How to Find Great Books to Read to Your Kids

Mother sitting with daughter in her lap reading a picture book
Corbis/Superstock

I hadn't carefully screened a book before I started reading it to my kids, and I realized too late that the main character solved his problem by lying, without facing any consequences for his decision. When the book ended, we had a good conversation about how the ends don't justify the means, and I began to consider how I could be more proactive in choosing quality books for my kids.

What books to choose 

To start a list of books to read to my children, I wrote down titles that made an impact on me, along with the age I was when I read them. To that, I added recommendations from family members, trusted friends and my children's teachers. Then I verified age and content appropriateness through book review websites such as PluggedIn.com/book-reviews. Here are a few other ideas:

• Challenges. When children go through changes, such as a move to a new school, it's wise to find books that focus on similar situations. Otherwise, look for books with realistic characters who appear to use reason or logic to overcome challenges. These character-driven stories can help kids learn to solve their own challenges.

• Worldviews. Research the publisher and author to uncover a book's worldview. A publisher's mission statement or an author's biography gives clues. (Even lesser-known authors have brief biographies or links to achievements.) This helps to better understand why Philip Pullman (The Amber Spyglass) depicts Christianity poorly and George MacDonald (The Princess and the Goblin) represents it well; or why Frances Hodgson Burnett's earlier books (Sara Crewe) did not have the same Christian Science subtleties as her later work (The Secret Garden). You shouldn't necessarily avoid all books that have a different worldview from yours, but it is important to discuss the books' worldview with your kids if there is one. Unfortunately, a book written by someone with a biblical worldview doesn't guarantee that a book is written well. So use your common sense as you find books for your family to enjoy together.

• Book reviews. Read a book review from a trusted source, and then consider the appropriateness of the genre and plot for your children (age, developmental stage, current life challenges). Once you decide on a book that will work with your children's personalities, interests and developmental stage — physically and spiritually — read it to them. When done, discuss the book through free tools such as the parent-child discussion questions at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books

Reading to 4- to 7-year-olds

Book titles listed below have been reviewed by Focus on the Family, though not all books published by Focus on the Family have reviews because they are wholly approved by Focus on the Family. Those that don't have reviews are linked to an online bookstore where you can read descriptions about the books. The titles below are intended to help parents create their own list of books to read to their children. There is some overlap of book titles between the age groups because of the wide variety of differences in children at each age and stage. Remember that PluggedIn.com book reviews are not endorsements and cover only the content and theme of a book, not its literary merit.

Adventure

  • Bible Kidventures: Stories of Danger and Courage*
    Kids remain engaged as you read them four Bible stories in this choose-your-own Kidventure. Spiritual topics include trusting God and the power of worship. Sign in to get parent-child discussion questions — under "S" for Stories of Danger and Courage — read a review or buy it.  
     
  • The Princess and the Goblin
    This 1872 classic fairy tale is ideal to be read to younger children. Spiritual topics include living by faith and how to treat nonbelievers. Sign in to get parent-child discussion questions for this book — under "P" for The Princess and the Goblin — or read a review.  

  • Stone Fox
    The excitement is gripping in this story that places a boy and his dog against an impossible task — getting the money to pay the taxes to save his family's farm. Character quality: perseverance. Sign in to get parent-child discussion questions — under "S" for Stone Fox — or read a review.  

  • By the Great Horn Spoon!
    Loaded with adventure, 12-year-old Jack and his aunt's butler head to the California gold fields to get enough money to save Aunt Arabella's home. Character quality: resilience and zeal for life. Sign in to get parent-child discussion questions — under "B" for By the Great Horn Spoon — or read a review.

Classic stories

  • Little House in the Big Woods
    Take a step back in time to learn about the adventures of the Ingalls family as they work on their 1871 homestead in Wisconsin. Theme: family life of pioneers. Sign in to get parent-child discussion questions — under "L" for Little House in the Big Woods — or read a review.

