Must Read Books for Homeschooled Kids

by Allie Olsen
must read books featured image

Y’all… our family library is out of control. We have shelves up to the ceiling and books in piles on the floor and books in the basement and in each of our bedrooms. Aaaand I still owe overdue fines at the library. And I have no regrets. 

I have three goals in my homeschool and raising 8 readers is one of them. I want them to learn empathy through reading others’ experiences, to embrace adventure and to use their imaginations!

When the kids were all little, I used to read every book they did. Once I couldn’t stay a step ahead, I leaned on friends’ recommendations. That’s what this post is: book recommendations from a homeschooling friend!! I hope you find a new fave or two for your fam to try!

“No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty… The only imaginative works we ought to grow out of are those which it would have been better not to have read at all.” -C.S. Lewis

I’ve broken the list up into 4 age groups:

  1. Littles (baby books and picture books)
  2. Primary Grades (early readers through 5th grade)
  3. Middle Grades (6th – 8th)
  4. High School (9th – 12th)

I’m a firm believer that any book worth reading is worth reading again when you’re older. You won’t find piddly books here just because they’re “popular”. I’m also an advocate for saving books for when they’re best appreciated so I don’t usually pull books with teen or adult content for my middle schoolers no matter how well  the kiddos read. Just because my kids can manage a book doesn’t mean they’ll love it most then.

All that to say, tweak the age ranges to best suit your family.

Good Baby Books & Picture Books for gifts

Baby Books & Picture Books
These are great baby shower gifts; if mamma has to read a book again and again, make sure it’s a good one! Most titles are affiliate links directly to the good books:

  • Each, Peach, Pear, Plumb Board Book – This is a classic nursery rhyme with hide-and-seek art to engage your little one.
  • Sandra Boynton Board Books crack me up and are funny time after time, especially Blue Hat, Green Hat, the barking book Doggies and Moo, Baa, La La La (this set has all of these silly board books!)
  • Jan Brett is a phenomenal illustrator and her board book, The Mitten, is a must-add to a little one’s collection.
  • Mr. Brown Can Moo Board Book This is the only abridged book I will ever recommend. Dr. Suess is at his best in this silly book that plays with sounds. It’s so fun to read aloud! Ooooh! I thought of one more abridged Dr. Suess I love as a board book: Hand, Hand, Fingers Thumb. It’s better abridged, believe it or not!
  • Click, Clack, Moo Board Book When this first came out I was smitten. I like it as a board book so I can read it w/littles without it getting ripped up. (but don’t give in to the temptation to buy all the sequels)
  • If You Give a Mouse a Cookie may as well make the list… it’s funny and reminds me of myself when I try to clean the house and of my kids when I give them an assignment. LOL Like Click, Clack Moo, I like the original but don’t go for the sequels, personally. I prefer variety in my reading diet (which is why I don’t have the whole Dr. Suess collection… please put down the stones! I like all the kids books just don’t want to read all of them 100 times!)
  • Always Room for One More I give this book at every baby shower – It’s a delightful, rollicking Scottish folk tale about a family that shows outlandish hospitality.
  • Fool Moon Rising This short, rhyming storybook encourages preschoolers and young elementary students to use their gifts to reflect God’s glory, not to brag or soak up praise themselves. I’m a fan!
  • Madeline In an old house in Paris, all covered with vines, lived 12 little girls in 2 straight lines… This edition has all the original stories in one hardcover book.
  • Miss Rumphius A strong, adventurous young woman leaves an impact on her whole community as she ages gracefully. Inspiring and well illustrated, it made me love lupines before I ever saw one!
  • Angelina Ballerina When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a ballerina when I grew up for about 2 years. Those were my Angelina Ballerina years and I still love the books. Angelina works through some growing up challenges in the books, from an injury to hurt feelings to disobeying parents, and I learned alongside her. The illustrations are delightful, too!
  • Literally anything by Virginia Lee Burton: Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, The Little House, Katy and the Big Snow are our favorites and they’re all combined in this one Virginia Lee Burton Treasury. I, personally, prefer individual books over the treasuries, though, because they’re not as heavy when we’re snuggling on the couch and kiddos can carry their book of preference to me.
  • The Complete Brambly Hedge Collection is hard to oversell. The illustrations are some of the best in any children’s book ever and the stories are absolutely adorable! We had mice in our attic when we read this and it made it very, very hard to {ahem} take care of the mice eating our Christmas decor. Brambly Hedge is long- we read it like a chapter book in the evenings- and follows a sweet little mousey community through all the seasons. It’s a must-add to your family library! I read it to my sons so don’t think it’s too sweet for boys.
  • The earliest books my emerging readers tackle are the Bob books. They’re so short that the kids will fly through several in a row, gaining courage to tackle progressively harder words and also training to be voracious readers. Our littlest son reads these over and over so he can read like his big bubba. We have a huge boxed set someone at our co-op passed on to us. This set is similar, though you can likely check them out from your library to save some cash on something your child will zip through quickly.
  • As you look toward the Primary grades, I can’t recommend Five In A Row enough. This curriculum guides you through K, 1 & 2nd grades and is the perfect introduction to homeschooling. Using their guidance, you’ll read 1 picture book a week and draw history, geography, science, social studies and math lessons from it. I’ll write another blog just about this sometime because I love this so much! Five In A Row will introduce you to the best children’s picture books, a couple which I listed above.

