If you’re craving a reading list full of magic and fantastic creatures, these books deliver.
Secret worlds, real-life mythology in action, and heroes-in-the-making—who can resist the lure of stories steeped in legend?
Your next picture book
In Young Zeus, the future king of the gods enlists the assistance of a motley crew of super-powered creatures to become the ruler on Mount Olympus.
Your next chapter book
What were the great Greek heroes like when they were Percy and Annabeth’s age? You can find out in Odysseus and the Serpent Maze, in which teenage Odysseus (and some other kids you might recognize) are kidnapped by pirates.
Your next readaloud
Like Percy and his Camp Half-Blood pals, Kendra and Seth discover that mythology is very real—and very, very dangerous. In Fablehaven, first in a series, they find out their grandparents’ farm is actually a preserve for mythic creatures.
Your next teen read
In The Long, Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, holistic detective Dirk Gently finds himself caught up in a mystery surrounding some pretty disgruntled Norse deities.
Your next grown-up book
Neil Gaiman’s dark, complicated American Gods is superficially about a squabble between the New World’s old and new gods is full of big questions.
Can you recommend a good book series for reading aloud? We have read Harry Potter, the Narnia books, and Percy Jackson, all of which we really enjoyed.
I feel like everyone should read Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain (start with The Book of Three), about the adventures of Assistant Pig-Keeper Taran and his friends — the princess/enchantress-in-training Eilonwy, king-turned-not-so-great-bard Fflewddur Fflam, and the curious and perpetually hungry Gurgi — as they fight to save Prydain from evil influences of Annuvin in an imaginary world drawn heavily from Welsh mythology. As in the Harry Potter books, Taran grows up over the course of his adventures so by the time the events in The High King take place, Taran is an adult facing adult decisions. This was one of my favorite series as a kid.
Everybody talks about The Hunger Games, but fewer people seem to know Suzanne Collins’ earlier series the Underland Chronicles, which may actually be a more interesting read. In the series’ first book, Gregor the Overlander, 11-year-old Gregor discovers a world beneath the surface of New York City, populated by giant cockroaches, tame bats, evil rats, and humans who have never seen the sun. Gregor, whose coming may have been foretold in an Underland prophecy, embarks on a series of quests, starting with a journey that might lead him to his long-missing father.
But what’s up with all the heroes? Add a couple of awesome heroines to your series readalouds with the Sisters Grimm, starting with The Fairy Tale Detectives. Sabrina and Daphne Grimm find out that Grimm’s fairy tales is not so much a collection of stories as it is a record of magical mischief cases solved by their famous ancestor. It’s fun to recognize characters from fairy tales living in the real world of Ferryport, and the sisters — especially Sabrina — are complicated, developing people, not just heroine stereotypes.
Another feminist series is Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quintet. Many people stop after A Wrinkle in Time, but continue on with A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters, and An Acceptable Time, and you’ll be well rewarded for your efforts. L’Engle is great reading for bright, thoughtful kids, who will appreciate the science, philosophy, and mathematics concepts that run through her books.
Another destination worth visiting is Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, where you can follow the adventures of young witch-in-training Tiffany Aching. Start with the hilarious The Wee Free Men, in which Tiffany discovers her powers and attracts the loyalty of the Nac Mac Feegle, an army of rowdy blue pixies.
If you’re missing the thrill of a magical world, pick up Charmed Life. It’s not the first book chronologically in Diana Wynne Jones’ Chrestomanci series, but it makes an ideal introduction to a parallel world in which magic is supervised by the powerful enchanter Chrestomanci. In this book, Cat and his sister Gwendolen find themselves studying magic at the Chrestomanci’s own castle.
One of my favorite recent new book series, Lockwood & Co. takes place in an alternate London haunted by ghosts and spectres that can only be seen — and defeated — by children with special abilities. Mysterious Anthony Lockwood hires plucky Lucy and cynical George to join his independent ghost detection agency, where the trio are pitted not only against vengeful spirits but also against the big supernatural agencies run by adults. The Screaming Staircase is the first in the series.
In Fablehaven, Kendra and Seth discover that their grandparents’ isolated country house is actually a preserve for mythical and legendary creatures — one of several secret preserves located around the world. The preserve is governed by strict rules for humans and magical beings, and breaking one of those rules can have serious consequences. Not surprisingly, there are dark forces at work hoping the harness the magical potential in places like Fablehaven.
It’s a little different from a traditional readaloud, but the graphic novel series Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi is a great adventure, following Emily and her brother Navin as they venture into an alternate version of earth to rescue their mom. The series kicks off with The Stonekeeper.
