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Share a Family Story (or Series) with your Family: Moving beyond the “Little House” Books

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Reading Together

Loving the Little House Books

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Little House books. I had the entire set before I was really old enough to read them because my mom was a fan too. I still remember getting Little House in the Big Woods through the Scholastic Book club at school, and I remember reading it.

The Little House books work on many levels. I remember being fascinated about learning about the Ingalls way of life (there is a lot of description in LHIBW), but I also identified with her struggles with her sister. I didn’t exactly have the same issue, but I had a brother with whom I was close in age, and I think there is always a bit of a rivalry in that situation.

Like the real Laura Ingalls, our being close in age also brought about a close relationship when we were older.

For other members of the family, there is adventure, there is the story of Ma trying to raise a family in unimaginable circumstances, and there is Pa trying to balance his dreams with his responsibilities as a husband and father.

I am disappointed that Laura Ingalls Wilder has recently come under fire as a person because of some remarks she unwittingly made about Native populations given that Little House on the Prairie also gives modern readers a picture of the treatment of Natives that is surprisingly balanced, given the circumstances. While Ma is scared of the “Indians”, Pa helps Laura see them as they really are, and underpinning the whole scenario is the fact that the Ingalls are squatting illegally in Native territory. Illegally by U.S. law.

We have a portrait of not only those events, but of westward expansion to the North, when the Ingalls family move first to Minnesota and then to South Dakota.

The range of people who have told me how much they love the Little House books surprises me, and I certainly like them as much now as I did when I was 10.

A well written book (or series) that works on many different levels is the definition of a classic. Despite any issues with Wilder’s personal or political beliefs, The Little House books certainly qualify, but there are many more.

The Joy of Family Stories

The great thing about a really well written family story is that the kids see things through the lens of kids yet there are always adult concerns that cause the kids’ problems, and the adults can see through the narrative to appreciate that point of view.

A good family story works for all members of the family in different ways, and it can also spark some good family discussions.

These books are perfect for the family who want to read together and also for extended families, such as grandparents, who might be interested in keeping up with the reading on their own from far away.

At The Lois Level, we only recommend books that are as enjoyable for adults and teenagers as they are for kids.

Remember, there is no law that says you all need to sit down and read the books together. If you have family members who don’t want to read with the group, give them their own copy, and have at it! Personally, I have little patience for read alouds myself (although I enjoy being the reader, probably because I am a show off).

Sometimes grandparents hit an unexpected snag when their grandchildren start to grow up: the generations don’t know what to talk about, especially if they live distantly.

Reading the same books at around the same time can help solve that problem.

Sharing books without going crazy or broke.

Remember that you can download 1 Kindle book to 6 devices at a time, which is much easier than trying to share one print copy of a book. The Kindles/devices all need to be registered to the same account, and you need to make sure everyone knows not to use the “sync” feature!

Here’s advice on using the “Family” feature (you can always set the grandparents up as extra kids).More Resources from The Lois Level

More Resources from The Lois Level:

For more information about family reading, read The Lois Level on Connecting your Family through Reading here.

Using your family’s Kindle plan and/or digital library books is probably the most economical way to read books with your family, if you don’t want to literally read in a group all the time. You can have one purchased Kindle book on six different devices at any one time, so that should take care of the immediate family as long as there are agreements and who, if anyone, can have the book on multiple devices individually (say a phone and a Kindle).

Amazon has gone to a lot of trouble to set up their Kindle accounts and subscription services to accommodate different needs and maturity levels across the group.

Check out The Lois Level’s Is it time for a Kindle to enter your life? Or the life of someone you love? for more information on the most economical and effective way to set up Kindle and Amazon accounts for your immediate and extended family.

For information on how to access FREE digital content from your local public library, which I must say is amazing these days, read The Lois Level’s Subscribe to your Library. It’s Free! Skip Kindle Unlimited. Skip AppleNews+.

For more information on the services your public library provides and how to use them, check out The Lois Level’s Why the American Public Library is the Foundation of our Democracy

 

Great American Family Reads

(Look for the British Edition in an upcoming article….The British ARE coming. There were so many great options countries, each country deserved a space of its own).

Note: Where there is a boxed set available, that has been shown. Where there is no boxed set, the first book in the series is shown in the body of the article, and the remaining books appear at the bottom. Please remember that The Lois Level participates in the Amazon affiliate program, so we do get a small commission if you click through this site to order. No pressure, because we use libraries ourselves, but if you are going to purchase from Amazon anyway, please help us out. Costs you nothing.

These books are roughly organized starting with the books that can be read in a family with the youngest members (about 4) going up. The last books are appropriate for middle school students and up.