must read primary books

Primary Grades
Once your kiddo is reading well, these will draw him “further up and further in”. Wesley is our current “Primary Grade” reader. He’s 9 and loves adventure books (he hasn’t made it through all these yet!). I’ve listed these in progressively rigorous order:

  • Henry & Mudge books were some of the first our boys read alone. They’re “Step Into Reading” stories that are worth reading (or, as a mamma, hearing) again and again and again. Henry & Mudge show why dogs are boys’ best friends featuring strengths such as loyalty.
  • Amelia Bedelia books are hilarious “step into reading” books. They’re extra fun because, written in 1963, generations of Americans have learned to read on them. It’s fun to share jokes and memories across generations!
  • In a sea of step-into-reading mediocrity, Balto is an inspiring, true story of a dog whose bravery saved many lives! I had a rule for years that our kiddos could check out 1 fiction and 1 non-fiction or biography. Balto is engaging enough to fall in any category and kiddos love learning it’s a true story!
  • Geronimo Stilton Our early readers loved that Geronimo Stilton books stick images in with the text occasionally. Sure, your kiddo can read… but a little help doesn’t hurt! There are over 80 books about this detective mouse and his cheesy (pun intended) {mis}adventures.
  • Hank the Cowdog has been popular for all 25+ of my parenting years for a reason. It’s a series (81 books and counting) which makes library trips so easy. Just grab the next Hank book! Hank’s adventures guarding the farm have the dry humor I love but at a level my kids can catch the jokes. They’ll often come in with a book to read me a line and wait for me to join in the giggles. Yeah, kid. I get it. ;)
  • Calvin & Hobbes – I’ve never been a huge fan of comics. Don’t get me wrong, I’m an 80s kid so I loved Sunday funnies. But I’ve never been the type to read comic books. Two of my boys, however, are big fans. Wes, 9, fell in love with reading through the imaginative shenanigans of Calvin & Hobbes. Bonus? I now hear all about their antics instead of the same 5 knock-knock jokes over and over!
  • Miss Piggle Wiggle never, ever, ever gets old. The original is my favorite but there are 5… her “cures” for naughty children are timeless; the slow-eater, tiny bite-taker cure is my favorite!
  • I resisted Magic Treehouse books at first… I think as a young mom I was trying to discern between make believe and magic and when scary moments in stories are ok and when they aren’t. As my kiddos explored this series, I saw their curiosity piqued. The rinse-and-repeat story structure didn’t dissuade my early independent readers.
  • I tried to talk my kids into loving The Boxcar Children but we pulled them out too late and they were too old for them. This series about orphan children making a railroad car their home was a favorite of mine (my sister loved it too!) when we were kids. Even though it didn’t catch on at our house, you should give it a try! (I’m making a note to pull them out next school year for Wesley- he’s the perfect age!)
  • If you didn’t read The Little House on the Prairie series aloud when the kiddos were younger, pull out the boxed set now. These are a rite of passage for young readers!
  • The Green Ember series is a current favorite at our house. Wesley (9) is reading them and also listening on Alexa at bedtime with his little brother (6). It’s a bunny adventure book complete with battles and mystery.
  • Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms by Lissa Evans takes you into a world of magic and mystery. Stuart is new to town at the awkward age of 10, is awkwardly small and is stuck next to awkwardly forward neighbors (triplets!). His quest requires intellect, teamwork and some old-fashioned magic. If you fall in love with this tale, there’s a sequel: Horten’s Incredible Illusions: Magic, Mystery & Another Very Strange Adventure
  • While your kiddos are working their way through the books and series mentioned above, keep a joke book or three on hand. They’ll read through it perfecting their kid humor and not even realize they’re decoding and also learning to parse literal meanings from humorous or figurative ones!