Are you looking for some new book ideas? We take Bespoke Reading List requests! Email us with what you’re looking for — “I have a 9-year-old obsessed with dinosaurs” or “what should a teenager who likes military history read?” — and we’ll play literary matchmaker.
Shelli and I both passionately believe that our magazine should be inclusive of lots of different homeschool motivations and methods. We continue to strive to bring you a variety of resources that will inspire you as you consider what is best for your family. Because we know most homeschoolers enjoy sharing the resources and insights they have learned through homeschooling, we thought we would start a series on our blog about our own homeschools. If nothing else, you will get a behind-the-scenes look in the homes of the editors of home / school / life, but if something here helps you, all the better!
Because there’s a pretty significant age gap between my kids (six years), I decided to do two separate posts to make things easy for myself. Today, I’m sharing some of the resources I use with my 1st grader.
The spine of our curriculum is Oak Meadow’s first grade program, which we use for language arts, social studies, art, and science. For these early grades, I really wanted something that would encourage him to try different things without worrying about whether there was a right answer. I like the way Oak Meadow emphasizes observation and imagination, and I love flipping back through his main lesson books (we have one for science and one for everything else) as the year progresses.
For history, we use Story of the World, which we do as a readaloud. While I read, he’ll draw a picture in his main lesson book related to the topic at hand — the Vikings and samurai were his favorites this year. We spend a little time discussing previous chapters at the beginning of every lesson, but I don’t expect him to remember everything. At this age, for me, it’s really about introducing him to important names and events. (My daughter often joins us for the readaloud — she still loves Story of the World.)
We use Miquon Math, which my son adores, for his math. We usually do a few pages in his book every day together, and he may keep going and do several more pages on his own. I let him set his own pace, though every once in a while, if I notice that he’s making a lot of simple mistakes, I encourage him to slow down. It took me a little while to get the hang of Miquon’s method — this is definitely a program where you will want to read the teacher’s manual in advance — but it’s proven to be a great fit for us. I wish the program continued through high school!
Oak Meadow’s science emphasizes nature study, but we also use The Nature Connection workbook and keep a daily nature journal. Usually, we stick to our backyard for journaling, but every once in a while, we’ll hike along the river or hit a nature center for a change of pace.
We started the year with BOB books, and now we’re powering through the Magic Treehouse series. My son was a pretty reluctant reader — maybe partly because he has a big sister who will pretty much always read him anything he wants — and it was really hard for me not to push him to read because books have always been such a big part of my own life. But I learned with his sister that pushing anything is the fastest way to make a kid avoid it, so I bit my tongue, and this year, he did start reading on his own. (I think it was mainly because he wanted to be able to play Pokemon without assistance, but I’ll take it!)
A lot of our literature comes from readalouds still, which we do a chapter or two at a time each day. We usually start the day cuddled up with a book. I keep a little notebook for each kid with a running list of what we read each year. This year, we’ve averaged about two and a half books a month, including Detectives in Togas, Henry Reed, Inc., The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Fablehaven, and The Island of the Aunts.
We use Oak Meadow’s crafts book and art lessons. I am not a naturally artsy person, so having the projects be both open-ended and spelled-out for me is great. (I highly recommend Oak Meadow's art and craft materials for non-crafty parents.) My son has really enjoyed finger-knitting, sewing, soap-carving, and making pinch pots. We are always done with lessons by lunch, so we take a few hours in the early afternoon for project-making.
On Thursdays, he takes a Philosophy for Kids class at our homeschool group, where he works on logic puzzles and discusses things like “Should you get everything you want?” and “What assumptions do you have about candy?” He really enjoys the class — this is the second year he’s taken it.
We also memorize a poem every week (or two, if it’s a tricky or longish poem) for Friday recitations. My son has been using the 20th Century Children’s Poetry Anthology (edited by Jack Prelutsky) for most of his poems this year. I think memorizing and reciting poetry is a highly underrated activity, and I frequently annoy my children by loudly and dramatically reciting poems when we are stuck in traffic.
We’ve also been cooking and reading our way through Jewish Fairy Tale Feasts by Jane Yolen. Every chapter has a Jewish folktale and traditional recipe, so we get in a little culture and cooking practice.
Writing it all down, this seems like a lot, but we’re pretty relaxed about all of it. If my son complains that he doesn’t want to do anything school-y one day, I don’t push. He’s always free to take the day off to do something else, but he usually opts to do a little work every day. (In fact, on days when I am running late, he’ll often come into my office with a stack of books, asking me when I will be ready for school.) I don’t want him to feel like learning is something you only do when you’re “doing school.”