What are “living books?” They’re books that are so exciting, their content comes to life in an exciting and engaging way. They are well-written, offering more to the reader than meaningless fluff.
Living books teach about life, character and the human spirit. Even when addressing an academic concept, living books do it in a fun and engaging way. Living books are the complete opposite of dry, boring textbooks!
Could there be a better gift idea than an exciting living book? I think not, especially in these times when electronic devices—texting, social media, and general cybersurfing—seem to be dominating so much time and attention in an attempt to capture the minds of even the youngest among us.
A living book just might be the gift solution you’ve been searching for. Consider the following as my attempt at creating a list of examples—some of the best living books from which to choose, arranged according to age and reading level.
The term “living book” is not a category or subject you’re likely to find in any bookstore—physical or online. It’s a term that has been coined in the world of homeschoolers. I think it’s a good one!
Level 1: Shared Reading
Short sentences, familiar words, and simple concepts for children eager to read on their own. Generally Kindergarten – 1st Grade.
SAMMY THE SEAL, by Syd Hoff. Sammy, the adventurous seal, leaves the zoo for the day and ventures into the big, busy city. Along the way he finds a school full of kids and new things to do—and he even learns to read!
LITTLE BEAR, by Else Holmelund Minarik. This classic was written in 1957 and remains as beloved today as it was then. An ALA Notable Children’s Book, it’s full of warm and lovingly playful stories that are perfect for children learning to sound out words and sentences.
Snipp, Snapp, Snurr, and the Buttered Bread, by Maj Lindman. Warm, wholesome, engaging stories of three little Swedish boys.
Level 2: Reading with Help
Engaging stories, longer sentences; language play for developing readers who need some help. Generally, 1st – 2nd Grade.
Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish. Book 1 of 11 in the Amelia Bedelia series. From dressing the chicken to drawing the drapes, Amelia Bedelia does exactly what Mr. and Mrs. Rogers tell her to do. If things get a bit mixed up, well, that’s okay. When Amelia Bedelia is involved, everything always turns out perfectly in the end!
George Washington the First President, by Sarah Albee. The life of George Washington is introduced in this early reader biography. After General Washington led the American colonists to victory in the Revolutionary War, everyone thought he should become the first president of the United States. Washington would turn out to be a strong leader and a wise president.
My Weird School: Class Pet Mess!, by Dan Gutman. Mr. Cooper’s class is getting a pet! Alexia hopes it is something cool, like a snake. But is she ready to take care of the pet, or will it be one weird mess? Join A.J. and the gang from Ella Mentry School as they show young readers why they attend the weirdest—and most fun!—school around.
Level 3: Reading Alone
Complex plots, challenging vocabulary, and high-interest topics for the independent reader. 3rd Grade.
The Josefina Story Quilt, by Eleanor Coerr. California here we come! Faith’s Pa says there’s no room on a wagon train for Josefina, a chicken who’s too tough to eat and too old to lay eggs. But Faith loves her pet. Can Josefina show Pa that she still has a few surprises left in her?
My Parents Think I’m Sleeping by Jack Prelutsky is the perfect book to get young readers excited about bedtime A funny collection of poems about a boy who should be sleeping, but manages to find more than just storybooks and his model rocket kit to keep him awake.
Dust for Dinner by Ann Turner. Jake and Maggy lived on a farm where they loved to sing and dance to the music from Mama’s radio. Then terrible dust storms came and ruined the land. The family makes the long, hard journey west to California-away from the dust storms, where the land is still green. A dramatic story about the dust bowl, set during the Great Depression shows how one family stays together during difficult times.
Level 4: Advanced Reading
Short paragraphs chapters, and exciting themes for the perfect bridge to advanced chapter books. Generally 4th – 5th Grade.
The Animal Rescue Club by John Himmelman. Who do you call when a squirrel is trapped in a mud puddle or a baby opossum is stuck in a drainpipe? Meet Jeffrey, Beaner, Raymond, and Mike—the Animal Rescue club! Adventures wait around every corner as this intrepid band of kids, working with a Wildlife Rehabilitator, help the wild animals in their neighborhood.
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. A series of seven fantasy novels by C. S. Lewis. It is considered a classic of children’s literature and is the author’s best-known work. Set in the fictional realm of Narnia, a fantasy world of magic, mythical beasts, and talking animals, the series narrates the adventures of various children who play central roles in the unfolding history of that world.
