YMB #68 Choosing Books for Your Morning Time: A Conversation with Jessica Lawton

On today’s episode of the podcast I am chatting with a good friend and author of the Morning Time plans at pambarnhill.com. Jessica Lawton is a bibliophile and owner of a library of over 3000 books. She is also great a choosing just the right books to use in Morning Time.

Jessica and I chat about how to choose the best books about a topic, which books she thinks are worth owning versus merely borrowing, and how to use different kinds of books for different purposes.

Pam:

This is Your Morning Basket, where we help you bring truth, goodness, and beauty to your homeschool day. Hi everyone and welcome to episode 68 of the Your Morning Basket podcast. I’m Pam Barnhill, your host, and I am so happy that you are joining me here today. Well, if there is something that is the backbone of every good Morning Time it has got to be books. We love books in our Morning Time and we know that so many of you do as well. Books help us to engage with each other as a family and also discuss some of those big meaty ideas that are so much fun to discuss in Morning Time.

Well today’s guest on the podcast is Jessica Lawton. Jessica is the author of many of the Morning Time plans that we have in the Your Morning Basket Plus subscription and she is just wonderful at choosing really great and engaging books. I have used her as my go to resource for good books on a topic for about seven years now, so she really does get to the heart of picking good books.

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I know that so many of you guys feel a little less confident about choosing books sometimes. You're always wanting to make sure that you can get the best book or the right book for any given situation, so I invited Jessica on the podcast today to talk a little bit about how she chooses books for the Morning Time plans and also for her own Morning Time. It was a fun conversation. I learned some new things that I didn't know and some new tips that I would've never thought of using myself. So I think you're going to enjoy it and we'll get on with it right after this word from our sponsor.

This episode of the Your Morning Basket podcast is brought to you by Your Morning Basket Plus. Get the tools you need to put the joy back into your homeschool. If you have been wanting to do Morning Time in your homeschool but you're a little overwhelmed at the idea of which resources to use or which books should you choose we have done all the hard work for you. Your Morning Basket Plus is how you can get more out of your Morning Time with less work for mom.

In the Plus subscription we have over 42 sets of Morning Time plans that you can download and are open and go. We also have live events every month with some of your favorite Morning Time teachers, event replays, and so much more to add to your Morning Time. Now, we have just released our brand new monthly subscription option. Up until now you could only get an annual subscription. That's still available and it's still your best deal but if you would like a monthly option to get in, and try the subscription out, and see what we have available you can find more information about that on the website. So come on over to pambarnhill.com. Click the green get the tools button and check out the Your Morning Basket Plus subscription today. And now, on with the podcast.

Jessica Lawton is a homeschool mom to five fantastically fabulous children. Her hobbies include book collecting, knitting, reading and bird watching. While teacher or writer was never on her list of things to be when I grow up she curiously finds herself doing both and enjoying it. This only strengthens her firmly held belief that God has better plans for us than we have for ourselves. Jessica is also the author of most of the Morning Time plan sets here at Your Morning Basket in our fabulous Your Morning Basket Plus subscription and as such she is also my go to person whenever I am looking for a good book. That is what we're going to be talking about today. Jessica, welcome to the podcast.

Jessica Lawton:
Thank you, I'm happy to be here.

Pam:
Well I am so glad you're here. So what I didn't say in your introduction is we used to be neighbors.

Jessica Lawton:
Yes, we did but we're not anymore.

Pam:
I know.

Jessica Lawton:
It's very sad.

Pam:
We're not going to talk about the we're not anymore but we were for, gosh, four or five years. We were neighbors down the-

Jessica Lawton:
Oh, it was more than that I think.

Pam:
Was it?

Jessica Lawton:
Yeah, at least five, yeah.

Pam:
Okay. We were down the street neighbors and we really did look at a lot of books together and share books back and forth, mostly me borrowing from you because you have one of the most awesome home libraries I've ever seen, and yeah, it was a lot of fun.

Jessica Lawton:
It was. I enjoy loaning out my books and sending stacks home with people to enjoy. It's one of my favorite things to do.

Pam:
Yeah, and you even have a system for that, don't you?

Jessica Lawton:
I do, I use LibraryThing to catalog all my books and I love it.

Pam:
Okay, so guys what I'm wanting you to know here is this is one serious book lover we are talking to right here. There are a lot of books involved.

Jessica Lawton:
Yeah, I'm going to an estate sale tomorrow and my husband says, "What do we need at this estate sale?" I said, "Well, I looked at the pictures and he's got some really great stuff but on his bookshelves it looks like some really interesting things there." He just sighs.

Pam:
He's like, "Yeah, I've got to build more shelves."

Jessica Lawton:
That's right, another trip to Ikea.

Pam:
All right, well before we talk more about books, tell me a little bit about you, and your homeschool, and how you homeschool those five kids.

Jessica Lawton:
Well, currently we are no longer living down the street from Pam. We live in Colorado now and I have five children, four of which we homeschool. They range from eighth grade to second grade and even though I like Classical and Charlotte Mason ideas I feel like our homeschool has become very eclectic as the kids get older, as I give each child the resources to explore the things that they are passionate about. So schooling doesn't look the same for every child at all. Well, they do some things together but each one has a different thing that they're doing that they're passionate about and I want to give them the resources for that and the time to do it while still covering the math, and the reading, and the things you have to do.

