I love reading. I love making lists. I love challenging myself (and my children) to reach new goals. And I love pretty vintage artwork. So this summer, I decided to combine all those likes and create a Reading Challenge that can be easily adapted for any age:
Doesn’t that look fun? The kids and I are having a wonderful time marking books from all the different categories off our lists.
Below I’m sharing a few of our family favorites for each group. We’ve been re-reading a lot of these selections lately. There is truly something for everyone here… from picture books to easy readers to chapter books to great reads for Mom & Dad.
You should be able to find many of these titles at your local library, but if you are given to re-reading your favorites as often as we are, you may want to add a few to your own collection.
You can click on any of the titles below for more information or to order through Amazon. Your price won’t change, but our family will receive a small referral fee when you make a purchase through the following links. (That helps defray the growing costs of running this website, so thanks!):
A: Read an Award-winning book
- A Tree is Nice – My mom used to read this one to me as a kid. I was a bit of a tomboy, so I spent a lot of time climbing trees and could agree wholeheartedly with the author’s premise.
- They Were Strong and Good – We’ve read this picture book more times than we can count. Winner of the 1941 Caldecott Medal, it deepens our appreciation for all the strong and good people who helped make this country great.
- Charlotte’s Web – This story of an unlikely friendship between a pig and a spider makes me cry every time I read it. “It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”
B: Read a Biography
- Abraham Lincoln – Ingri & Edgar Parin d’Aulaire’s biographies contain more text than a lot of picture books, but the beautiful illustrations keep even our littlest ones engaged. If you like Abraham Lincoln, you may want to check out George Washington, Pocahontas, Lief the Lucky, and Benjamin Franklin, as well.
- Gladys Aylward: The Adventure of a Lifetime – We love reading stories of how God uses ordinary people with extraordinary faith to accomplish His amazing plan. Doing so builds confidence that God will prove Himself just as faithful in our lives, as well. It inspires us to dream big and place our wholehearted trust in Him. If you’ve never read any of Janet and Geoff Benge’s Christian Hero Biographies, our family would highly recommend you begin with Gladys Aylward. They’re all good, but her story is definitely our favorite.
- Carry On, Mr. Bowditch – It’s been a few years since I first read about this “eighteenth-century nautical wonder and mathematical wizard,” but I remember being fascinated by the story. I also remember the kids begging for “just one more chapter,” which is why it’s on my short-list to read aloud again this summer.
C: Read a book set in another Country
- The Story about Ping – My children love reading about the misadventures of this lovable duck who lives “with his mother and father and and two sisters and three brothers and eleven aunts and seven uncles and forty-two cousins” on the beautiful yellow waters of the Yangtze River.
- The Family Under the Bridge – A heartwarming tale of a struggling family and their unusual home. Set in the streets of Paris.
- Shadow Spinner – Another favorite we found through Sonlight and plan to re-read this summer: “Every night, Shahrazad begins a story. And every morning, the Sultan lets her live another day — providing the story is interesting enough to capture his attention. After almost one thousand nights, Shahrazad is running out of tales. And that is how Marjan’s story begins…. ”
D: Read a book about a Dog
- The Old Woman Who Named Things – I love this little picture book. It tells the story of an elderly woman “who doesn’t know she’s lonely until she meets a plucky puppy who needs a name–and someone to love.” Great discussion points throughout!
- Where the Red Fern Grows – We’ve read this one at least half a dozen times, and I’ve yet to get through it without choking up. Full of grit and self-sacrifice, it tells the story of Billy Coleman and his beloved coon hounds he labored long and hard to purchase and train.
- Because of Winn Dixie – My 16-year old read this one aloud to her younger siblings, who enjoyed it so much they wanted the whole family to hear it. So on a recent road trip, we listened to this tale of love and friendship, and the wonderful things that happened when a struggling family took in a stray dog.
E: Read a book about a different Era
- Tikki Tikki Tembo – After being introduced to this book by my sister, a primary school teacher, I’ve spent the past 30 years reading it aloud to my children. We’ve yet to tire of the story of a firstborn son with a long, reverent name and the little brother who tries to save him when he falls into a well.
- Sarah, Plain and Tall – Beautifully told story of of “how Sarah Elisabeth Wheaton comes from Maine to the prairie to answer Papa’s advertisement for a wife and mother. Before Sarah arrives, Anna and her younger brother Caleb wait and wonder. Will Sarah be nice? Will she sing? Will she stay?” This one was a favorite of my older girls, so I’m re-reading to my younger children this summer.
- I, Juan de Pareja – “In a vibrant novel which depicts both the beauty and the cruelty of the time and place, Elizabeth Borton de Treviño tells the story of Juan, who was born a slave and died an accomplished and respected artist.” We found this title through Sonlight and thoroughly enjoyed the read.
