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What's the Big (Book) Idea?

It may be July on the calendar, but there's a definite hint of August in the air. The burning bush is turning pink, the chrysanthemums and sunflowers are budding, and the back-to-school catalogs are filling the mailbox. And for me, the urge to clean, plan and organize is kicking in ...

I'll be posting a lot about lesson plans and schedules over the next few weeks, but these days I'm thinking about books. And by that, I mean more than usual. We home educators are always thinking - talking, dreaming, planning - about books. :) Specifically though, I am looking to get a handle on the "books, books and more books" we have all around here, ahead of our new academic year ~ which for us, give or take a few days, begins in roughly a month.

In addition to all this, we're in the (timely) process of turning our living room into an informal home library. As we set to work on this project, I remembered something Jessie Wise described in The Well-Trained Mind about how she and her children made best use of the library:

"...I was known at the public library as 'the lady with the laundry basket' because I took my children in every week and filled a laundry basket with books. Their cards allowed them to check out seven books each, and I made them follow a specific pattern: one biography, one science book, one history book, one practical or arts-and-crafts book, and three books of their own choosing - stories, poetry or nonfiction. We always read everything we brought home."

You may be chuckling over that laundry basket image, but if you're like me, you might also be also thinking - what a great idea! (Because, really, five bulging tote bags make far less sense). But what I really like is her idea of "assigning" a checklist of categories from which her children could choose their books. I wondered, could this system help us use books more efficiently at home? Although I love going to the library, realistically we only get there about once a month. And, though I feel blessed to have so many books in our possession, unfortunately we only make use of a small percentage. Far too many wonderful books end up sitting there unused ~ new paths left unexplored, new ideas left unimagined, new synapses left unfired. :)

So how to get a handle on all these books, this embarassment of riches slipping through our fingers? Well to start with, some better (physical) organization, and then a new way of looking at our home library - because that's what it is really - and here's where the card idea comes into play. Cards seem to work pretty well in the public library, why not here at home in our own?

This is all still pretty much in the "idea" stage, but here's the Pockets_1general plan. I bought library pockets at the teacher-supply store (the kind you place inside books) and a bunch of colorful index cards. I adhered three pockets to the side of the main bookcase (see photo at right), one for each boy. On an index card I wrote each boy's name and then several categories to be filled: science/nature, general nonfiction, history, audiobook, magazine, library choice, storybook, chapter book OR early reader ... I'm still tweaking the categories, which obviously, will be unique to each child's age and reading level.

Each week the boys will look through our "stacks" and choose Tote_bagsbooks according to their card. The books will be placed in their "school" bags (see right). We'll write the titles on the cards, read the books throughout the week, and check them off as we go. The cards will be saved as a record of our reading. An experiment to be sure, but I hope it's one that will help us "rediscover" some old friends and widen our reading horizons a bit. Next on my list is to tackle my own reading basket - I have gotten away from my regular reading time lately (of course that would have nothing to do with blogging) and I want to put things to rights again soon. :)

In the meantime, here are some pictures of the main book areas that are currently under review. Hopefully by September, I'll have things in better order.


Above is the main home education bookcase, organized by subject. (Top to bottom: math and arts/crafts; poetry/language and nature; science; more science; history and educational coloring books) It's always this full, but not usually this neat. (We have been entertaining recently and there's nothing like a party to get your shelves looking smart.) It is maybe too full though - it's hard to slide out a book without pulling out several more at the same time.


This is the corner bookcase which holds mostly paperback novels and chapter books. We use a rather inelegant, yet thrifty and efficient, system of brown coffee boxes to hold the books facing forward. It is easy for the kids to pull the boxes forward and see the spines (titles) at a glance. They're all a jumble right now, but I hope to weed through them and establish some rhyme and reason here soon. The top of the bookcase has a globe (not pictured) as well as the dictionaries and children's encyclopedia. The bottom shelf holds the kids' magazines. Slipped underneath the bookcase are atlases and oversized books (for example, A Street through Time).


The above bookcase is fairly new, and still unfinished. It holds most of our Catholic resources, including my most important home education and family-life guides (Real Learning, A Charlotte Mason Companion, A Catholic Homeschool Companion ...) as well as all the little books and children's missals we take with us to Mass (including Bookworm's Magnifikids). The second shelf down is holding our Catholic Mosaic book collection (mostly dePaola books thus far). Once we begin following Cay's (beautiful) literature study next month, I plan to set up the selected titles for the current month on display, much as our "island books" are shown here. For now this shelf revolves aroound our current read-aloud (Swallows and Amazons) as well as a collection of books about islands, island life and seafaring in general ~ a nice summertime trail.


And finally, we head out to the family room, where we have yet one more book area to peruse. This table holds our nature books and field guides, nature trail basket (currently bugs) and this month's kids magazines. On the lower shelf are preschool books and underneath is a basket of Crackerjack's early readers. To the right is a basket holding favorite picture books of the moment. Gosh, it all looks so cluttered - my aim was "cozy" but I think I've created confusion, LOL! (And yikes, look at those crayon marks left by a little 4yo who shall remain unnamed - though not unspoken to!)

A few other "reading" areas I'm assessing ~

  • the homeschool shelf (i.e. the Saxon books, CHC materials etc.)
  • library books and materials (all in one place)
  • theme baskets (no matter how streamlined I get, there will always be these)
  • cookbooks, cooking magazines and recipes
  • music instruction for the keyboard as well as seasonal songbooks
  • audiobooks
  • catalogs (I get lots and love 'em)
  • art study books
  • craft books like how to knit, cat's cradle, origami, etc.
  • Bible and prayer books

In upcoming posts I hope to address other aspects of our home (and home school) such as our bulletin board, our learning room (aka our dining room), our year ahead (aka the ed. plan), setting up the planner (but ah, which one?), our schedules and systems, as well as my own reading basket.

Not too ambitious, am I? ;)