Pam:
Right, right, and you guys, you have a pretty good Morning Time going, right?

Jessica Lawton:
We do, for the most part. It slows down a little bit during swimming. We pick it up when swimming is not quite as hectic. So what started off this year as maybe like a two-hour Morning Time, really strong, has backed off to maybe 45 minutes on a good day.

Pam:
Which that's still ... For most people that's still a pretty long Morning Time session. What kind of things do you guys do in Morning Time?

Jessica Lawton:
Well, the one we try to hit first and most often is, of course, our morning worship together where we read the Bible, and we sing a hymn, and we pray together. We've also added the Little Pilgrim’s Progress and some articles from a magazine that talk about faith, and theology, and things like that for my older kids.

Jessica Lawton:
After that usually it's time to go to swimming. So we've actually, at times, split our Morning Time. We don't always get a chance to come back to it afterwards, but when we do we try to do things like My Bookhouse. We've been picking up My Bookhouse. I let the children choose a history book. My son chose this John Smith's World history book that he's enjoying me read out loud. We've also added Primary Challenge Math and we've been enjoying The Hobbit Morning Time plans.

Pam:
Yeah, those are definitely on my list. I'm probably not going to get to them until the fall of next year but they look so good. I'm really wanting to add those, especially since I have some kids who are crazy about fantasy, and The Hobbit, and things like that.

Jessica Lawton:
We've enjoyed the parts that we've been able to do. We haven't been able to do every part of it, which I think is important to say, because it doesn't appeal to everybody. So we've left off some of the stuff that maybe my older kids would've enjoyed just so that we could bring along the younger kids.

Pam:
Yeah, yeah. So Jessica, one of the things that I just absolutely love about you is you just have this innate ability to find the best books and I really mean that. I get these Morning Time plans from you, I've never seen them before because you just do them. You're absolutely wonderful in that way-

Jessica Lawton:
Thank you.

Pam:
... and I open them up and I start looking at the books that you've chosen and I'm like, "How in the world did she find these? These are absolutely awesome." So how did you develop this skill of picking such really great books?

Jessica Lawton:
Well, in short I read a lot of books and I love going to the library and just looking at all kinds of books. A fun thing to do for me is to scour the children's section and just see what they have to offer. I do use books lists. I search book lists. I've, at times, even used LibraryThing is a great source. You can join for free and you can search tags that other people have tagged as subjects. So when your library catalog fails you because they've not tagged a book for a certain topic or a certain subject then you can search what other people have said that, "Oh, this book has this person in it," or, "This book talks about this character trait." So some of the things that you may not be able to pick up with normal book lists, or catalogs, or Amazon you can use LibraryThing because other human beings have actually tagged that book.

Pam:
Yeah, that's a great tip because I have LibraryThing from years ago and I no longer use it to catalog books because I kind of got over that, so it never occurred to me to log in and actually check those tags. But you're absolutely right, people tag them.

Jessica Lawton:
Yeah, so if there's a fairy tale that has to do with honesty somebody may have tagged it honesty, or lying, or deception, or something like that. So all those things are tagged and every book has who knows how many tags on it. It's a good way to find different resources.

Pam:
Yeah, and it's funny because as I'm hearing you talk about this, I love a good book but I don't have the time or inclination to go out and find it for myself. So I'm perfectly happy to have somebody else find that for me. But it almost sounds like, to me, that this is a hobby, this is a passion, this is something you really enjoy. So if other moms out there listening, you might be more like Pam where you're just perfectly happy to let somebody else find you a good book and thank goodness there are people like Jessica who you like doing it. That's just-

Jessica Lawton:
Oh, I love it.

Pam:
... what you like to do.

Jessica Lawton:
It's like a big scavenger hunt, I really do. It's a lot of fun.

Pam:
Well let's talk about what makes a good book. So when you're picking books for your kids, or for the Morning Time plans, or something like that, I know that moms kind of get hung up a little bit and they're concerned that they're not ... If there are 10 books about Abraham Lincoln, how do I know how to pick a good one? How do you do that? What's your process?

Jessica Lawton:
So when I'm choosing non-fiction books such as one of Abraham Lincoln, or Ben Franklin, or moths and butterflies, or the planets I'm looking for a book that's going to tell me more than the Wikipedia article I can look up online. I'm looking for a book that has engaging illustrations. I'm looking for text that offers more of a story. I'm looking for descriptions that Wikipedia just isn't going to offer, something that will help my children see in their minds the life of Abraham Lincoln. I want it presented in an interesting way.

Pam:
So those are the kinds of things that you're going for is something just a little bit out of the basic facts.

Jessica Lawton:
Yes, yes, and it's presented ... For example, there's this great dragonfly book, Fly High Dragonfly. It came out last spring, early summer some time and there was this story, Fly High Dragonfly, and it went through his lifecycle, but then at the bottom of the page it had engaging information about what was happening in that part of the dragonfly's life. So you had the overarching beautiful text with information when your child wanted it. That's one of the types of books I look for and enjoy reading in Morning Time.

Pam:
You know, it's funny, you chose a few years ago, and I can't remember for which set of Morning Time plans it was for, but you chose the book Papa is a Poet about Robert Frost and that was such a fabulous book. I mean, we got this story of Robert Frost's life but it didn't read like a biographical encyclopedia entry.