  • Little House on the Prairie
    The Ingalls family moves to the Kansas prairie, and readers can follow their adventures living in a log house in 1868. Character quality: resilience. Sign in to get parent-child discussion questions — under "L" for Little House on the Prairie — or read a review.     

Contemporary

  • Frindle 
    Nick Allen causes all sorts of problems with one simple word: frindle. How much can one word change an entire town? Sign in and click on "F" to get parent-child discussion questions for this story — or go to PluggedIn.com to read a book review for this title.
  • Jones & Parker Case Files*
    There's something mysterious going on in everyone's favorite town . . . Odyssey, of course No mystery is too big or too small for Emily Jones and Matthew Parker. 
  • Mudsharks 
    Mudshark is smart, but is he smarter than a parrot? Sign in and click on "M" to get parent-child discussion questions for this story — or go to PluggedIn.com to read a book review for this title. 

Fantasy

  • The BFG 
    Eight-year-old Sophie is snatched by a BFG. She must learn to survive in a kingdom of giants. Then one night, she comes up with a plan to destroy all mean giants. Sign in and click on "B" to get parent-child discussion questions for this story — or go to PluggedIn.com to read a book review for this title.
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe 
    Four siblings are sent to the countryside during World War II. Once there, they find their way into a magical land, but this unknown kingdom is in need of deliverance from evil.. Sign in and click on "L" to get parent-child discussion questions for this story — or go to PluggedIn.com to read a book review for this title.
  • Nurk 
    A small shrew is on a quest to answer a mysterious plea for help. Sign in and click on "N" to get parent-child discussion questions for this story — or go to PluggedIn.com to read a book review for this title.
  • The Whipping Boy  
    Prince Brat kidnaps Jemmy, but the kingdom looks for Jemmy, who is blamed for the prince's disappearance!. Sign in and click on "W" to get parent-child discussion questions for this story — or go to PluggedIn.com to read a book review for this title.

Historical fiction

  • #1 – Voyage With the Vikings*
    Cousins Patrick and Beth travel back in time to Viking-occupied Greenland, but while searching for an item that Mr. Whittaker asked them to bring back, they encounter a less-than-friendly Viking. Sign in and click on "V" to get parent-child discussion questions for this story — or go to PluggedIn.com to read a book review for this title.
     
  • #2 – Attack at the Arena*
    Mr. Whittaker’s ancestor Albert is in trouble and needs a monk’s silver chalice. Cousins Patrick and Beth travel back in time to Rome in the Imagination Station to find it. Sign in and click on "A" to get parent-child discussion questions for this story — or go to PluggedIn.com to read a book review for this title.

  • #3 – Peril in the Palace*
    Cousins Patrick and Beth travel to ancient China in the Imagination Station and meet Marco Polo. They need to find the golden tablet of Kublai Khan to save Mr. Whittaker’s ancestor, Albert. Sign in and click on "P" to get parent-child discussion questions for this story — or go to PluggedIn.com to read a book review for this title.
     
  • #4 – Revenge of the Red Knight* 
    The Imagination Station takes cousins Patrick and Beth to medieval England rather than returning them to Whit's End. They continue their quest to help Mr. Whittaker's ancestor while looking for a way home. Sign in and click on "R" to get parent-child discussion questions for this story — or go to PluggedIn.com to read a book review for this title.
     
  • #5 – Showdown With the Shepherd* 
    Cousins Patrick and Beth saved Albert, but an evil man named Hugh escapes in the Imagination Station. They must find him and keep him from helping Goliath and the Philistines defeat the Israelites. Sign in and click on "S" to get parent-child discussion questions for this story — or go to PluggedIn.com to read a book review for this title.
     
  • #6 – Problems in Plymouth*
    Cousins Patrick and Beth travel to Plymouth to keep a time-traveling villain named Hugh from changing history and ruining the first Thanksgiving. They must find a way to return him to his own time. Sign in and click on "P" to get parent-child discussion questions for this story — or go to PluggedIn.com to read a book review for this title.

