Gather in homeschool circles for very long and you will come across mention of My Book House. Usually, the questions about this beloved set of books are either “Are they worth the cost?” or “How do I use them in the homeschool once I have them?”
I am going to come right out and say that I love my set of My Book House. I am going to try to be as objective as possible in presenting you with the value of the set here, but you will ultimately have to decide if it is worth it to you to procure your own set — especially as most of us are not the lucky ones to stumble upon a set at a yard sale for $10.
I am also going to try and answer the “how to use these” question. Though my answers may not be completely novel, they might spark an idea or two you can use.
What is My Book House?
My Book House is a series of books published from 1920-1971. The series is a collection of literature for children, including wonderful stories, poems, and biographies.
Each of the books is graded by age from nursery to junior high school. The volumes have become extremely popular in homeschool circles over the past few years after they were recommended by Andrew Kern of the Circe Institute. Kern wrote:
The child who read these 12 volumes by, say, sixth grade, received a junior liberal education. I highly encourage its use as the “Core Curriculum” for the grammar stage.
Due to their increased popularity, they can be a bit harder to find and more expensive than in years past. I was fortunate to snag my set on Amazon for only $39 a number of years ago after seeing the original Kern article.
Most often these days sets in good condition can be found for around $100. Sometimes, though, there are treasures waiting to be discovered at thrift stores and used bookstores that can be purchased for much less. Online, eBay and Amazon are your best bets.
Olive Beaupré Miller
My Book House was a labor of love for Olive Beaupré Miller. Miller was born in 1883 in Illinois to a prominent and affluent family. She married a book salesman, Harry Miller, and they eventually settled in Winnetka, Illinois where they had one daughter, Virginia.
Miller was a writer and worked on a novel while caring for her infant daughter. One day, Miller missed the baby’s feeding by two hours and in an attack of conscience, burned her novel.
This setback did not stop Miller from writing poems and stories to share with her baby girl. The poems were eventually collected and published by the P.F. Vollard Company.
Miller continued writing and searching out appropriate stories for her daughter. At the encouragement of her husband, she started collecting these stories, and they decided to publish the volume themselves. My Book House was born.
The company was unique for its time. The books were sold door-to-door by a female sales force. In fact, many of the company’s employees were women.
The first My Book House set was published in six volumes in 1920 and Miller continued to revise the books until she retired in 1962. The books themselves were published until 1971 under the United Educators publishing company.
Differences in versions
The first set of My Book House published was a six-volume set bound in black. The publication date of Vols. 1-4 is 1920 while Vols. 4 and 5 were published in 1922. The set went on to be reissued in various versions until the final twelve-volume set in 1971, which was white.
The set was broken from six to twelve volumes to make it more durable for little hands. Smaller volumes made for less pressure on the spines and through the years thicker, more durable paper was used as well.
The volumes also have differences in illustrations. Earlier sets are in full-color while later sets use a teal, aqua, and salmon color-scheme only with more of art deco look.
My own personal set is the “rainbow” set of twelve volumes from 1950 with the deco artwork. I also have the In Your Hands: A Parent’s Guidebook volume with my set. This thirteenth volume provided information about child development, ideas for play and learning, a set of home-school charts which helped parents use My Book House to meet school expectations of different ages of students.
Perhaps one of the more unique features of this volume is the calendar in the back correlating authors, musicians, and famous people plus special events to specific months of the year.
If you have the rainbow set and can get your hands on this volume, it is a valuable tool and still-relevant resource for child development — especially for those of us eschewing the modern-day push for early academics and overemphasis on standardized testing.
The sets were updated by Miller herself over the years. She chose to remove some pieces and insert others as a reflection of changing tastes in reading and in society-at-large. The final set was published after Miller’s retirement and may have the greatest deviation from her influence.
Miller purposefully organized the volumes to relate to the age of the child. The earlier volumes are geared towards the youngest children while the story content and the reading level increases as the set progresses to Volume 12. She also stressed her own lack of educational agenda beyond providing children with access to the best stories.
The goal of The Book House company was to make reading the best literature to your child easy for the modern family. Miller wanted stories that demonstrated good moral virtues to children while being full of rich language.
From the introduction, Miller reviews the
… basic principles, with which I emerged from my search and on which I built My Book House.
First, — to be well equipped for life, to have ideas and the ability to express them, the child needs a broad background of familiarity with the best in literature.
Second, — his stories and rhymes must be selected with care that he may absorb no distorted view of life and its actual values, but may grow up to be mentally clear about values and emotionally impelled to seek what is truly desirable and worthwhile in human living.