F: Read a work of Fantasy fiction
- Horton Hatches the Egg – Of course, no library is complete without a hearty helping of Dr. Seuss. The tale of Horton the faithful elephant is one of my personal favorites. I’ve read it to my children countless times through the years. It’s a silly premise, but we love it — especially the ending!
- Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus – A fun and interactive picture book that teaches children the necessity of “no” and how one should and shouldn’t react when getting “no” for an answer. We were introduced to this one by our children’s librarian during story time a few years ago and have since become big fans of its author, Mo Williams.
- The Chronicles of Prydain – Lloyd Alexander is one of our family’s favorite storytellers of all time. We’ve especially enjoyed reading “the adventures of Taran the Assistant Pigkeeper and his lively companions as they journey through the magical land of Prydain.”
G: Read a Graphic novel
- A Family Secret – I first found this WWII story through Timberdoodle, one of my favorite sources for homeschool materials. Although my boys enjoy graphic novels and comic books, I don’t particularly like reading them myself. Still, I want to encourage them to read as much as possible, and am happy to have found a source I can trust for wholesome titles.
- Pilgrim’s Progress – John Bunyan’s classic tale of Christian and his heavy burden comes to life in this graphic novel.
- The Action Bible – Even the Word of God is available for readers who prefer the graphic style. This one tells all the familiar Bible stories with incredible visual detail. We keep a copy of The Action Bible on our shelf, but we also gave one to a foreign exchange student from China who used to stay with us during school holidays. It’s a great resource for sharing the gospel with somebody with limited English.
H: Read a book of Historical fiction
- Number the Stars – My oldest daughter finished this WWII story in one reading the first time she got her hands on a copy. The book recounts the heroism of the Danish Resistance, as they smuggled nearly seven thousand Jews across the sea to safety in Sweden.
- The Second Mrs. Giaconda – This fascinating book tells the story of how one of Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous paintings, The Mona Lisa, came about.
- Johnny Tremain – Experience the defining events that led up to the American Revolution through the eyes of a 14-year-old silversmith apprentice who must find different work after a tragic accident injures his hand. Our family listened to this compelling account on tape during a road trip to Boston. Excellent reading!
I: Read an Instruction manual
- My First Baby Signs – Simple directions for making several common signs are given in this delightful board book. We own all three volumes, read and used often when my children were little.
- Dangerous Book for Boys – As a mother of eight sons and the wife of one very adventurous husband, I’m convinced the drive to do daring and dangerous things must be hardwired into the Y-chromosome. The author of this book understands that fact and gives instructions for mastering a wide range of essential boyhood skills.
- How to Cook Everything – When I left home, I could paint and sew and do electrical and plumbing repairs like a pro, but I knew precious little about preparing delicious and nutritious meals. Too bad I didn’t have a copy of How to Cook Everything when I was first learning my way around the kitchen thirty years ago, but it has been my go-to book for the past twelve years — and is my family ever grateful I found it!
J: Read a Joke book
- My First Book of Knock Knock Jokes – Just 10 jokes in a lift-the-flap format for your littlest jokers, this sturdy little book is geared for ages 2-8.
- Laugh Out Loud Jokes for Kids – I slipped this in the stocking of one of my joke-loving sons last Christmas. It lives up to its name, as we have been laughing out loud. The jokes are corny but clean.
- Stuff Christians Like – I think our older kids were the first to read this book by the hilarious Jon Acuff. They laughed so hard, Mom and Dad called dibs to read it next. Now the majority of the family has read it, but it’s been a few years. This may be one I read aloud to the younger kids this summer, so they can enjoy the humor, as well.
K: Read a book written for Kids
- The Napping House – We love the wonderful illustrations in the charming bedtime story for kids.
- The Velveteen Rabbit – This is a longer read for a picture book, but such a heartwarming tale of a stuffed Velveteen rabbit and the little boy who loved him. It was an especial favorite of oldest, who had a yellow stuffed dog who was “real” too.
- Chronicles of Narnia – The first time I ever heard The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was when my husband read it aloud to our first couple of babies during their nightly bathtime. They’d soak until they were prune-y if it meant Dad would keep reading. We’ve adventured through these marvelous tales as a family countless times since. My 10-year old is currently reading them aloud to me and his siblings in the afternoons. He’s on the fifth book and will’ve finished them all by summer’s end.
L: Read a Love story
- I Love You as Much – This beautiful picture book illustrates the deep bonds of love shared by mother and child.