  • #7 – Secret of the Prince’s Tomb*
    Patrick and Beth try to help the Habiru people, who are being enslaved by the Egyptians. If they can't free them, they want to give them hope. Sign in and click on "S" to get parent-child discussion questions for this story — or go to PluggedIn.com to read a book review for this title.

  • #8 – Battle for Cannibal Island* 
    The Imagination Station takes Patrick and Beth on an adventure on the high seas. They meet a ship’s captain and a missionary named James Calvert before coming face to face with cannibals. Sign in and click on "B" to get parent-child discussion questions for this story — or go to PluggedIn.com to read a book review for this title.

  • #9 – Escape to the Hiding Place*
    Patrick and Beth arrive in World War II Holland in the farm country. The children learn to appreciate the bravery and sacrifice of everyday people who helped the Jews. 

  • #10 – Challenge on the Hill of Fire*
    Beth and Patrick meet St. Patrick teaching the Irish about Christianity. In Ireland, druids control the people through fear until the king and his people accept St. Patrick’s God. Sign in and click on "C" to get parent-child discussion questions for this story — or go to PluggedIn.com to read a book review for this title.

  • #11 - Hunt for the Devil’s Dragon*
    If you're brave, follow cousins Beth and Patrick to Libya in the 13th century. The town of Silene is being terrorized by a vicious animal that is eating livestock.

  • #12 - Danger on a Silent Night*
    Patrick and Beth ponder the origins of giving gifts at Christmas. Whit uses the Imagination Station to introduce them to the wise men who sought Jesus. Sign in and click on "D" to get parent-child discussion questions for this story — or go to PluggedIn.com to read a book review for this title.

  • #13 - The Redcoats Are Coming*
    Cousins Patrick and Beth find themselves in the first battles of the Revolutionary War. They must avoid the loyalists and not be mistaken as spies while trying to deliver a letter to Paul Revere. Sign in and click on "R" to get parent-child discussion questions for this story — or go to PluggedIn.com to read a book review for this title.

  • #14 - Captured on the High Seas*
    Beth and Patrick become prisoners of war on a British ship during the American Revolution. They try to help an American officer and an African American sailor escape. Sign in and click on "C" to get parent-child discussion questions for this story — or go to PluggedIn.com to read a book review for this title.

  • #15 - Surprise at Yorktown*
    Beth and Patrick help slaves escape at Yorktown. They also track a suspected spy and meet Generals Cornwallis, Lafayette and Washington during negotiations for the surrender of the British army. Sign in and click on "S" to get parent-child discussion questions for this story — or go to PluggedIn.com to read a book review for this title.

  • #16 - Doomsday in Pompeii*
    When Patrick takes a trip alone in the Imagination Station, he ends up in Pompeii in 79 A.D. a day before Mount Vesuvius erupts 

  • #17 – In Fear of the Spear*
    Dr. Silva and Beth escape a jaguar and are captured by tribesmen. They learn about Kimo, the first Auca to know Jesus, and Kimo baptizes Dr. Silva. Sign in and click on "I" to get parent-child discussion questions for this story — or go to PluggedIn.com to read a book review for this title.

  • #18 - Trouble on the Orphan Train*
    Patrick and Beth arrive on an orphan train, heading west. They befriend an orphan who is falsely accused of being part of a train robbery.

  • #19 - Light in the Lion's Den*
    Beth and Patrick learn about Babylon and how Daniel chose to serve God even when it meant disobeying an earthly king. Sign in and click on "L" to get parent-child discussion questions for this story — or go to PluggedIn.com to read a book review for this title.

  • #20 - Inferno in Tokyo*
    Eugene tells Patrick and Beth they need to find Nicholas Tesla. They do not know who he is, but find themselves in Tokyo, Japan, during a 1923 tsunami, earthquake and fire. They help the survivors. Sign in and click on "I" to get parent-child discussion questions for this story — or go to PluggedIn.com to read a book review for this title.