Jessica Lawton:
Right, right. It sometimes just has portions of his life that have to do with his poetry. Books like that that, like you said, are not necessarily linear or all inclusive. They just give a portion that your child will remember and remember having enjoyed because of the way it was presented in this book.

Pam:
Yeah, yeah. Okay, so you mentioned book lists earlier. How do book lists help you out?

Jessica Lawton:
I really like a good book list. What I do with book lists though, they can be frustrating because you find this great book list online, you've looked at it, you've read some of the summaries to these books and you're thinking, "Yeah, I'm going to go to the library and I'm going to get these books," and you end up at your library and come to find out that a lot of them have been out of print, they no longer circulate because nobody wanted to check them out, and you're just frustrated.

Jessica Lawton:
But they can still be useful because they can help you find good authors that you might enjoy. Maybe your library has more books by that same author or your librarian can help you find other books that are the same type, and it also can help you zero in on a topic or a genre that may not have zeroed in on before. So, if you know nothing about classic books there are a ton of classic book lists out there. You go, "Oh, I didn't realize that was a classic," or a science fiction book list, "Oh, this one looks like it may be one we might enjoy even though that's not a genre we would normally pick." So they can help get you out of your comfort zone. I think a really good curated book list is a good resource.

Pam:
I love that. I would've never thought about that. I would've been the person who went to the library and was just absolutely frustrated that this particular ... Gosh, I'm trying to think of an author off the top of my head, but this particular Tomie dePaola book was not there, and so it never would've occurred to me, well, there are 15 other Tomie dePaola books here so-

Jessica Lawton:
I might like one of those.

Pam:
I might like one of those, yeah, that's a really fabulous way to look at using a book list. And then also, we all get stuck in those reading ruts, reading in those same genres. So having some good suggested books in different genres, that's a wonderful thing as well.

Jessica Lawton:
Right, you don't want to just say, "Hey, I'll read a science fiction book," and then go randomly pick one and you hate it and then never read another science fiction book again. You really want somebody to have said, "This is a good science fiction book. You want to start with that."

Pam:
Yeah, I think that's a good idea. So if we're looking for books for our Morning Time, because you're kind of an expert at that, how do you find books that are good for reading aloud versus books that might be good for your kids to read by themselves?

Jessica Lawton:
I first want to say that reading aloud, picking those books, you need to engage the whole family, but that doesn't mean that it has to be everybody's favorite book or favorite type of book but it will offer something for everyone. Also, another tip to picking a book for reading out loud is choosing a book that, because reading time can be short, like you said, your Morning Time can be very short and you maybe only get 10 minutes for your read aloud time. So choose a book that has action happening consistently and is maybe more episodic, like The Moffatts or The Saturdays, so there's an overarching theme in the book yet each chapter offers a smaller story that sort of has some sort of conclusion before you move on. Those are good choices for really short Morning Times.

Pam:
Okay, I want to say something here because we recently read Jean Craighead George's The Tarantula in My Purse and-

Jessica Lawton:
Oh, I love that book. It's so fun.

Pam:
Okay, yes, but I think that was one of the things my kids absolutely loved about it was it was almost like a series. They weren't essays and they weren't short stories. It was almost like a series of vignettes into her family, and all the different animals they had, and I think that was one of the things my kids absolutely loved was that ... Now, some days we would read more than one chapter, but we could read one chapter and it was kind of a start and finish and it was over and they got the complete little story.

Jessica Lawton:
Yes, and it was stories she would tell her grandkids one at a time. There could be weeks in between and you'd still be able to pick it up.

Pam:
Yes, yes. I think that's a great tip. I knew we loved that little book but it didn't occur to me that that was a big part of why until you said that. Do you have any other books that are like that?

Jessica Lawton:
The Moffats, The Saturdays, I'm trying to think of some others off the top of my head. Those are the two I thought of, things like Five Children and It, Half Magic. Again, so most of those have a more overarching story than Tarantula in My Purse but they're still start and stop. You're not having to hold on to a big complicated plot as you move on. So if you end up having sick kids for a week or you lose your voice, heaven forbid, for a week, week and a half and you can't read out loud you're not losing the flow of a story because you can't read it.

Pam:
Oh, I love that tip. Okay, so what else, if we're reading aloud versus reading to yourself?

Jessica Lawton:
Well, I also think that it's important to gauge where you and your family are at at the moment. It's February, we're all February slump, it's all over, people are talking about it. So it's important to gauge, are you sick of the cold and snow? Well, please don't read anything sad and boring. Not like you pick a boring book but don't read anything sad or just maybe-

Pam:
Maybe deep or heavy, yeah, yeah.

Jessica Lawton:
Super heavy is the word I'm looking for. So pick up Pippi Longstocking or Sir Givret the Short and laugh a little. It's okay if your read aloud is short. I'm trying to think of some others, Five Children and It is a good one to laugh at. Half Magic, just something light and fluffy is fine for read aloud, something to get you laughing. But if you're ready to go away from the cold and the snow and you want a longer book, The Hobbit or The Little White Horse, or anything fantasy, fairy tale-ish. But if you're ready, if you're in a season where your kids are growing and you're having great conversations with them then choose a book that's going to foster that such as Inside Out and Back Again or The Giver Quartet. So just take into account your season of where you're at when you choose books for your children. Also, I have to say my last tip is, read what you like. If I don't like a book chances are I'm not going to choose to read it out loud. They can read that book by themselves. I'm so selfish.

