January 31, 2024
How Do I Choose Books for My Students?
Alveary registration for the 2024-25 school year opens February 1st! You can also view previews of the books for the year on YouTube and view samples on the Alveary site. Read more about how the Alveary team chooses books for specific subjects here.
Melissa: Hello, Kerri! We get to talk about books today, which is one of our favorite topics. Kerri, I know in addition to working on Alveary’s high school curriculum, you are an avid book rescuer. In fact, one of my favorite photos of you is where you are surrounded by your book finds!
Kerri: Yes, I started going to used booksales to find books for my kids over 25 years ago, and then started sharing them with our local community and even taking them to Charlotte Mason Institute conferences so other families could add these treasures to their shelves. In fact, I was sorting books before a conference in that photo!
Melissa: When you and the Alveary team are choosing living books for our curriculum, what are some things you are looking for? What counts as a “living book” for a student?
Kerri: That’s a great question–Charlotte Mason’s idea of a “living book” is both simple and complex all at once. At the most fundamental level, we’re looking for books that are well-written with engaging text, quality illustrations, up-to-date information, and inspiring, true ideas. We’re looking for books that are written by authors that are passionate experts on their subjects. And we’re looking for books that are developmentally appropriate for students and that fit well within the context of the whole curriculum.
"We’re looking for books that are well-written with engaging text, quality illustrations, up-to-date information, and inspiring, true ideas."
Melissa: Tell me more about what it means that you’re evaluating a book for the curriculum and not just on its own merits?
Kerri: Yes, this is where it gets a bit more challenging. When we step back and look at the curriculum as a whole, we want students in any given grade to have a mix of challenging and easier books, a range of perspectives and voices from the time period represented in the books, and a mix of genres as well. And we want that to build cohesively through the years. The best book for a subject isn’t necessarily always the most rigorous one when you consider the curriculum as a whole.
Melissa: That’s a lot to consider. So what do you do if you can’t find the perfect book?
Kerri: It depends on the book, and the reality is that perfect books are hard to find. We might schedule a book and include alerts or a teacher note if we like the book in general but want teachers to preview it to decide how to discuss it with their students. We might schedule a book that is more biased in a particular area than we’d prefer but then include additional pdfs or links and sources in the lesson plans to balance out the overall perspectives presented in the lessons. We might only schedule a part of the book in the lesson plans if we like some parts but not others. Sometimes we use books that are not as well-written as we’d like because they offer an important perspective and we haven’t yet found something better. And we are constantly on the lookout for new publications and work to republish other books so we have the best available. It is a never ending process.
We know you’re busy; we want to free you up to adapt the curriculum for your students rather than having to create it from scratch in the first place.
Melissa: As a long-time Alveary member, I personally have really appreciated the care taken in choosing books. In talking to people about Alveary, they sometimes wonder if it is an open-an-go curriculum. How do you answer that question?
Kerri: I think this is where the personal aspect of what it means to give our children living books comes into play. We want not only quality books that fit well within the curriculum as a whole but also books that are right for a particular student–and only you as the teacher know your student or students. So we provide booklists, supply lists, exams, and daily lesson plans, and training for you, and all that is open and go in a sense because we want you to be able to actually start a Charlotte Mason relational education right away in your home or classroom.
We want not only quality books that fit well within the curriculum as a whole but also books that are right for a particular student
But the more you as an educator model the principles and methods yourself and invest in your own growth, the more you will understand the why behind the books and the lesson plans, and the more your students will naturally absorb the atmosphere you’re trying to cultivate. And the more you are able to pre-read books and observe your children the more you can tailor it to your students and your context. So the answer to the “open and go question” is yes and no. We know you’re busy; we want to free you up to adapt the curriculum for your students rather than having to create it from scratch in the first place.
Melissa: I love that. We have both been homeschool parents long enough to know that our children are all very different from one another!
Kerri: Yes, Charlotte Mason wrote in Philosophy of Education that,
“Our business is to give children the great ideas of life, of religion, history, science; but it is the ideas we must give, clothed upon with facts as they occur, and must leave the child to deal with these as he chooses.” Towards a Philosophy of Education p.39-40
I hope this conversation helps you think through how to select curriculum and books for your family or school–and that it also gives you some insight into how we think about these questions when we’re selecting books for the Alveary.
Melissa: For those of you who are watching and want to hear more about Alveary’s book selections, we invite you to visit our YouTube channel where you will find book preview videos for each grade.
Kerri: Thank you for joining us!
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