English Language Arts

Self-Directed Reading Lists

Every year, I start with the best intents of having well researched reading lists for the girls for their daily independent reading time. I have book lists from Mensa Kids, Read Aloud Revival, The Good and the Beautiful, etc. What usually happens is about this time of year, after Christmas when we are still trying to get back into the swing of things, a child will finish their latest assigned book and ask me what they are supposed to read next. I panic a little, run over to the bookshelf and start asking them, “Have you read ____? Oh, okay, well how about _____?” My good intentions go by the wayside and I do not start thinking about assigned reading again until the panic when the next child finishes their latest book, or I start planning for the next school year.

This year, I came up with a new plan: a grid of pre-selected books for them to read in whatever order they want, with the books ready to go in a designated space on the bookshelf. I used the “table” utility in MS Word to fill a page with twelve blocks. In each block, there is an image of the cover for each book and a space to write the completion date. I also made sure I had a copy of each book before printing so the covers would match what was on their grid. The only exception was the J.R.R. Tolkien set that I replaced with a newer, leather-like cover set.

For the selections, I tried to choose a variety of appealing books. It is assigned reading, so I did stick in a couple of biographies, historical fiction, and classical literature. However, I made sure to put in fun selections as well. Reading, like food, should nourish but also be pleasurable.

For example, my fourth grader has “Ramona Quimby, Age 8” and “Mrs. Piggle Wiggle’s Magic” on her list as well as “Benjamin Franklin” and “Pocahontas”. Because we covered ancient Greece and Vikings in history this year, I included an easy read of “Greek Myths” by Usborne and “Leif the Lucky”. She requested “The Boxcar Children” and “Pippi Longstocking”, her current book. I included favorites from my own childhood: “Charlotte’s Web”, “Little House in the Big Woods”, and “The Hundred Dresses”. So far, she is on her fourth book, and has yet to choose a biography.

My seventh grader’s list included biographies on Galileo, Benjamin Franklin, William Bradford, and Sacagawea, none of which she has chosen yet. She has stuck with fiction selections so far, completing four of her books. She is currently reading her fifth book “The Hobbit”, the longest of her selections, so I am anticipating she will make it through the other fiction selections and have to read at least a couple of the biographies before the year is up.

My eighth grader is also on her fifth book of her list, and she has also to pick one of the biography selections. However, she started the year with the longest book on her list, “The Mysterious Benedict Society”, so I am confident she will also end up reading at least a biography and a history selection.

So while an improvement upon previous years, I can see a preference for fiction emerging from all three kids. I may make alterations next year that include color coding selections (biographies will be blue boxes, fiction in yellow, history in orange, science in green, etc.) so that they must alternate categories. It’s been wonderful not having to scramble to find the next selection, or the books. Having them all pre-purchased and stored all together on the shelf ensures seamless transition from one book to the next.

If you are curious about what the lists look like, or what the kids are reading this year for school (what they read outside of school is entirely of their own selection), I attached the reading lists below:

You might look at these lists and think, “Well, that is not what the kids are public school in _____ grade are reading…” Yep, you are right, it is not. That is one of the joys of homeschooling, that I can select books that I think each individual child will enjoy reading, while matching up biographies or historical fiction to our history studies this year.


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