Pam:
I'm having flashbacks to Barbie books we got from the library.

Jessica Lawton:
Oh my goodness, yes. Don't ever-

Pam:
I would tell the little six year old girl, "You can check it out but I'm not reading it to you."

Jessica Lawton:
Absolutely. I say that about comic books, "You can bring that home but I am not reading that out loud."

Pam:
Yeah, yeah, I don't blame you. Okay, so I know for a fact that sometimes when you choose books for Morning Time you actually choose some books, especially for our Morning Time plans, that you would never read out loud.

Jessica Lawton:
Yes.

Pam:
What's the strategy behind that?

Jessica Lawton:
Well, I think they're really great books but because of their presentation they're not good books to read aloud, but they are great books to put on your table while you are reading aloud another book. So if I'm reading aloud John Smith's World or a book about Sir Walter Raleigh, we're going through that period of history right now, then I will spread out on the table DK Eyewitness books about that or a book I get at the library that has a lot of pictures and maybe some snippets of information.

I just find those books really jumpy to read aloud from but they're great to strew when I am having to get up for a few minutes to help the three year old with something or to take care of ... somebody knocked on the door, whatever it is where I have to leave the table. Then they have these things to look at and to maybe read a snippet of. They enjoy the comic books, the graphic histories that I put on the Morning Time lists. I think they're really great but again, it's a comic book and you can't read that out loud very easily but they can.

Pam:
Yeah, well and I love that idea because you know what they could do is they could draw from those books as well.

Jessica Lawton:
Yes, plenty of pictures.

Pam:
Yeah, while you're reading out loud from some of the more narrative kinds of books they may flip open that DK Eyewitness book and be drawing pictures of the men in armor, or the tools that the settlers used, or whatever and having something to do with their hands that's related to what you're reading.

Jessica Lawton:
Yes, that works.

Pam:
So going back to the book list thing and the frustration there, if somebody comes along and downloads one of our sets of Morning Time plans, they make a purchase, or if they download our free month of Morning Time plans and they get to the library and let's say we're studying butterflies and none of the butterfly books that you've chosen are at the library. What do you suggest they do?

Jessica Lawton:
Well, I suggest that you ... Our library, in the non-fiction section, has these lovely little signs for the kids, "Airplanes are over here," "Dinosaurs are over there," so you kind of get a good idea of where things are. Just go to that section and find the butterfly books for non-fiction and see what they have to offer. Now when I flip open a book the cover is, of course, the first thing I look at and that can be a good indication. Does it have lovely cover art? Somebody's taken the time to provide good illustrations for this book. If I don't like the pictures, I put it back. If I don't like the format, I put it back. If I read a paragraph and it's dry, I put it back. Don't be afraid-

Pam:
Okay, hold on. We're going to make a list here of everything you just said. First of all, Jessica Lawton does judge a book by its cover because, and this is funny, this is important, because somebody has taken the time, they've put care into the cover.

Jessica Lawton:
Yes.

Pam:
Okay, that's very interesting, and then you just told me you look at three things, you look at the quality of the illustrations, you look at the format of the book. What do you mean format of the book?

Jessica Lawton:
Okay, by that I mean is the information arranged in a easy way to read? Is it arranged in a way that I can easily read aloud and my children can see the pictures with it? I want text on the same page as the pictures.

Pam:
One of the things that's coming to mind that's just horrible, they're good books but they're horrible to read aloud, are those Magic School Bus books.

Jessica Lawton:
Oh yes, so those are the ones I keep on my shelf for my kids to read when they're just starting to read and I really want to have something interesting-

Pam:
So that's the kind of formatting that is kind of off putting for reading books aloud.

Jessica Lawton:
Yes, yes.

Pam:
And then the last thing that you said you just choose a random sample paragraph and read it to make sure it's interesting and not dry.

Jessica Lawton:
Yes, yes. I also want to let you know that don't be afraid of those older books because they're still there for a reason. So if it has one of those older covers that has been rebound sometimes because of that or it never had a cover picture doesn't mean the insides are not good. That book is still on the shelf for a reason. So sometimes those older books are actually really great resources.

Pam:
Yeah. So when Jessica was living here our library went through a huge book purge and one of the things that we found out, we were a little frustrated sometimes with our library system, is that books that don't get checked out they remove from the shelves. So sometimes some really great books, just for whatever reason, don't appeal to other people in your town. So we found some awesome finds at that library sale.

Jessica Lawton:
We sure did. I still have a lot of them.

Pam:
And then other times ... So it works both ways. Sometimes really good books get passed out of the system because for whatever reason people didn't check them out but then other times a book that is older and has been around a while has really stood the test of time in a library system. It's ... What's the word I'm looking for? It's withstood against being discarded because they will if nobody checks it out.

Jessica Lawton:
Right, they will, they will get rid of them.

Pam:
Yeah, yeah. What makes you choose to buy a book? Because if you're looking at a book list of 10 or 15 books you're not ... as many books as you have, as much as your husband allows you to collect books, you can't buy all of them.

Jessica Lawton:
No, you can't. So how do I choose a book to keep on my shelf? Well, there are different topics for this and this is not maybe the best question to ask a girl who has over 3,000 books. Self control in the book department is not something I have, but I love niche books. These are the books that fill a unique, specific hole of knowledge. This is for non-fiction books. For example, we have atlases with maps that change ... The whole book is about the changing of political borders, or different battles, or the history of maps and it starts in the middle ages and it goes through different types of maps and things. I love books that are going to provide a unique story from a certain period of history that, again, I'm not going to find necessarily on Wikipedia or in my history book, text that I'm reading to the children, books like Do Re Mi about the monk who invented musical notation. Would never have heard of him without that book.

Pam:
So...

Jessica Lawton:
And Genie , Genie told me about him.

Pam:
Yeah, Genie Shaw, she writes our Catholic Morning Time plans. But so what I hear you saying is you go for ... Instead of going out and saying, "Well, I'm going to buy a book about the Civil War you go out and you say, "Well, I'm going to buy a book about the guy who took pictures, some of the first pictures during the Civil War." I think his name was Matthew-

Jessica Lawton:
Yeah, that'd be great.

Pam:
... Matthew Brady or something like that.

Jessica Lawton:
I want one of those. You got a title?

Pam:
Somebody write that book, but yeah so you're going to get a picture book about him and his picture taking process, not about the Civil War in general.

Jessica Lawton:
Well, I mean I do have books about Civil War on my shelf but the books I really love that I really suggest other people put on their shelves are things like that, yes. I have one called The Vicksburg Veteran and it's a book about Vicksburg but it's not just a book about Vicksburg. It has more of a story to it.

Pam:
Okay, so I'm actually loving this. See, this is why I love to talk to you because I never think about these things. It never occurred to me that going for the niche books are where it's at and I'm going to let you talk about a couple of other kinds of books in just a second but I do have one question for you. Do you go with your kids interests on this? Do you go with your interests on this? I mean, would you have a niche book about a particular subject if nobody in your house were interested in it?

Jessica Lawton:
No, I wouldn't, but there isn't a lot I'm not interested in.

Pam:
Spoken like a true homeschooling mom.

Jessica Lawton:
Right? Especially if it's got a really great presentation and of course my children have the specific topics that they just love. My son, Will, here in Colorado we have airplanes going over our heads all the time and he is just so excited about airplanes. So naturally our airplane book collection has bloomed in the past year or so. My daughter loves Egypt and so we have a collection of Egypt books for her. So we do have topics that maybe have more books than other topics, but if it's a really great book that I feel like offers some interesting material I don't care what it's about I'm going to buy it anyway.

Pam:
Okay, so the presentation and the narrative of the book trump what the topic of the book is.

Jessica Lawton:
Yeah, I know, I know that sounds weird but it does.

Pam:
Okay, interesting. Well, and that's probably great because you have these beautiful books lying around that people pick up and look at and read because they're beautiful, and interesting, and it probably sends them off into all kinds of other interests they might not have normally had.

Jessica Lawton:
Well that is the hope.

Pam:
Okay, so tell me about ... We've been talking about non-fiction here. What about fiction or art books?

Jessica Lawton:
Well, I want to encourage to keep several oversized art books. That was one of the things I thought about when I knew I was going to be talking about books. You can find these at yard sales, or library bookstores, or thrift stores. A lot of times people have ... I don't know where these books even come from, I guess museums or Amazon or whatever, but they're big and they have beautiful pictures in them. The Internet is nice but I definitely want to have several of these. Maybe you just need one in your house but I, of course, need several.

Pam:
I'm seeing a pattern here.

Jessica Lawton:
Yeah, you can never have enough art books because my kids will take these down and flip through them, and then they're being exposed to beautiful art work, and there's nothing like flipping a page and having this lovely glossy piece of artwork in front of you. In my opinion the next best thing is going to the museum and seeing the artwork itself. So these are just a great bang for your buck if you want to show your children beauty.

Pam:
Okay, and then what about the fiction?

Jessica Lawton:
These I have maybe three categories for to keep on my shelf. If we loved the book we're probably going to have a copy of it, which is easy of course. There are authors that I've simply collected their other books because I liked something I read from them. Lord Alexander is one of those. I liked Chronicles of Prydain so every time I saw a book by him I went, "Oh, let's try this one," and those ended up on our shelf. I have enjoyed some of those as well. Then there are, of course, the books like we've talked about before, the Magic Tree House, The Bobbsey Twins, some of those other series books that my kids like and enjoy when they're learning how to read that I wouldn't necessarily choose to keep later on but they're on my shelf now. And then just the historical fiction books that give extra context for history. So I do keep a wide variety and I have a wide criteria for the books I keep on my shelf. Honestly, if it has a cover and paper in between those covers it's probably going to be considered.

Pam:
Really? That's the criteria?

Jessica Lawton:
Yeah.

Pam:
You know, it's funny you talk about having all of those easy readers around but when you get a kid who's ready to binge on that kind of stuff to have, and you can pick those up at yard sales for 10 cents, 25 cent, or something like that, but to have that available so when they get sucked into a series they can just read, and read, and read without having to go back to the library, without having to pester you to go back to the library.

Jessica Lawton:
Yes, it's so nice.