Ramona the Pest and the other early Ramona books By Beverly Cleary

Appropriate Ages: The early Ramona books, in the set shown below, are good for all ages, as long as you can get the littlest ones to sit still. Even if they don’t understand all the words, hearing stories read aloud is good for very young children on many levels.

I was hesitant to include the Ramona books because I feel like they are so well known, but they are a lot of fun.

The first book in the series, Beezus and Ramona, is from Beezus’ point of view, so it’s a book older siblings will enjoy, and the second book, Ramona the Pest, is from Ramona’s point of view as she struggles with the intricacies of kindergarten, which is why everyone enjoys it!

Fun Trivia: Apparently Beverly Cleary wrote three novels as companions to the vintage television series, “Leave it to Beaver”. These books are not listed on her author page, but they are listed on Wikipedia. It seems she did not invent the characters but wrote the books as licensed items to go with the already-existing show, but given the theme of “Leave it to Beaver”, Cleary would have been a perfect choice of author. A link to the first book in the series is below. They are out of print, but don’t seem difficult or expensive to obtain online.

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and the rest of the Fudge series by Judy Blume

The Fudge series from Judy Blume is similar to the Ramona series in that there is a beleaguered older sibling dealing with a terminally cute but pain-in-the-neck younger sibling. The difference here is that the Fudge series, which begins with Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, is about a pair of brothers. The whole family will enjoy the stories because they are funny, and of course everyone can relate on some level.

Although both the Ramona and Fudge series are set in the “present”, Cleary wrote her books in the 1950’s and Blume wrote hers in the 1970’s, so an incidental benefit is that the adults might enjoy the nostalgia and also need to explain some things to the kids.

Appropriate Ages: Most likely students about 8 and up, although note on the Ramona books above applies. There is nothing in these books that will upset or scare younger kids. Younger kids might appreciate Fudge’s point of view.

The Littles and The Littles series by John Peterson

The Borrowers are more famous, but when I was a kid, I liked The Littles better. I believe these have been out of or nearly out of print for some time, but now they are back. Like The Borrowers, the series of books is about a family of little people (as in tiny) who live in the walls of a house. They survive by “borrowing” items from “The Bigs” either to use or to create things they can use. It’s like imagining that the dolls in a doll house are real.

The Littles stories are much shorter and less complex than The Borrowers.

There are about 11 more books in the series. They all seem to be in print at the moment, but they have gone in and out of print in the past (I’ve had trouble when I’ve wanted to purchase them for school use.)

Appropriate Ages: For independent reading, they are good for second and third grade. Since the family in the stories is multigenerational, they are great for all ages.

Note: The Borrowers will be featured in the upcoming companion article, “Share a Family Story from the U.K.”

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever has been one of my favorite books since I read it as a child. I enjoyed the story partly because Christmas pageants were definitely a part of my childhood. I was never Mary, but I was frequently the lead angel because my mother had taught me the speech from The Bible for some reason. One year I was the narrator, which I really enjoyed, and when I got older, I played the flute to accompany a couple of the songs in the adult musical (music was big at my church). Now I remember singing a verse of “Away in the Manger” as a solo one year!

So anyone who remembers the stress of those events coupled with the excitement of Christmas itself will enjoy this book.

But also there is the meaning of the story, which the narrator gets: Mary and Joseph weren’t some picture-perfect family. They would have arrived in Bethlehem absolutely depleted from months of travel. They are working people, not “high toned” people, so they were probably rough around the edges anyway. Mary would have been snapping at Joseph, and he would probably be both scared and proud, and acting stupid the way new fathers do.

In short, the Herdmans are wild, but all in all, they probably do more accurately represent Christmas than the churchy kids would.

Or not. You decide.

Meanwhile, the books are hilarious.

There are two sequels to this book. They are fun, but they aren’t the classics that the first is, mainly because they do not shed new meaning on the holiday the way the original does. I would have been interested to see what Robinson could have done with Easter. Or even Valentine’s Day.

Appropriate Ages: This book probably only works well if your family is at least a bit religious in the Christian tradition. Some children in 2020 might be surprised that these children do not receive more social services because they do seem to be neglected, but they can probably identify with that one kind of scary kid that seems to be in every grade in school. Other than that, probably kids about 5 and up will appreciate this book although there’s nothing to protect the little ones from, unless it’s examples of bad behavior.

All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor

All-of-a-Kind Family is another one of my childhood favorites. Although the books were written in the mid 20th century, they depict life for a large Jewish family in New York City near the beginning of the 20th century and are based on Sydney Taylor’s childhood. The books show family life at that time, but also, since the family is Jewish, there is a lot about the Jewish way of life with holidays, customs, etc.