  • #21 - Madman in Manhattan*
    Nikola Tesla has taken Beth, and now he wants to use the Imagination Station to go back in history and register his patents for inventions before Thomas Edison and Henry Ford can register theirs. Sign in and click on "M" to get parent-child discussion questions for this story — or go to PluggedIn.com to read a book review for this title.

  • #22 - Freedom at the Falls*
    Patrick and Beth help Sally, a slave on the Underground Railroad, escape, as they ride the Lincoln Special, a train that is taking Abraham Lincoln, his family and friends to his inauguration. Sign in and click on "F" to get parent-child discussion questions for this story — or go to PluggedIn.com to read a book review for this title.

  • #23 - Terror in the Tunnel*
    Beth and Patrick near Washington, D.C., on a train with Abraham Lincoln, who is heading to his first inauguration. But a band of assassins plan to meet Lincoln in Baltimore and end his presidency before it starts. Can the cousins help get him through the city safely and on to his big history-making day?

  • The Boxcar Children 
    Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny search for a place to call home after their parents die. Sign in and click on "B" to get parent-child discussion questions for this story — or go to PluggedIn.com to read a book review for this title.

  • Don't Forget Winona 
    Winona and her family move west by traveling on Route 66. Sign in and click on "D" to get parent-child discussion questions for this story — or go to PluggedIn.com to read a book review for this title.
     
  • A Lion to Guard Us 
    In 1609, preteen Amanda and her younger siblings do whatever they can to reach their father who is awaiting them in the New World. Sign in and click on "L" to get parent-child discussion questions for this story — or go to PluggedIn.com to read a book review for this title.

  • Strawberry Girl 
    The Boyer family moves from the mountains of northern Florida to the state's southern lakes area in the early 1900s. They raise cattle, tend an orange grove and plant a variety of crops — including strawberries. Sign in and click on "S" to get parent-child discussion questions for this story — or go to PluggedIn.com to read a book review for this title.

  • The Wheel on the School 
    The storks of Shora are gone, and children of the village try to draw them back. Sign in and click on "W" to get parent-child discussion questions for this story — or go to PluggedIn.com to read a book review for this title.

Reading to 8- to 11-year-olds

Book titles listed below have been reviewed by Focus on the Family, though not all books published by Focus on the Family have reviews because they are wholly approved by Focus on the Family. Those that don't have reviews are linked to an online bookstore where you can read descriptions about the books. The titles below are intended to help parents create their own list of books to read to their children. There is some overlap of book titles between the age groups because of the wide variety of differences in children at each age and stage. Remember that PluggedIn.com book reviews are not endorsements and cover only the content and theme of a book, not its literary merit.

Adventure

Classic stories

Contemporary

Creative Nonfiction

Fantasy

Historical fiction

Reading to kids 12 and above

Book titles listed below have been reviewed by Focus on the Family, though not all books published by Focus on the Family have reviews because they are wholly approved by Focus on the Family. Those that don't have reviews are linked to an online bookstore where you can read descriptions about the books. The titles below are intended to help parents create their own list of books to read to their children. There is some overlap of book titles between the age groups because of the wide variety of differences in children at each age and stage. Remember that PluggedIn.com book reviews are not endorsements and cover only the content and theme of a book, not its literary merit.

Classic stories

Creative Nonfiction

Fantasy

Historical fiction

Are you ready to create your own list of books to read to your children?

* Books with asterisks by them are published by Christian publishers. 

Sheila Seifert is an author, speaker and the editorial director of parenting content at Focus on the Family. She has a Masters degree in English, has taught literature and writing courses at various colleges and universities, and has written or co-written many books for children. Her most recent is Bible Kidventures: Stories of Danger and Courage.  

This article first appeared in the April/May 2016 issue of Thriving Family magazine as "Choosing Better Read-Aloud Books." If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. Get it delivered to your home by subscribing to it for a gift of any amount.
Copyright © 2016 by Focus on the Family. 

Next in this Series: 22 Books Kids Read at School

You Might Also Like: