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Homeschooling Question About the Classics – Where Do We Start? {Plus How to Get an Auditory Learner to Like Reading?}


One thing I need to do more of is encouraging our kids to read literature classics, but I’m in the dark on this because I didn’t grow up reading them myself. Kent loves to read the classics, but obviously he’s at a higher level than where the kids are, so I don’t even know where to start them. (Dumb question: What makes a book “a classic” anyway?)

Before you share your advice, keep in mind that, sadly, our 14 year old and 11 year old have never loved reading as much as Kent and I do. (Our 8 year old does, though, thankfully!) And our son in college said the other day that when he reads books, he doesn’t see a picture in his head, but if someone is reading TO him he does. Our 14 year old confirmed that it’s the same for him. Does that mean we should have him listen only to us read or to books on tape? Or will more reading help him to learn to see pictures in his mind? I’ve always thought that someone who learns visually vs. being more auditory is just that way, and you have to work with it not try and change it, but I’m not sure about this…? (Not that I’d want to change how they are, because those traits help them in other areas that someone who is super visual like me doesn’t benefit from, but when it comes to reading it can be difficult.)

So here are some classics I’m thinking of trying to turn them on to, but I need your advice on which ones will grab an 11 year old girl? Which will be interesting enough for a 14 year old boy who is an auditory learner (and who loves aviation!)? Which are appropriate for our 8 year old son?

Once I hear from all of you, I can’t wait to download these. Most, but not all, are free on Kindle, and if you don’t have a Kindle, you can click here to get a free reader for your phone, tablet or computer.

Thanks everyone!


  1. You can’t go wrong with Narnia books, for either of them. And Lewis was such a good writer, his kids books are profitable even for adults. We have found Alcott to be challenging, especially for a reluctant reader, but they’re great read-alouds. My daughter mentions “Eight Cousins” and “Rose in Bloom” as particular favorites. My girls have enjoyed Bobbsey Twins, Five Little Peppers, and Boxcar books at around 11. Boys are hard! But, if you can find them free (?) my son likes the Ballantyne books. Ballantyne’s father was Sir Walter Scott’s publisher, so he grew up in literary society, and apparently also spins a good yarn. As with anything, change can be slow. But require them to read small bits of Real Books consistently, and most likely they’ll develop as taste for it. Just like Real Food.

  2. There’s a really good book called “Read for the Heart”. It’s got suggestions for every age level. I don’t think getting a picture in your head while you’re reading is something that an auditory learner will do as much as a visual learner does. Maybe your auditory learner would be happier with recorded books.

    • I heartily second getting Read For The Heart. I like it so much, I purchased an extra copy to share with all my friends (so I could “loan” mine without having to go without it!)

      • @Peggy & @Jennifer,

        What does that book have besides suggestions for every age level? Or is it that you just really like their suggestions? Thanks!


  3. I sent you a great, detailed reply and the computer ate it – wah! Here’s what I remember.

    We read Treasure Island aloud and they liked it.
    Swiss Family Robinson was more tedious but okay.
    Mine really liked Little Women and Little Men (Alcott)
    Anne of Green Gables
    Robin Hood
    Mark Twain (Short stories and sketches)
    Boys Book of Great Detective Stories
    Sherlock Holmes
    Marguerite Henry books
    The Black Stallion
    Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys (earlier versions)

    Not classics but we liked:
    Robert Elmer-Astro Kids and others
    Accidental Detectives
    TCDC (Three cousins detective club)
    Cul-de-Sac Kids
    Puppy Place
    Animal Ark

    My olders are reading quite different ‘classics’ for Literature: Beowulf, Greek Lit, Roman Lit, El Cid, Don Quixote, Dante’s Divine Comedy, T.S.Eliot, Shakespeare, and others.

  4. I loved little house on the prairie. I think your son would enjoy Ralph Moody’s books. I listened to them as audio books and loved them so much I have read them several times since.

  5. Ralph Moody books get my vote. They are incredible. Also Boxcar children. When I was homeschooling someone once told me anything for children published in the 50’s or 60’s would be good reading material. I found it to be true. They are simple and usually teach a lesson or show great courage, work ethic, etc.

  6. I’d like to add my 2 cents in as well. I do have boys that really didn’t like to read much as well. One thing I encouraged, was even to catch up on some of the younger classics, as they all have a good moral for anyone, that’s why they are classics.
    How about:
    Old Yeller (my 17 year old ds loved it)
    Little Britches
    The Giver
    Alas Babalon
    The Once and Future King
    To Kill a Mockingbird
    Charlotte’s Web
    Frog and Toad(the real thing)

    These are a few to get you started. There are so many great booklists out there to pick and choose what would interest all of you.

  7. My mom read out loud to us almost every night and we listened to audio books in the car ALL THE TIME. Some of my favorite classics were Where the Red Fern Grows, All Creatures Great and Small (series), David Copperfield, Black Beauty, Old Yeller, Captains Courageous, Pride & Prejudice, ummmmm…. lots. Lots and LOTS! Have you checked your local library? Many libraries now have digital lending libraries for Kindle!!!

  8. I like most of the lists already provided. We really enjoy Narnia, as well as Tolkein’s triologies. As for auditory vs. visual learners. I am definitely an auditory learner and I love to read – always have. I rarely see a picture in my head but I hear the words in my head. Help your boys to not only see the words with their eyes but to hear them in their heads.

  9. Here is an excellent list of classics for children:

    My personal suggestions: The Giver, Little House on the Prairie and The Little Prince

    Since your son is interested in aviation, perhaps he’s find classics about war interesting? I remember loving All Quiet on the Western Front and probably reach that around age 15. Catch-22 is also good but probably a bit overwhelming for him as it’s a bit book.

    As for getting them interested in classics: I always find value in knowing the reason something is a classic. Often there is history of how revolutionary this story was at the time for various reasons. Maybe this book pioneered a new style of writing. Older novels were often written with each chapter appearing in a monthly magazine which makes them interesting to read from that perspective. Perhaps the book spawned some sort of backlash to the author.

    Some facts and ideas to make classics interesting:
    -The Picture of Dorian Gray, which was consider scandalous for portraying a hedonistic main character who was never punished for his sin of vanity, caused a huge uproar in England at the time, some felt that Oscar Wilde should even have been punished for writing such a novel.
    -The Scarlet Letter was inspired by an old document Nathanial Hawthorne found one day.
    -You can buy Little House on the Prairie cookbooks and make some of the recipes from the book
    -There is must symbolism around the color yellow in All Quite on the Western Front, with that in mind, the book can feel a bit more like a treasure hunt trying to notice when the color is mentioned and what the symbolism might be
    -Mary Shelly started Frankenstein when she was 19 years old when she and some friends made a bet to see who could come up with the best horror story. It was published when she was 21.

    • In reply to my own suggestions: Dorian Gray is not recommend for their age. That book is just tough to get through and would not be interesting enough for a 14 year old. But it was the top of mind example I have of a book with a interesting story around it!

  10. For those venturing on a study of the classics, Dr. Art Robinson has a fantastic list of books. If you are not familiar with him and his family, their story is a must read. In addition, he recently ran for House in Oregon against Peter de Fozio.

    In addition, Excellence in Writing has a list of books, specifically for boys (and other children) who would prefer to build forts!

    Since you are new to homeschooling, I will assume that your children were taught to read incorrectly. Unless they were taught by a strict, systematic phonics method with no sight words, they were taught incorrectly; hence the chore of reading, your son not seeing the picture of what he reads.

    I have been tutoring reading since 1978 and have recently completed my book to help others teach reading correctly – Reading for Success: The Phonics Program that Works. It takes someone of any age from pre-reading to advanced vocab, complete with spelling. I would suggest that you do some remedial work with the kids so that they can read correctly and with enjoyment, probably with spelling so that they get all the rules. That may not seem too “babyish” for them. If you would like to contact me for more specific info, please do so.

    • I totally agree about doing some remedial work with your kids because they may not have been taught to read correctly. They may not be comprehending what they read (which would explain why they can listen to reading and get it, but not when they read to themselves).
      When I began homeschooling my son in third grade, I made him go through the same phonics program that my preschooler was doing. It greatly improved both his reading AND his spelling.

  11. My daughter and I have really enjoyed some of the free book swaps online, such as PaperbackSwap dot com. She has found many books for my two grandchildren, 12 and 15, that she home schools.

    We had a “Jane Austen summer” this year with my 15-year-old granddaughter, using the Annotated books, then watched one or more movies for each one (I have collected all of them). The annotated books are great for the older or more difficult classics – even I learned a lot about Pride and Prejudice I didn’t know before.

  12. Check out a literature based curriculum, like Sonlight or My Father’s World,and check out the booklist for your kids’ grades. (And maybe one up or down.) My dad used to read to us as entertainment. (We didn’t have a TV when i was young. ) i remember Pollyanna and Hans Brinker, but there were many more. They could even take turns reading to each other.

  13. kudos to you Kelly for moving forward with Classics. This is rewarding and fruitful.

    I followed Laura Berquist and loved every minute of it.

    I used her book to guide me then did what made sense for our family.

    Regarding read alouds: yes continue to read aloud and they can read aloud to each other and they can read aloud to themselves!
    Books on tape are useful here too.


    • Duh, I have that book and we’re doing that curriculum, I forgot that her booklists are in there! I do love hearing everyone’s suggestions, though, keep ’em coming and thanks for always being there for me reader friends!


  14. Charles Dickens is a classic author. Louisa May Alcott is pretty boring. I like Brianne’s choices.
    For younger kids, don’t miss George Selden’s Cricket in Times Square trilogy. I read them out loud and laughed till I cried. Beverly Cleary is delightful, except for her prize winner. My sons loved Tom Sawyer read out loud. The whole family will enjoy that. If you want a child to read, start a chapter book and let them finish.
    Lynn Cupp above has good choices.
    DuLaire’s book of Greek Myths is great for any age.
    In England, Arnold Bennett is found on the Classics shelf. Go to a good used book store and browse.
    The Human Comedy by William Saroyan was one I loved in junior high and I still love it. Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson is wonderful. I read that concurrently with An Autobiography by Agatha Christie and My Father’s Glory and My Mother’s Castle by Marcel Pagnol. Those three books are autobiographical accounts (although Thompson’s is fictionalized) of people growing up in the late 1800s/early 1900s. VERY different classes of people and lots to learn about what life was like. In general, Christie’s autobiography is my favorite book, and she mentions all sorts of books from her home-schooling as a child. It’s like a visit with my grandmother, or perhaps with her mother, whom I hardly knew.

  15. We used the lists in The Well Trained Mind as a guide. Here is their high school Great Books lists, according to grade, but the book (which is easy to find at most libraries) has lists for grade school and middle school as well. My rule when they were younger was that they had to read 1 hour per day: 30 minutes = book of their choice from the library, 30 minutes = a book from that year’s list. The younger grades have much less daunting and more fun books, in case this list is a little intimidating. Actually, come to think of it, by high school we’d switched to Sonlight, which came with literature. Hey, there’s an idea. Order a free Sonlight catalog from their website and get ideas from there. Also, the Rainbow Resource catalog (can also order free on their website) has an enormous selection of literature with great descriptions and reviews included.

  16. I highly recommend A Wrinkle in Time and the sequels. A classic and opens up a lot of avenues of other learning and questions. I also second where the red fern grows mentioned above

  17. Swallows and Amazons series by Authur Ransome
    I had a reluctant reader who, when given these books, read them again and again, and I’m sure lived the adventures in his head, and sometimes in play.
    He always loved boats and water, so maybe that connected him to these books … maybe your boys have a similar passion … or whatever their passion, books that connect may heighten their interest.

  18. Oh Kelly, you’ve hit my weak spot. I love talking about books and can (and do!) go on for hours. I was considered the go-to person when someone needed recommendations when I was in a homeschooling group. Of my 5 kids, I had one with an eidetic memory, one visual learner with eye-muscle problems, and three with dyslexia ranging from mild to very severe, one of whom is a very strong auditory learner. I know it is hard with all you have to do and with kids such differing ages, but I recommend LOTS of reading out loud and audio books. The new Kindle deal (whispersync?) where you can read a book and listen to it at the same time on your Kindle, getting the 2nd version very cheaply or free, can be great for kids who are not strong readers. I also recommend “Honey for a Child’s Heart” by Gladys Hunt and “The Read Aloud Handbook” by Jim Trelease for ideas on age and interest appropriate books. We also switched to Sonlight at some point and loved most of their book selections. And most of all, find a way to make it fun so that your kids don’t join the ranks of people who never read another book after they finish schooling. I didn’t “make” my kids read beyond their reading lesson, but I did “allow” them to stay up a half hour later if they were reading! A fun and interesting book/audio book for any age is “The Great Turkey Walk” by Kathleen Karr. All 5 of my kids love good books as adults and can’t imagine living without them. I consider that a great accomplishment considering the severity of the dyslexia two of them have. One of them consumes almost all of his books in audio form, but he is still more well-read than many. I would love to talk more and if you are interested can give you my phone #. P.S. Have you noticed the huge variety of audio books available from your library? We are also in the greater GR area and it is wonderful.

  19. Shane by Jack Schaefer is one of my favorite classics, so good and really shows what a hero is and is great for all ages. It’s also very engaging and suspenseful.

  20. I don’t know if this might help, but I just started reading The Well Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. She has a lot of ways to actually undertake a classical education and suggestions for reading.

  21. I use Veritas Press curriculum which is a classical approach to learning. You would not need to use their curriculum, but if you go to their site

    you can see what books they have suggested for each grade level and could find those books on kindle or in a library. Some of the books my children have read are the Narnia series as well as some of C.S. Lewis’s other writings, Lord of the Rings, Tom Sawyer, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 1984, Pride and Prejudice. They also use the Bible as a resource as well, if you what to have a Christian worldview as part of their schooling.

  22. Hi Kelly,
    We homeschooled 4 kids and one is a strong auditory learner. We used both auditory books and read aloud. We also took turns reading a paragraph or page or chapter and then, for difficult classics, we would stop as necessary and have them narrate as we went.
    I second using They have wonderful resources and a great forum for asking questions, sharing schedules, etc. My boys loved the Ralph Moody books, and Robinson Crusoe which we took very slowly at first. Also, biographies were loved along with history and geography stories. My daughter loved Ann of Green Gables and other L M Montgomery books as well as Louisa May Alcott. We did a book together when she was around eleven or twelve, called, Beautiful Girlhood– not a novel, but a lovely book for Mom and daughter and some journal time. We also listened to audio books in the car a lot and if you do a language, great time for songs in the car or skip counting cd’s etc.
    We just finished our homeschooling years and I would be happy to share our highs and lows any time. Best decision ever! With auditory learners, you might also check into Speech and Debate with your local NCFCA group.
    Many blessings!

  23. I found with my girls that the level of the book in terms of difficulty made far less difference in getting them to read it than interest level. My suggestion would be to find the classics shelf at your local bookstore or library and let them choose something that looks interesting. Also your librarians and booksellers are valuable resources, let the kids talk to them and ask questions, enthusiasm for a book from a third party (really, what kid believes his parents know good entertainment) can go a long way in getting a kid interested.
    I read the Narnia books in about third grade I think. And in fourth. And fifth, you know they really never get old. Is Jim Kjellgaard considered a classic yet? Because his Big Red books really drew me in as a kid. Wizard of Oz series may appeal if they already know the movie and want more. Those appear to be public domain actually an can be gotten here along with a number of others.

  24. Pippi Longstockings was a childhood favorite of mine. I also enjoyed books where the kids in them were making decisions and a bit independent, like The Boxcar Children. I had a teacher in school who would read Encyclopedia Brown books to us after recess and it was always fun to try and solve the case before she read the answer. I loved reading as a child and still do, but often get upset that classics weren’t taught much when I went to school. I feel like I missed out on learning a true appreciation for them and don’t know where to start now…so these ideas are great!

  25. So many books out there! :)

    Some I fondly remember from my upper elementary/middle school years:

    Where the Red Fern Grows
    Bridge to Terabithia
    Charlie & the Chocolate Factory
    Little House series
    The Westing Game
    The Hobbit
    White Fang
    Black Beauty
    Encyclopedia Brown
    The Great Brain

    I found a bunch of “beginner” classics that I’ve been reading aloud to the kids. Such as Moby Dick, Wind in the Willows, Oliver Twist, etc. They are pared down a bit for the younger kids. (Mine are 7 & 9 and have really enjoyed them.)

    I’m enjoying reading the comments!

  26. This is the 2nd-5th grade reading list from my daughter’s classical academy:
    Robin Hood (Core Classic)
    A Wrinkle in Time
    Alice in Wonderland
    Charlotte’s Web
    Little House in the Big Woods
    Little House on the Prairie
    Phantom Tollbooth
    Polyanna (Core Classic)
    Sara Plain & Tall
    The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (Core Classic)
    The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
    The Magician’s Nephew
    The Secret Garden
    The Wise Woman and Other Stories
    Three Tales of My Father’s Dragon
    Where the Red Fern Grows

  27. I do not have any knowledgeable title or author suggestions as I am still learning what the “classics” are, but I do have some insight into the different learning styles.