Appropriate Ages: About 5 and up although there is nothing objectionable for the little ones. As you can see from the pictures, the children in the family are a range of ages from ages 4 to 12. A baby arrives in subsequent books.

Free Read

The Five Little Peppers series by Marguerite Henry

The Five Little Peppers and How they Grew is an oldie but a goodie about a family’s struggle to survive, with their mother, after the death of the father in the early 20th century. The amount of work the children do might come as a shock to 21st century readers, but it’s a good family story.

The book pictured is features the entire series in one volume. As of this writing, it is $1.99 in digital format. If you only want the first one, search Amazon for the free Kindle edition. If you like the first, buy the set pictured because the entire series isn’t available separately (some are…which means more may have become available when you read this).

Appropriate ages: About 8 and up. The old-fashioned stories have little that is objectionable except for the fact that the father has died. Of course people die, but it was more common for younger men and women to die 100+ years ago.

The Melendy Quartet by Elizabeth Enright

Elizabeth Enright’s the Melendy Quartet is a series of four books that mostly focus on the Melendy siblings, but each book has a very different theme. In the first one, The Saturdays, the siblings decide to pool their allowances…basically form an “allowance club” so that each sibling can have a really awesome Saturday, of his or her own choosing, once a month, rather than having a ho-hum Saturday each week. I’m pretty sure my mother would have approved of our having worked together that well! The series is set during World War 2 in New York (city and state), which is when it was written.

Appropriate ages: About 8 and up. Nothing objectionable for little children except that the mother is deceased. The Melendy Quartet is mostly about siblings; the father is often in the background and the children have a lot of freedom.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsberg

The best book about runaways, and museums, ever. As a suburban kid, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler opened up a whole new realm of possibilities to me in New York City!

Just make sure you are open to taking your next vacation in Manhattan before you start this book because your kids are going to want to go.

It’s about a brother-and-sister pair who decide to run away and sleep in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. While they are there, they find out about a mystery involving a statue, and they decide to try to solve it before heading home.

Konigsburg wrote many quality novels, but she never came back to the story of Claudia and Jamie, so this book stands alone.

You know, every kid wants to run away at some point, so in one sense this story functions as a fantasy adventure for a couple of kids who pulled it off, but the focus of the story is becoming something, not getting away from something, if that makes sense.

Appropriate ages: About 8 or 9 and up although the younger brother, Jamie, is 7 in the novel. Be prepared to explore some of the rooms of the Met where Claudia and Jamie spend time online.

For a great series depicting the life of a Puerto Rican family in World War 2 era New York, read The Lois Level’s Nilda, a classic of Hispanic-American lit: How an artist can make you see with words

Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry and the Logan Family Saga by Mildred D. Taylor

I recently picked up Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry after being aware of it for decades, possibly for the first time. I was a bit put off by the copious amount of front matter (which I skipped, as I normally do), but once I got into the story, I was enthralled right away.

Be prepared, because the story is kind of intense, and you are going to have some ‘splainin’ to do unless your family is familiar with Jim Crow Mississippi.

The family is middle class, which means they are both better off than most of their neighbors, Black and White (as landowners) but also more of a target.

The series is based on Taylor’s family’s oral history as explained in the Author’s Note placed at the beginning (I did eventually go back and take a look.).

The central character is Cassie, though whom the story is told, and her three brothers, her parents, and her grandmother.

A lot happens in this book; it would seem as though possibly Taylor compressed events that happened over a longer period of time into one, pivotal year. Which is fine: this is a fictionalized account. But it’s also somewhat intense and might be complicated for younger kids to understand. On the other hand, its complexity makes it a good choice for middle school and up, including adult readers.

The interesting thing about this series is that Roll of Thunder, Here My Cry is the most well known book in the series, but it is not the first in chronological order of events.

The books were not written in chronological order of the events covered, so I’ve put a list below. Wikipedia gives the complete list in order they were written, but every source I consulted presents the series in a different way.

Note that some of the books are Young Adult (about 12 and up) and some are written for children (about ages 8-12). The series is put together in a complex way, which I’m guessing Taylor may have done because there are so few books like this about the African-American experience during a pivotal historical period.

Some of the books are rather advanced Young Adult books and some are geared more toward children. Some of the novellas would work well with middle school kids, especially when there isn’t enough time for a full length novel. The last book in the series, All the Days Past, All the Days to Come is classified as a YA novel, but really it is a slightly shortish adult novel. It is nice to see something from the YA section that isn’t ABOUT teenagers for once, but sadly I’ll bet this book also gets read less than it should, period.