Third, — the stories and rhymes selected must be graded to the child’s understanding at different periods of his growth, graded as to vocabulary, as to subject matter and as to complexity of structure and plot.
If you are unable to purchase your own copy of My Book House or would like to utilize an audio version, there are a couple of great online options for free.
The original six-volume set in ebook form.
All of the original volumes of My Book House are available to download free on Librivox. As with any Librivox recordings, the quality of the narrators is hit or miss and subject to your own personal preferences.
This is a good way, though, to try out the stories for free and you might find some recordings you really enjoy.
Ideas for use
One question I see time and again is how these volumes can be used in the homeschool. While the obvious answer might be to simply open them and read them, as a homeschool mom, I realize making a concerted effort to schedule something in is often what I have to do to be sure we include it. Here are some ideas that you might enjoy.
- Add them to your Morning Time. There is a slot on my Morning Time loop schedule that says “My Book House.” At that time, I open our current volume at the bookmark and read a single story, or if the selection is short, a story and poem or collection of poems. I simply spend about 10-20 minutes reading what is next, reinsert the bookmark, and place it back until the next reading. Nothing else is required. You could also have MBH tea times once a week or save it for bedtime reading.
- Provide them for free reading. Mystie Winckler of Simply Convivial keeps her set available on the most accessible kid bookshelf in the house. The kids know they are free to help themselves to a book, and she says they often do most likely due to the illustrations and the fact they are able to complete entire stories in one sitting.
- Practice narrations. Whether you read the stories aloud or in Morning Time, or assign them for silent reading. Many of these selections are a good length to practice narration. Since you know the stories are living, they are great selections for practice. You can use the Five Steps to Successful Narration eBook from Simply Charlotte Mason to get you started or use some creative ideas from these narration activities.
- Use them for a geography study. The topical index in the final volume has an extensive Countries of the World listing. Use the stories in the series, a world map (and puzzle), plus a fun cookbook, and it is easy to have a meaningful geography study.
- Use the books to supplement your composer study. There are a number of biographical composer stories and stories about individual musical pieces as well. You can access those under Music in the topical index.
- Read My Book House around the year. If you have the In Your Hands parent guidebook then you have a month-by-month listing of selections to read based on holidays, historical events, and famous birthdays. Even if you do not have that volume, you can still find a listing of selections by holiday in the Holidays section of the special subject’s index.
- My Book House is perfect for thematic reading for the little guys. Using the topical index, you will find great literature selections for a study of transportation, occupations, or animals. For preschool or kindergarten, stick to selections from the earlier volumes. Pair these with a coloring page and a good dose of play-acting (let’s ride the train, let’s pretend to be an elephant) and you have an easy preschool or kindergarten enrichment program with quality literature.
- Compare and contrast myths. Five different myth traditions are included. Read a selection or two from each tradition and compare and contrast the mythologies.
- Discover what makes a hero. A number of different hero stories (fiction and nonfiction) are included. These could be used for written narrations, oral biographical reports, and a study of the similarities of heroic stories.
- Use the character building index to read by virtue. Read a number of virtue stories in Morning Time (or maybe at lunch) and then brainstorm as a family to come up with ways that you can exhibit each virtue in your daily lives for an easy virtue study. You might also choose to use a Bible concordance to memorize a verse related to that virtue during your study.
I hope some of these ideas will spark your own for using My Book House in your homeschool. I would love for you to share any ideas you might have in the comments.
Books by Miller
My Book House was not the only books Miller compiled or wrote. I have collected a copy of all of these, and while we have not read all of them yet, they all look enjoyable. Note: These are not the only My Book House sets available, just the ones on Amazon at the time of this writing. eBay is also a good place to look for sets.
My Bookhouse Complete Set, Volumes 1-6My Book House Complete Set of Navy Blue Edition with Parents’ Guide (My Book House, Volumes 1-12 and Parents’ Guide)Tales Told in HollandLittle Pictures of Japan (My Travelship)Nursery Friends from FranceHeroes, Outlaws & Funny Fellows of American Popular TalesThe Story of Mankind: A Picturesque Tale of Progress (4 Volumes)Engines and Brass Bands: Waubonsie Tales
Links and resources
- Olive Beaupré Miller and the Bookhouse for Children — Enjoyable biography of Miller. I got a copy through interlibrary loan.
- The Shriveled Grind – Kern’s original post about My Book House
- My Book House at Old Children’s Books – Informations about the different sets.