Pam:
Yes, yes, it really, really is nice. So there is a benefit to those kinds of easier books and just picking them up at yard sales for 10 or 25 cent when you have kids who are at that age, and about to burst forth, and need all of that high fluency, easy to read stuff.

Jessica Lawton:
Right.

Pam:
Well, what's your relationship like with your librarian? Does she help you choose good books?

Jessica Lawton:
Well honestly, not where we live right now. I'm not even sure who my librarian is. We have such a huge library system here and it's really great in that way. I can get books from a huge network of libraries here in our city and I can also have an amazing inter library loan program where I've been able to get most of the books I want through there. You have to wait but you can get them. So but when we lived-

Pam:
Well, think back to when you were here, what tips do you have for helping somebody work with their librarian?

Jessica Lawton:
Well, when we lived in Alabama I felt like our children's librarian was very knowledgeable about her curated section of books and she was definitely willing to work with you. All I had to do was talk to her about what we were doing and she would offer up, "Hey, well have you seen this book over here?" So they love books, they're librarians, and they also hopefully, if they're a children's librarian, like children as well. So they often want to show off their collection. They have curated it often, they have chosen the books and picked them out. So talking to them and asking for their help ... My experience with this one librarian, they're only too willing to help you and always ask if you can suggest books for purchase because they have a budget for things like that a lot of times. If they do purchase them for you make sure you check them out because otherwise, well, I ordered that one for nothing.

Pam:
Yeah, they're not going to do it the next time.

Jessica Lawton:
Right.

Pam:
Yeah, and that's what I've found, too. I mean, that's been my experience where we live and I'm hoping that it's the same way across the country for other people as well, that they're having good experiences with their librarians. But I like the point, it's something that I don't necessarily think about. If I were to go to the library and not find a book that I wanted my next stop would probably be Amazon but I can request that book and ask for it. It takes a little advance planning but it is something that you can do.

Jessica Lawton:
Right. Well, also they might be able to offer books that are in different sections. So if I've scoured the non-fiction section on insects the librarian might notice that I have a lot of books on insects or just mention that, "Hey, we're studying insects," she might be able to point me to a picture book or a fiction book that will offer that topic as well. It's in a different section. I may never have been able to find it but they know where these books are and they know what they have.

Pam:
Yeah, yeah, that's exactly right. Okay, so if you have somebody who feels just intimated by the whole idea of picking books and I think we get kind of worked up in our head about this whole situation, like, "We've got one chance to study Abraham Lincoln and I've got to pick the best Abraham Lincoln book or I've ruined it forever." It's really not like that at all.

Jessica Lawton:
No, it's not.

Pam:
But I think you've given us some great tips today. Any last tips for how do you get over that and move that past that idea that picking books is hard?

Jessica Lawton:
Well, I mean choosing books can sometimes be hard, especially if I'm trying to help my daughters choose chapter books from the library. Honestly, there are a lot of times after looking at the cover, reading the inside material, flipping through, doing my sort of criteria on them I just sigh and hand it to them and say, "Figure it out yourself and come to me." My daughter has, she said, "I'm not going to keep reading this book." "Okay, well let's talk about it." And I said, "Okay, you made a good decision."

Jessica Lawton:
So sometimes it's not all on me, if that makes sense and it's giving our children the opportunity to read books. Also, if you bring home a book that doesn't appeal or doesn't end up being good, well, then stop reading it and just chuck it back in the pile of to go back to the library and try again next time. Like you said, you're not going to ruin it and you're going to show your children that hey, sometimes you just end up with something you didn't care for and that's fine. You're going to see that your whole life.

Pam:
Yeah, and I think honestly as we're talking about this, I think it would be better to take a book that you open up and is just not engaging, nobody's liking it, nobody's getting into it, you're seeing that it's bad, and to just close it and say, "Eh, that's not a winner," and move on until you can get something else. It's better to let it go than it is to try to hammer-

Jessica Lawton:
Force it.

Pam:
... somebody over the head with it, yeah, force it. Yeah, life is too short for bad books, even with your kids.

Jessica Lawton:
I agree. There are so many wonderful books out there to read that if you happen to come across one that just stinks, oh goodness, just close it back up, send it back to the library.

Pam:
And that takes the pressure off. I mean, it totally takes the pressure off for you feeling like you have to pick the perfect book every single time if you give yourself permission to say, "Eh, we're going to close this one and put it back." I mean, if you have one kid who's not liking it and you're liking it then no, they can sit there and listen to it. It's not going to kill them, but yeah, if it's just a bad book it's okay to say, "You know what? This just wasn't that great. We're closing it and we're going to move on and find something else." Yeah, I think so. Well Jessica, thank you so much for joining me here today to talk about books, and how to pick books, and how you choose books for the Morning Time plans and use them in your Morning Time and I really appreciate it.

Jessica Lawton:
Well, I've had a great time and I could talk all day. Sure you don't have more time?

Pam:
I know you could. Thanks so much.

And there you have it. Now if you would like links to any of the books and resources that Jessica and I chatted about on today's episode of the podcast you can find them on the show notes at pambarnhill.com/YMB68. Also, be sure to go check out those show notes because we have some wonderful new downloads for you that we're doing for every new episode of the podcast. By the way, we're going back and doing them for all the old episodes of the podcast as well.