From my teaching experience, I know that up until recently, many of the African-American themed adult books that middle schoolers could probably read could not be taught in school because of the violence, frequently of a sexual nature. So aside from being good literature and telling an important story, these books met a need when they were published and now remain as classics.

Appropriate Ages: Roll of Thunder and all the books labelled “complex YA” below are appropriate for ages 11 and up. Some scary things happen in the book, and younger children will have trouble understanding the precarious position of the Logans in their community. There are a lot of shades of gray throughout the book that readers need to be able to grasp.

Some of the books in the series, however, ARE appropriate for younger readers, so try those first. Another option is to give kids the shorter books to read independently while the family reads the longer ones. Some of the shorter books depict events that occur concurrently with events in the longer books as indicated below.

Teacher note: This series is the best I’ve ever seen for differentiation. It is quality literature, and there are stories on the same topics at different lengths and difficulty so they can be used for different purposes.

The Logan family Saga

The list is in rough chronological order with publication dates and children’s/Young Adult noted. Covers are shown, in order, at the bottom of the post.

The Land, 1991: Prequel to the series (although written after most) that focuses on the childhood of Cassie’s grandfather, Paul-Edward.

The Well: David’s Story, 1995: I believe this is about two of Cassie’s uncles, one of whom appears in Roll of Thunder. It’s listed as for ages 8-12. I haven’t been able to get a copy, but I have a feeling the ending might be quite intense: be sure to pre-check it if you’re reading with younger kids.

Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry, 1976: Begins in approximately 1933, the height of the Great Depression. Complex Young Adult but not overly violent. Most of the time, the reader finds out what’s really going on as the children in the book eavesdrop.

The Friendship, 1987: Set around the time of Roll of Thunder; in fact, it reads like it could be another chapter in Roll of Thunder and is written for older children.

Let the Circle Be Unbroken, 1981: Begins approximately right after the ending of Roll of Thunder. Complex young adult.

Song of the Trees, 1975: Written before any of the other books, this novella is set around the same time as Roll of Thunder and designed for older children.

Mississippi Bridge, 1990: Novella set about the same time as Roll of Thunder and including the same characters involving public transportation discrimination. For children.

The Road to Memphis, 1990: Starts in 1939 but most of the action occurs in 1941 as Cassie finishes high school in Jackson, MI. Complex young adult.

The Gold Cadillac, 1987: Based on Taylor’s own childhood reminiscences during the late 1940’s, but the events echo an incident in Roll of Thunder involving Cassie’s uncle. This book is geared for children and features full-page illustrations by Michael Hays.

All the Days Past, All the Days to Come, 2020: Begins in the mid 1940’s and into the 1960’s and focuses on Cassie’s adulthood and involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. This book is listed as a Young Adult book, but definitely it’s a good read for adults in its complexity…and with an adult as its main character, which is unusual in a YA title.

Where the Lillies Bloom by Vera and Bill Cleaver

I remember this book: I might have even owned it, but I could never get into it as a teenager. Oddly, I was really confused by the main character, Mary Call, calling her parents by their first and last names, and I guess I kept thinking I was missing something.

The book is set in the mountains of North Carolina, and the Cleavers spent some time In Boone, NC doing research for their book, which included “wildcrafting”, which is the gathering of leaves, roots, and other natural products that grow here and are used in creating medicine.

It’s one of those books that is pretty intense and scary if you are reading it as a kid because a family of four children are left on their own after their father dies, and they secretly bury him (and hide the death) so that no one will separate them.

Mary Call, 14, believes that her older sister, Devona, 18, is “simple”, but as the story unfolds, even though the story is told from Mary Call’s point of view, the experienced reader sees that everything is not what Mary Call thinks.

One might even start to suspect that other adults in the family’s world might have an idea what is going on.

There is also a film (below) made in 1976 that beautifully captures the flavor of the region.

Appropriate Ages: About ages 11 and up. Readers need to be able to handle the father’s death from natural causes and the fact that the children bury him secretly.

Note that the story is told from 14-year-old Mary Call’s point of view: while she believes that her 18-year old sister is mentally incompetent and that neighbor, landlord, and suitor of the sister is “the enemy”, her point of view is not necessarily reliable.

Teenagers will probably love the independence of the characters in the book, and the information about “wildcrafting” is engaging for a variety of age levels, especially for people with interests in the environment, botany, and chemistry.


If you liked that, try this….

Other books in the series mentioned above.

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I ran across this title while researching this article. Apparently Beverly Cleary wrote a couple of books to tie in with the classic television series. They are out of print but seem to be available second hand for reasonable prices.

She really was an excellent choice since the character “Beaver” is similar to Ramona in so many ways.


Cover photo credit: Carl Bengts / Public domain

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