Middle Grades

  • Nancy Drew – is any library truly a library without these bright yellow beacons into the world of a clever, girl detective on the shelves? When I was a young reader, my mom promised that each time I finished a Nancy Drew, she’d buy me the next. She got her wish and I became a reader. By the time I read all 52 Nancy Drew books, the formula was familiar and I didn’t love Hardy Boys as much… if you’re a boy mom, I suppose you could start with Hardy Boys instead. They were written starting in 1930- the year my grandma was born! I found this naturally led to conversations with my kiddos when they encountered practices, relationships or items that were unfamiliar (telephone on the wall!?).
  • The Wingfeather Saga is Andrew Peterson’s adventure series which is now an animated show! Read the books first… that’s always the rule. From their advertising: “full of characters rich in heart, smarts, and courage. It is a tale that children of all ages will cherish, families can read aloud, and readers’ groups are sure to enjoy discussing for its many layers of meaning. Each book features interior illustrations from Joe Sutphin, funny footnotes, a map of the fantastical world, inventive appendices, and fanciful line art.”
  • American Adventure Series (50 books) was a series that the kids zipped through while we were studying American History.
  • The Door Within was an early favorite of my fantasy-loving son. He insisted I include this high-drama, imaginative, world-building story.
  • Lamplighter Books are beautifully bound and look absolutely beautiful on the bookshelf. They aim to “build Christlike character one story at a time.” The stories are mostly from the 1800s & 1900s and intentionally teach character. I don’t typically turn to books that moralize, I love a well crafted book for lit’s sake, but these stories are well-written, poignant ways to learn hard lessons. We’ve enjoyed them over our decades of parenting, typically read aloud or we’ll listen to their radio theatre pieces.
  • Mysterious Benedict Society I LOVE THESE BOOKS!!! Middle grade fiction is my favorite and I’ve found few more delightful than these! They’re fantastical, whimsical and have robust vocabulary all while telling the stories of an unlikely group of loyal friends who use their incredible intelligence to save the world. Stewart also wrote The Secret Keepers, which we also enjoyed.
  • Ranger’s Apprentice is a series that every single one of my kiddos has read (well, 6/8… two to go!). They’re high adventure stories complete with secret alliances, death threats and battles with fantastical creatures. While it’s a fantasy series, the lands referenced are very familiar and they read like a Middle Ages adventure. If you enjoy these, Flanagan wrote a companion series, Brotherband, which is about a group of outcasts that become a strong Viking crew.
  • 100 Cupboards I’ve still never read this one but my 17 yo son insisted I add this to the list as well!
  • C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books are often marketed to younger readers but I’m a huge fan of reading closely in middle school if you haven’t read them aloud yet. He crafts such rich sentences and has allusions to other lit… the books get better when you re-read later in your education!
  • Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians series & Tress of the Emerald Sea by Brandon Sanderson
  • The Little Britches series departs from the fantasy listed above. This brings a heavy dose of American West realism and is such a great story.

