

Uncle Tom's Cabin
Tom and Eliza fight to keep their family intact.

Creative Nonfiction

Roughing It
Mark Twain accompanies his brother west, but his restless nature and desire for wealth make it hard to settle down.

Fantasy

Among the Hidden
Luke is the third child in his family, the youngest of three brothers, which makes him illegal.

The Fellowship of the Ring
Frodo and his eight fellow travellers risk death in their quest to save Middle Earth.

The Hobbit*
Bilbo Baggins and his crew help Dwarves face their archenemy: a terrible dragon.

The Princess Bride
Determined to share his favourite story as a child with his son, William Goldman seems to abridge an old novel, leaving only the exciting parts.

Historical fiction

Across Five Aprils
Although too young to enlist as his brothers and cousin do, Jethro Creighton endures the hardships brought on by the Civil War as he tends the family farm.

The Hiding Place*
Corrie Ten Boom saves persecuted Jews from concentration camps during WWII.

Golden Boy
An African boy with albino skin must face unknown dangers.

Iqbal: A Novel
Iqbal becomes a slave and inspires hope in others around him.

Life Behind the Wall*
The Berlin Wall dominates a group of teens' lives.

Are you ready to create your own list of books to read to your children?

FREE Activity Booklet Parent-Child Book Club

  • Books with asterisks by them are published by Christian publishers.
© 2019 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Published at focusonthefamily.com.

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