Prairie School, by Avi. It’s the 1880s, Noah works hard on the family farm and roams free on the Colorado prairie. One day his Aunt Dora arrives to give him some schooling. Noah doesn’t think he needs it. What use is reading on the prairie? But what Noah discovers will change his life forever.
OLDER YOUNG READERS
More extensive plots for intermediate-to-advanced readers; longer chapters. Grades 6-8.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Venture back in time to Victorian London to join literature’s greatest detective team — the brilliant Sherlock Holmes and his devoted assistant, Dr. Watson — as they investigate a dozen of their best-known cases. Originally published in 1892, this is the first and best collection of stories about the legendary sleuth. It’s also the least expensive edition available.
Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer by John Grisham. In the small city of Strattenburg, there are many lawyers, and though he’s only thirteen years old, Theo Boone thinks he’s one of them. Theo knows every judge, policeman, court clerk—and a lot about the law. He dreams of being a great trial lawyer, of a life in the courtroom.
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. As the German troops begin their campaign to “relocate” all the Jews of Denmark, Annemarie Johansen’s family takes in Annemarie’s best friend, Ellen Rosen, and conceals her as part of the family. Through the eyes of ten-year-old Annemarie, we watch as the Danish Resistance smuggles almost the entire Jewish population of Denmark, nearly seven thousand people, across the sea to Sweden. The heroism of an entire nation reminds us that there were pride and human decency in the world, even during a time of terror and war.
YOUNG ADULT FICTION
Narrative of the Life of David Crockett of the State of Tennessee by David Crockett. This book is “one of the most significant documents of the American pioneer experience in the first half of the nineteenth century. In addition, it’s a fascinating and entertaining book for anyone interested in U.S. history.”
The King’s Fifth by Scott O’Dell. In this deeply affecting novel, Scott O’Dell envelops the reader in the heroic world of the conquistadors—a world that is at once somber and many-colored. Though they may have been ruthless, these steel-helmeted young men of Spain lived their lives on the very edge of eternity with style and uncommon courage.
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. A great modern classic and the prelude to The Lord of the Rings. “A glorious account of a magnificent adventure, filled with suspense and seasoned with a quiet humor that is irresistible . . . All those, young or old, who love a fine adventurous tale, beautifully told, will take The Hobbit to their hearts.”
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. Discovered in the attic in which she spent the last years of her life, Anne Frank’s remarkable diary has become a world classic—a powerful reminder of the horrors of war and an eloquent testament to the human spirit.
My Indian Boyhood, by Luther Standing Bear. Although the traditional Sioux nation was in its last days when Luther Standing Bear was born in the 1860s, he was raised in an ancestral manner to be a successful hunter and warrior and a respectful and productive member of Sioux society. Known as Plenty Kill, young Standing Bear belonged to the Western Sioux tribe that inhabited present-day North and South Dakota. In My Indian Boyhood, he describes the home life and education of Indian children.
Destination Moon: The Spiritual and Scientific Voyage of the Eighth Man to Walk on the Moon by James Irwin. This book tells astronaut Irwin’s incredible journey onto the great lunar wonder. Readers get a rare glimpse into Irwin’s loving, caring, gracious, sensitive spirit. Prepare to be impressed with his vision to take the Gospel to the world through the flags that he took with him to the moon.
In His Steps, by Charles M. Sheldon. This classic that has been inspiring and challenging readers to a spiritual adventure for over a century now gets an updated look for a new generation. A “classic novel about the members of one small-town church who dare to live their everyday lives for Christ.”
The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom. Corrie ten Boom was a Dutch watchmaker who became a heroine of the Resistance, a survivor of Hitler’s concentration camps, and one of the most remarkable evangelists of the twentieth century. In World War II she and her family risked their lives to help Jews and underground workers escape from the Nazis, and for their work, they were tested in the infamous Nazi death camps. Only Corrie among her family survived to tell the story of how faith ultimately triumphs over evil.
Now That’s a Good Question! by R.C. Sproul. Answers more than 300 challenging questions about life and faith. Sproul, a distinguished theologian, and educator, addresses doctrinal points and contemporary issues such as euthanasia, evolution, and abortion. His answers cover over three hundred topics in a personable, easy-to-read style. Readers will find this book a great resource for those challenging questions of life and faith.