It's just going to take a little bit of time for us to get them all finished, but these fabulous new podcast downloads include a full transcript of every single podcast, also, questions for you to think about and action items for each podcast, timestamps so you can jump around in the podcast and find your favorite parts again, and even a Basket Bonus. This episode of the podcast does have a Basket Bonus and it's a book list of some of Jessica's absolute favorite books for Morning Time. So not all of the podcasts will have that Basket Bonus but many of them will but every single podcast will eventually have that packet of downloads. Once again, you can find that on the show notes at pambarnhill.com/YMB68.

Now, I will be back again in a couple of weeks with an interview with Lauren Stangele. Lauren is a mom who is educating her kids bilingually and she was not bilingual herself. You're going to hear about why this was extremely important for Lauren to do and also how she is using Morning Time to make this happen. Her story's an interesting one. She started out doing this one way, met me, stepped back and regrouped and now Morning Time is the way she's making it happen. It's a fun story, so check that out in a couple of weeks and until then keep seeking truth, goodness, and beauty in your homeschool day.

Key Ideas about Choosing Books for Morning Time

Choosing good books for our families is something that all of us can learn to do. It takes a little practice, some helpful direction from book lists and a willingness to explore your library’s book shelves. The librarian is a wonderful resource when you get stuck trying to find a great book.

Some books are great for reading aloud as a family and some are better read alone. Things like the books formatting and style should be taken into consideration when deciding if the book should be read aloud or not. If the book isn’t a great read aloud think of other ways it may still be of value to your students and use it that way.

When deciding if a book should be added to your collection or not start by following your family’s interests and then conside finding “niche” books. Niche books contain a unique perspective or story that isn’t typically written about in books on the same topic.

Don’t be afraid to put a book back if it isn’t a great fit for your family. There are so many great books.
Don’t waste time on books you aren’t loving.

Find what you want to hear:

  • [3:31] meet Jessica Lawton
  • [9:24] how Jessica developed the skill of picking great books
  • [11:54] What makes a good book?
  • [14:39] the role of book lists in making book selections
  • [16:41] the difference between a good read aloud and a good read alone book
  • [19:34] how seasons impact book choices
  • [21:21] making use of books that are good but wouldn’t be good to read aloud.
  • [23:27] three things to look for when you are trying to find a good book
  • [27:33] niche books and knowing when to buy a book
  • [30:16] following your children’s interests with regard to choosing books
  • [31:52] choosing fiction and art books
  • [35:05] tips for working with your librarian
  • [38:02] what to do when you find you aren’t enjoying a book

[thrive_lead_lock id=’33086′]Click here to download your YMB #68 Episode Bonuses [/thrive_lead_lock]

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Thanks for your reviews

  • Life Affirming
    by Logandinco66 from United States

    This podcast is amazing and has helped me so much as recovering perfectionist homeschooling mama! Pam gives so much great insight into so many aspects of life and focusing on homeschooling.

  • Life giving!
    by lapatita5 from United States

    This podcast has been so great. It’s so practical and encouraging without being overly preachy or narrow. It gives ideas in a take-what-fits kind of way. I have used many of the recommended resources and ideas mentioned and been inspired by many others. Even the episodes that I found less relevant to me specifically, often had tidbits that I could use. Pam’s podcasts, books, and resources have been a godsend to me in my beginning years of homeschooling, helping me discover my own way to teach my kids in a way that prioritizes what is most important to us.

  • You've made my school year!
    by Lizzie O' from United States

    Pam, My children are almost 11 and 13 and I never sent this review in! I found it sitting here. This is testimony that I am still so blessed by this podcast years later. So here it is: I wrote you an email when I first felt it placed on my heart to homeschool my now 6

  • Love the show!
    by Startup Travis from United States

    Love your content and the guests you have visiting the show! I am a huge believer in using the morning hours well. Thank you for your direction and products!

  • Enjoy the podcast & some thoughts…
    by rufocused from United States

    I enjoy listening to tips on starting and using morning time as I am just starting it this year. We have kind of done it in the past, but when you only have one child you tend to just call it bible, story time, etc… but now that my second one is old enough to join we’re going to have more of a true morning time. I did notice Pam mentioned CNN ten in one episode. CNN can be pretty liberal biased in the main news, I’m not sure if they curb that in the “CNN ten”, but thought I would mention the Daily Wire, which is from a conservative viewpoint (and often covers indoctrination in public schools) and could be fun to compare and contrast with CNN. Our family also recently discovered Daily Citizen from Focus on the Family which has a very Christian perspective, which has been refreshing as news can be so depressing sometimes! Just thought I’d throw that out there… but really do appreciate the perspectives and insights of these women who have been doing this for awhile!

  • Very helpful and pleasant to listen to.
    by Heather homeschooler from United States

    I have listened to many episodes of this podcast and have highly recommended it to others. It has been a wonderful source of inspiration and encouragement. Pam has a great voice and presence and I love that she does not interrupt or talk over her guests. Thank you for your hard work!

  • Always insightful!!
    by method_money from Canada

    Pam always has great great guests who bring great insights and encouragement! I so appreciate her down to earth style and ability to ask great questions! Keep up the great work!!

  • A wildly encouraging and equipping podcast for homeschool families.
    by Eryn Lynum from United States

    As a homeshool mama of four (Ages 2-9), Pam's podcast has been an increidble encouragement to me. Not only that, but I have discovered so many helpful resources for focusing on what is lovely and true during our homeschool days. I love that it is not overwhelming in nature, but instead a gentle help for moving forward one day at a time in our homeschooling adventure.

  • Best podcast for homeschooling/variety of topics
    by Bethetal from United States

    I love this podcast for so many reasons. (1) Pam is friendly, funny, humble and kind (2) She covers a multitude of topics (one at a time)- I have learned about nature notebooks, classical music study, narration, living books, Shakespeare and so much more. Whenever I have a question about a new (to me)HS term or practice, I come here to listen to Pam interview someone about it. Her interviewees have all been all-in on their respective areas of interest/expertise and I love the way she interviews/asks questions to really let the guests shine as they speak. I have changed the structure of my homeschool, found books for my kids and me, purchased materials, and found inspiration due to this podcast and I can’t recommend it enough! This podcast has shaped my homeschool in so many positive ways, most of which I probably can’t even articulate yet, as the changes have been done inside of me. Thanks, Pam!

  • Great!!!
    by Eloblah from United States

    I love the variety of things that are talked about on this show for homeschooling - things that I would never even think about including or doing - with easy ways to do them. Very much recommend this podcast

  • New home schooling mom
    by A prit from United States

    I am listening to the past episodes and loving it. This podcast has helped me develop my own homeschool. So many ideas!! I love morning time so much, we do a nightly family time so my husband and public school attending son. We do all the things instead of watching tv, playing ps4, and YouTube. My kids hang around me every evening asking if we are doing family time. I can tell they love it but don’t want to admit it.

  • Morning Time Magic!
    by DrewSteadman from United States

    I am so excited Pam is back to her morning time focus for 2020. Our homeschool has been shaped by the rich ideas and practical wisdom shared here.

  • Yay! Morning time is back!
    by Homeschooler in Germany from United States

    I was so happy and excited to learn that Pam is shifting her focus back to Morning Time for 2020! I’ve missed the morning time exclusive podcast and can’t wait to hear her back in my earbuds.

  • So excited for 2020!
    by JCrutchf from United States

    I absolutely LOVE this podcast and was so disappointed when I realized you were not actively producing it! I’m NOW relieved to know there is a whole year of episodes ahead! I’m beginning my homeschool journey with 4 little ones very close in age and my style falls somewhere in the Classical and Charlotte Mason. I found your podcast by chance via Instagram recommendation as I was doing research on “morning menus.” Your content is beautifully philosophical but at a level most parents will be able to grasp and appreciate. Filled with truth, beauty, and goodness! Your episodes fill me up and leave me feeling inspired personally and in regards to my children’s education. Everything is so good! Please don’t stop producing ever again! I’ll be grateful forever!

  • So glad Your Morning is back!!!
    by alissajohn2020 from United States

    So glad to have the morning basket podcast back! Thank you for bringing it back!!

  • So good I ran out of gas.
    by JoanieHummel from United States

    This podcast is awesome! It was recommended to me a few years ago by a very wise and experienced homeschool mom but I didn’t start listening until I saw it come up a few more times on Facebook, recommended in various groups (in particular, episode number 41). I wish I had picked it up years ago! So much great information, I’m learning so much! Be careful though, I was so interested listening to this podcast that I didn’t notice how low my gas tank was getting! I ran out of gas and as I write this review I’m stranded on the side of the road waiting for a friend to come rescue me! Happy listening!

  • Knowledge Goldmine
    by A.J. Edwards from United States

    I’ve just been eating up every episode of this brilliant podcast over the past few months. The guests are stellar and Pam’s interview style is wonderful. She gets each guest to the meat and potatoes of their topic but it’s anything but a plain meal. This is a feast for the homeschool mom’s mind. I know I’ll be revisiting many of my favorite episodes again and again. Feeling so inspired by each guest!

  • Myths and fairytale truths for homeschoolers
    by Allierhn from United States

    Mind blown! I’m listening to the myth podcast and it’s absolutely perfect. It is answering so many questions I’ve struggled with my whole life. It helps me to view our curriculum and informs my teaching so much more.

  • Super Helpful!
    by Jennlee C from United States

    I can’t speak highly enough about this podcast. It has been a huge inspiration and a practical help to my homeschool! Thank you so much Pam Barnhill and everyone else who contributes to this. It has been an amazing blessing to me and my children… And possibly generations to come!

  • Practical Inspiration
    by Mamato3activeboys from Australia

    Not only am I inspired by each episode of this podcast but I have actually put so many of the ideas into practice in our own morning time. Such a huge help as I seek to inspire my non-stop boys to truth, goodness and beauty. We are now memorising poetry as they jump on the trampoline and they love Shakespeare. That's a parenting win in my book!

  • So many great ideas!
    by Parent 98765 from Malaysia

    Thank you, Pam! I’m now bursting with inspiration and can’t wait to start our 2019 school year with a strong morning time routine.

  • Joy
    by Ancon76 from United States

    My heart is enriched and I can’t wait to learn more.

  • Just what I was looking for!
    by Joey5176 from United States

    I was looking for morning basket ideas—simple ones. These podcasts are giving me a picture of a good morning basket.

  • Wow!! What amazing nuggets of knowledge