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Jamie Martin, editor of Simple Homeschool, also blogs about motherhood at Steady Mom
We all want our kids to fall in love with learning, don’t we?
And we can always use a little help as we press toward that goal. Instead of constantly telling our kids how important learning is, let’s show them–through our own example, of course, but also through the books we bring into our home.
After curling up with Abe Lincoln, Booker T. Washington, Ben Carson, and the other protagonists featured here, we just may find our kids appreciating their education–and eager to learn more–than they were before.
The following ten titles feature main characters who discover just how important learning is, and who grow to love the doors it opens for them.
Me…Jane (ages 4-6)
by Patrick McDonnell
In this picture book biography, McDonnell examines Goodall’s very English childhood and her unexpected wish—nurtured by early exposure to Tarzan—to live and work in Africa. Jane spends most of her time sitting quietly, watching living things.
“One day,” McDonnell writes, “curious Jane wondered where eggs came from. So she and Jubilee snuck into Grandma Nutt’s chicken coop… hid beneath some straw, stayed very still… and observed the miracle.” (The hen looks just as surprised as Jane.)
McDonnell’s concentration on Jane’s childhood fantasies carries a strong message to readers that their own dreams—even the wildly improbable ones—may be realizable, too. ~ Publisher’s Weekly Review
Abe Lincoln: The Boy Who Loved Books (ages 6-8)
by Kay Winters; illus. Nancy Carpenter
Using simple language, bare-bones details, and uncluttered illustrations, Winters introduces America’s sixteenth president. She recounts events from Lincoln’s childhood in Kentucky and Indiana and his young adulthood in New Salem, Illinois.
The engaging narrative emphasizes Lincoln’s love of books and reading, which flourished despite his lack of formal education. Carpenter’s oil-on-canvas illustrations include many details of pioneer life and focus on Lincoln’s humble beginnings. ~ Booklist review
Clara and the Bookwagon (ages 6-8)
by Nancy Smiler Levinson; illus. Carolyn Croll
Clara, a young farm girl growing up in rural Maryland at the turn of the century, dreams of being able to read and to learn, but her hard working, no-nonsense father says, “Books are for rich people. Farm people like us do not have time to read.”
During the summer, Clara meets a woman driving a large wagon filled with books. The woman gives Clara a ride back to the farm where, after much persuading, Clara’s father agrees to let Clara learn to read and to borrow books from America’s first “bookmobile.” ~ School Library Journal Review
More Than Anything Else (ages 6-8)
by Marie Bradby; illus. Chris K. Soentpiet
The spare, lovely narrative of this picture book, based on the childhood of Booker T. Washington, is in the voice of a nine-year-old boy. He tells of leaving his cabin before dark to work all day shoveling salt with his father and older brother: “All day long we shovel it, but it refuses to grow smaller.”
Despite the community’s poverty and toil, there’s a sense of freedom now, something different: “All people are free to go where they want and do what they can.” What Booker wants is to read.
Finally, he finds someone to teach him his letters, and it’s as if he’s reborn. ~ Booklist Review
Mr. George Baker (ages 6-8)
by Amy Hest; illus. Jon J. Muth
One-hundred-year-old George has decided to learn to read, so he waits for the school bus every morning along with his young neighbor, Harry. He studies with a group of grown-ups, while Harry does the same with his classmates down the hall.
George is a musician, “a drummer man, and some people say he’s famous.” But to Harry, he is just a friend who shares the struggle of tackling a new skill. Harry narrates the story in short articulate sentences that present an uncomplicated picture of two unlikely friends.
Watercolor illustrations depict the African-American man and the Caucasian boy and their warm relationship. ~ School Library Journal Review
Prairie School (ages 6-8)
by Avi; illus. Bill Farnsworth
Nine-year-old Noah loves living on the Colorado prairie in the 1880s where he helps his parents with all of the work. When Aunt Dora comes from the East to teach him how to read, he sees no need to do so and refuses to cooperate with her. However, his aunt refuses to give up.
She asks Noah to show her the land even though he warns her that her wheelchair may make it difficult to get around. As he wheels her along, she consults the book in her lap and begins to tell him about the natural things around them.
Impressed by her knowledge, the child decides to learn to read and write, and realizes that his aunt has opened a world beyond the prairies to him. ~ School Library Journal Review
Thank you, Mr. Falker (ages 6-8)
by Patricia Polacco
Here Polacco shares her childhood triumph over dyslexia and discovery of reading. Young Trisha is eager to taste the “sweetness of knowledge” that her grandfather has always revered. But when she looks at words and numbers, everything is a jumble.
Trisha endures the cruel taunts of classmates and falls behind in her studies. But finally the encouragement and efforts of a new fifth grade teacher, Mr. Falker, trigger a monumental turning point in Trisha’s life. She begins to blossom and develop all of her talents, including reading.
Polacco’s tale is all the more heartfelt because of its personal nature. Young readers struggling with learning difficulties will identify with Trisha’s situation and find reassurance in her success. ~ Publisher’s Weekly Review
That Book Woman (ages 6-8)
by Heather Henson; illus. David Small
Cal and his family live high in the Appalachian hills. He’s proud to be a hard worker and scorns his sister, who’d read all day if allowed. When a stranger appears on horseback to deliver books, Cal wants nothing to do with her until one winter evening when she braves the snowy mountain to deliver her goods.
Her courage and strong will make him realize that her job must be very important, so he asks his sister to teach him to read.
Cal’s expressions of resentment and anger, and then his acceptance and enjoyment of reading, are shown with simple yet effective lines. ~ School Library Journal
May B. (ages 8-10)
by Caroline Starr Rose
As unforgiving as the western Kansas prairies, this extraordinary verse novel paints a gritty picture of late-19th-century frontier life from the perspective of a 12-year-old dyslexic girl named Mavis Elizabeth Betterly… May B. for short.
Ma and Pa, hurting for money, hire out their daughter to the Oblingers, a newlywed couple who’ve just homesteaded 15 miles west—just until Christmas, Pa promises.
May is bitter: “I’m helping everyone / except myself.” She has trouble enough at school with her cumbersome reading without missing months… and how can she live in such close quarters with strangers?
This sad-enough tale crescendos to a hair-raising survival story when May is inexplicably abandoned and left in complete isolation to starve. If May is a brave, stubborn fighter, the short, free-verse lines are one-two punches in this Laura Ingalls Wilder–inspired ode to the human spirit. ~ Kirkus Starred Review
Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story (ages 10-12)
Today he is one of the world’s most brilliant surgeons. Gifted Hands tells the extraordinary true story of an angry, young boy from the inner city who, through faith and determination, grew up to become one of the world’s leading pediatric neurosurgeons.
When Ben was in school, his peers called him the class dummy. But his mother encouraged him to succeed, and Ben discovered a deep love of learning. Ben found that anything is possible with trust and determination. ~ Amazon description
Enjoy falling in love with learning alongside your little people!
“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”
~ C.S. Lewis