- Flipped – My oldest daughter insisted we read this one aloud to the family, as she knew we’d love it. It tells the story through dueling perspectives of a plunky young girl and the mortified neighbor boy she has a crush on.
- Love Comes Softly – Although I’m not a big fan of romance novels, I thoroughly enjoyed reading these sweet prairie love stories by Janette Oke early in my marriage. They inspired me to be a better wife, to work hard with out complaining, and to take every opportunity to tell my husband how much I love and appreciate him.
M: Read book made into a Movie
- Stuart Little – We love E.B. White’s classic tale about Mrs. Fredrick C. Little’s second son who “looked very much like a mouse in every way.” It’s hilarious. And, although it deviates from the original storyline in many places, this is one instance in which we thought the movie was just as good as the book.
- The Giver – “One of the most influential novels of our time. The haunting story centers on twelve-year-old Jonas, who lives in a seemingly ideal, if colorless, world of conformity and contentment. Not until he is given his life assignment as the Receiver of Memory does he begin to understand the dark, complex secrets behind his fragile community.”
- Lord of the Rings – My husband is currently re-reading this series aloud to us in the evenings. There is so much to be gleaned from this tale of Frodo’s great quest: so many wonderful character traits to inspire our children to persevere during troubled times, to walk in integrity, and to never lose hope, no matter how dark the age in which they find themselves.
N: Read a Non-fiction book
- Get Up & Go – I wrote this book a couple of years ago. It is full of great ideas for getting (and staying) fit as a family. Plus, there’s an entire section devoted to fun ways to stay active in the summer months.
- Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook – I’m pretty sure my oldest son had this one memorized at one point in his life. He’d pour over it for hours and days and weeks, rehearsing in his mind how best to respond to whatever unforeseen adversity might be heading his way.
- More Than Meets the Eye – This book will always hold a special place in my heart. Half of the book is about astronomy and the other half about human anatomy, but reading it convinced my husband that a God who can design and hold together all of creation can certainly be trusted to oversee and provide for a family like ours, no matter how many children he sends us!
O: Read a book about the great Outdoors
- All the Places to Love – Bright and beautiful paintings by Mike Wimmer make this picture book an especial delight to read, as Eli shares with his new baby sister the wonderful world that surrounds them and each family member’s favorite place in it.
- Island of the Blue Dolphins – Imagine being stranded alone on a desert island for 18 years. How would you survive? Scott O’Dell’s account of the courage and self-reliance of the young Indian girl who endured such a fate is one I returned to over and over again during my childhood years and have read aloud to my children many times as an adult. A personal favorite.
- Red Sails to Capri – The kids and I just finished re-reading this book last week. It tells the story of Michelle, his family, the inn they own, the guests they serve, and a mysterious cove that holds a secret none of them can imagine.
P: Read a book of Poetry
- Eloise Wilkin Stories – I grew up with a large collection of Little Golden Books, many of which were filled with Eloise Wilkin’s soft, sweet illustrations. I’ve always loved her innocent, wide-eyed children, so I was delighted to find this collection to share with my own little ones.
- Mary Engelbreit’s Mother Goose I’ve always been drawn to Mary Engelbreit’s bright and cheery artwork, so when I saw she’d illustrated this collection of 100 Mother Goose rhymes, I snapped it up.
- Favorite Poems Old and New – This is my favorite collection of poetry, hands-down. It weighs in at almost 600 pages, but I’ve read it cover-to-cover to the kids at least three or four times since first getting our hands on a copy through Sonlight’s homeschool curriculum.
Q: Read a book of Questions
- Are You My Mother? – A perennial favorite from P.D. Eastman, this book follows a newly hatched baby bird as he leaves his nest in search of his mother.
- Life’s Big Questions – My husband wrote this discussion guide at the request of our elders to be used by our church’s small groups when we were going through the book of Colossians, but it makes a great devotional for families, as well.
- Moment by Moment – This devotional journal is full of questions, with plenty of space for answering them. You’ll also find lots of Scripture verses, word studies, writing prompts, and beautiful vintage artwork just begging to be colored in. I also made a boys’ version called Be Still, My Soul, which is identical to this one except for cover and clip art.
R: Read a book about Royalty
- King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub – This is another fun book by Don and Audrey Wood, about a king who so enjoys soaking in his bathtub that he decides to stay there all day. The illustrations for this one are absolutely gorgeous.
- The Whipping Boy – This retelling of the prince and the pauper is full of action, adventure, and surprise!
- The Iron Ring – Another of our favorites from Lloyd Alexander, this intriguing tale follows a young king who loses everything, but gains much wisdom as a result.
S: Read some Shakespeare
- Graphic Shakespeare – A comic book version of some of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, for visual readers.
- Ten Tales from Shakespeare – Charles & Mary Lamb did a lovely job retelling ten of Shakespeare’s classics in language children can easily understand.
- No Fear Shakespeare – Several of our college students have used these side-by-side translations, which allows them to read the original text of Shakespeare’s work with better understanding.
T: Read a book on Theology
- The Biggest Story – I love the bold, rich illustrations this book uses to convey to young readers the timeless truths of Scripture.
- Mere Christianity – C.S. Lewis’s classic work is thought-provoking and makes great material for in-depth family discussions.
- The Universe Next Door – Provides a great introduction to various Worldviews and how their beliefs about God differ.
U: Read a book about an Underdog
- The Ugly Duckling – Hans Christian Anderson’s relatable story of the ugly, misunderstood duckling and its ultimate transformation into a beautiful swan.
- Wonder – We love this book, cover to cover, and have read it several times since it first hit the shelves in 2012. It tells the story (from multiple viewpoints) of how a young boy with a facial abnormality impacted the lives of everybody around him.
- Schooled – A boy named Capricorn Anderson who has been homeschooled his whole life enrolls in a local middle school after the hippie grandmother who’s raised him is injured. A heartwarming tale our whole family enjoyed.
V: Read a tale of valor and Virtue
- Children’s Book of Virtues – This was a staple for my children when they were younger. We loved reading the stories and also watching the cartoon series based on this book.
- Little Britches – Ralph Moody’s entire set of books are must-reads, especially for families of boys. His recollections of life on the ranch showcase the kind of character traits we want our sons — and daughters — to develop.
- To Kill a Mockingbird – Another family favorite, it tells a compelling story of heroism and integrity. After reading it aloud, we set up our projector and watch the old Gregory Peck film version of this much-loved book.
W: Read a book on World travel
- Freight Train – Maybe this one isn’t about world travel in the classic sense — especially since the train pictured doesn’t have a passenger car — but trains play a huge row in moving people and goods across our country and all of Europe, and this picture book by Donald Crews captures a bit of that in simple, bright colors. This was the very first book our oldest son ever read by himself, so it’s special to us for that reason, too.
- The Twenty-One Balloons This one was a childhood favorite of our third-born, who is currently living in Germany with his wife and daughter and has become quite the world traveler himself.
- A Long Way from Chicago – We laughed and laughed while listening to this book on tape a few months ago, although the book also prompted a lot of discussion about whether Grandma Dowdel was a positive or negative influence on the grandchildren who came to stay with her each summer.
X: Read an eXciting adventure story
- Roller Coaster – We have some huge Marla Frazee fans at our house — my teen girls have bought several of Frazee’s picture books for their own private collections. One of our newest acquisitions tells the story of a reluctant child’s first exciting ride on a roller coaster, and her reaction when it was over.
- Banner in the Sky – A young boy named Rudi attempts to climb Switzerland’s greatest mountain — the Citadel — that claimed the life of his father years earlier.
- The Prodigy Project – Jon Gunderson is a bio-weapons expert, a devoted family man, and a spy whose unsuspecting wife and children have unwittingly accompanied him on another assignment. The fate of the world hangs in the balance as the bittersweet dynamics of a large but loving family take center stage against the backdrop of China’s breathtaking landscapes. My amazing husband wrote this page-turner, and it’s terrific (in my totally unbiased opinion ;-))!
Y: Re-read one of Your favorites
- Everywhere Babies – We love babies! And Marla Frazee’s illustrations capture perfectly the wondrous antics of the tiniest humans. This one gives me baby fever every time I read it.
- Miss Suzy – I must have asked my mother to read me the story of this “little red squirrel who lived at the tip tip top of a tall oak tree” at least twelve hundred times when I was little. I always felt so sorry for Miss Suzy when it started to rain. My kids loved the story as much as I did, so it only makes sense that when we ended up raising a baby squirrel several years ago, we named her Miss Suzy.
- Little House on the Prairie – We read through this series again every few years. I love the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s childhood, but — as the mother of so many sons — I think Farmer Boy may be my favorite installment.
Z: Read about a Zoo animal
- Polar Bear, Polar Bear – My children loved the predictable rhythm and vibrant illustrations in this one and Brown Bear, Brown Bear. They deserve a place on every child’s bookshelf.
- Put Me in the Zoo – Spot wants to live in the zoo so bad he can taste it, until his two young friends convince him the circus would make a better home.
- The One and Only Ivan – Tells the unforgettable story of a gorilla named Ivan and the friends he makes in captivity. I read this book aloud during a road trip several years ago and we enjoyed this book tremendously. Don’t miss the author’s afterword — we loved getting a sneak peek at her life, and her fan mail!
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