The middle years of our homeschool journey were Sonlight driven so we were reading 2 books for school at any point in time… their 2-year world history and 2-year American history were some of our favorite years homeschooling! We read so many amazing historical fiction books! None of those are on here. There are so many good books to read and a lifetime to do it in. I’m filling this list with fiction that you’re likely not reading with any curricula.

High School
Your high school student is likely to work their way through classics Charles Dickens, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Jane Austin, Lewis Carroll, Dostoyevsky, Robert Louis Stevenson, Poe, etc as part of their studies so I won’t recommend those. There is no doubt that they’re essential but, like I mentioned at the end of the middle school list, I’ll make my suggestions of more casual reads that can fill their spare time.

  • You probably haven’t read much George MacDonald. But you should! The father of modern fantasy, he inspired Lewis, Tolkien, Lewis Carroll, L’Engle and a host of other authors. I’m putting him in the high school section because the vocab in his books make them challenging for most younger readers and the subject matter can be heavy but many books were originally written for primary aged kiddos. A father of 11, his prose can be appreciated by all ages. My favorites: The Day Boy and the Night Girl, The Princess & The Goblin
  • The Squires Tales are a series of Arthurian tales. Every well-read student should be familiar with the Round Table and its surrounding legends. If you haven’t broached these in school, hand them off as fiction now!
  • Redwall was published in 1987 and is still a classic fantasy worth reading today. Brian Jacques’ (pronounced JAKES) adventure stories have proven timeless. From the publisher: “The animals of Redwall Abbey are peaceful by nature—yet when they encounter evil, the kind-hearted mice, hares, and otters are brave in the face of battle. In this epic series, adventure abounds and legends are made.” The link I put is for the first 6 books in the series.
  • The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini. Don’t judge it by the Sony movie that came out in the early 2000s. The books have been well loved by high schoolers since our married son was a kid! I read his adult release last year with anticipation… and would suggest you not pass that to your high schooler. It didn’t make it on my library shelf.
  • If your kiddo loves fantasy, consider anything by Brandon Sanderson. His middle grade books (Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians) is silly and full of cheesy jokes. High school level The Reckoners ups the ante with relationships and complex questions about power. His adult books The Mistborn Saga has a cult following – his world-building skills draw lovers of fantasy to anything he publishes. Sanderson is a professor at BYU and, while his theology doesn’t line up with my Christian tenets, his fantastical worlds are largely grounded in a morality we share.
  • God’s Smuggler is a current fave of our 15 year old daughter. “It was the first time I read a ‘missionary story’ that told the good and hard moments in a missionary’s life.” -Georgia Anne
  • Tolkien, of course, must be read at some point in life… preferably when the student is able to soak up the imagery and not over-analyze the fantastical world he’s painting. For that reason, I like Tolkien as free time reading instead of a course of study.

We’re having a “banned book club” this summer where each teen chooses a book I’ve previously banned for one reason or another and we read and discuss together over snacks. They chose:

  1. The Hunger Games
  2. Percy Jackson
  3. Orbiting Jupiter
  4. Harry Potter
  5. Frankenstein (okay, that one’s not banned but Mamma gets to pick a book, too, and I really wanted to read Karen Swallow Prior’s annotated version!)

Aside from #3 & #5, you may notice a theme… I typically avoid books that are popular and were turned into a movie. I prefer beautifully written prose with robust vocab and thoughtful storylines (no offense, Mr. Riordan). But this summer I’m lifting the ban because sometimes a light beach read is in order.

I mentioned Sonlight up in the middle school section… similarly, we have shelves full of great books from Sonlight and then from Dave Raymond’s history classes & recommendations from Ambleside Online for our high school students. The above are just some fiction they grab in their spare time. I’ll try to add to it as I have time… if you have favorites not on this list, email them to me {} and I’ll update this list!

books for homeschoolers

Published by Allie Olsen