    Even if your children are auditory learners, they can still enhance and expand their vocabulary, improve their reading comprehension, and learn life lessons from an audiobook or by being read to. After all, they are processing the EXACT same information that the visual learner would be just in a different manner. Food for thought…

  28. I’d like to suggest parents or caregivers read The Read Aloud Handbook.
    It offers so much more than the idea that reading aloud is beneficial for kids. It’s one of the most important non-parenting parenting books (if that makes sense) that a parent or child-minder can read. Plus, it lists which books are good for reading aloud and gives age recommendations. Pretty much all libraries have this book in their catalogue.
    Please read! It is so good!

  29. Fluency in reading helps with enjoyment and picturing. If a child is struggling with ‘sounding out’, then they won’t be enjoying the content or picturing the story. It happens in a different part of the brain. I let my kids read below their level for enjoyment. And then read aloud to them above their level to pull them forward. I had the older kids help the younger ones with their reading assignments for review and practice. Pounding the pegs of phonics really helps. Of my five children, I have 2 avid book readers, 2 who would rather be playing basketball, and one who prefers reading on an electronic device.

  30. So, I am not a homeschooling parent, but I am an auditory learner. It took me YEARS (as in most of the way through high school) before I learned HOW to learn by reading. It’s not that I didn’t like reading, because I loved to read books as long as they interested me, but I couldn’t tell you the next day what I had been reading was about. And it wasn’t reading fluency – I never struggled with “sounding out” as the last commenter was talking about – that is a separate issue from being an auditory learner. I always have been a very good reader – I read fast and well, and never had a problem when called to ready out loud in class (except for being 3 pages ahead of everyone else). But that doesn’t mean the information I was reading was making it into my long-term memory, and I have never been able to picture something in my head from reading it or looking at it. Memorize any song in 10 minutes on the other hand – DONE. I hear it once or twice, and I am good to go (ok, foreign language songs take 3 or 4 hearings, then I am fine).

    Having been the kid in the same boat, here’s what I can tell you:

    1) If the book is something they have to retain information from, they should read it out loud to themselves. This way they are still processing the information auditorily, but they are learning to do it for themselves. You will not always be available to read to your kids, and textbooks are not available in audio format typically. They have to learn how to read from books to be successful in college, and even in many jobs. Reading out loud to myself helped me a lot. Even today at age 33, if I am having trouble processing something I am reading, I will read it out loud to myself and then I get it immediately.
    2) Teach them to engage in active reading. If they have textbooks, often the textbook will have questions at the end of a section regarding what was just read. I would read the questions out loud to myself so I’d remember them, and then I would look for the answers to the questions as I read and write the answers. I also tended to speak aloud what I was writing , which also helped me remember the information. It made me think about what I was reading more, process the information both through thinking about it and hearing it, and ultimately is what led me to be able to learn from reading. You can even write questions (or find some online, I am sure) about what happens in literature books in different chapters/sections.
    3) If it’s just a book to have them exposed to the classics, go with the auditory books. Save your voice. They will enjoy it more, and maybe even learn to enjoy the books.

    My last parting thought, with which you may or may not agree:
    Your primary job as teacher is not to teach them facts, or books, or any other piece of curriculum. They can get that information at any point in their lives through college, self-teaching, the internet, or some other means. Your primary job is to teach them how to learn and how to think. They have to learn how to use auditory learning to their advantage, even when the learning vehicle is not inherently to their advantage (such as visual learning from books).

  31. I grew up on Laura Ingalls Wilder books and also the Narnia series. I also really, really loved the Chronicles of Prydain series by Lloyd Alexander. (The Black Cauldron is the first of five amazing books.) I read Little Women but not much else by Louisa May Alcott.

  32. We are using Ambleside Online to homeschool our oldest. They have a literature/living books curriculum, and listed with each year’s curriculum is a list of “free reads” that they feel are not to be missed books. All the ones we have read are absolutely fabulous. You can look a couple of years ahead or behind to find additional suggestions for voracious reders as well.

  33. I know this thread is really old but I second “Honey for a Child’s Heart” by Gladys Hunt and “The New Read-Aloud Handbook” by Jim Trelease. If you ever want validation on how important it is to read aloud to your children, and how it increases all areas of their reading development, Trelease is it. I want to buy that book for all new parents. Also it contains great age-appropriate book suggestions, as does Hunt’s book.

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