Could it be a Storybook Year?


Late last summer, as I was gathering my thoughts on curriculum and trying to plan the year, I hit a wall. Actually, I was probably already flat up against the wall, but the time of year compelled me to do what I'd always done, so I pressed on. But I didn't want to plan. And I wasn't enthused about all the things that had previously sparked so much creative energy. It wasn't exactly burnout. It was more like beaten-out. I hadn't wanted to share learning ideas for over a year, but by last summer, I didn't even want to write them for myself. It just wasn't fun anymore.

I thought about just sending off for several boxes of pre-planned curriculum. And then I consulted the budget. I looked around my house at all the resources we own. I didn't order anything. Nothing. That became the plan. Use what we have and just get the job done. 

We have an abundance of picture  books. I love picture books. When I was in college, I'd forego the coffee shop in the Student Union Building and head instead to the tiny corner of the adjacent bookstore that was home to the children's books. I saved my latte pennies for a hardbound copy of The Complete Tales of Peter Rabbit. Way better. I loved the small room in the Ed School library that was lined with shelves of children's literature. When we were assigned a semester-long project to compile an index card file of children's books, I filled three boxes. Every card was color-coded and annotated and illustrated. I still have those cards. I loved that project.


For over twenty years, I have been inspired by the art and the literature of picture books. I've thrown my whole heart into creating with books, whether it was bulletin boards in a classroom or fullblown unit studies for many ages. Literature-based learning was where I invested most of my creative energy. Some people love their cameras, some their paints, others their yarn or fabric. For me, it was always those beautiful books and the endless possiblities of things we could do with them.


I recalled a conversation with an old friend. Several years ago, we wondered if everything in an elementary curriculum could probably be taught with a good picture book. This year became my year to test the theory. Sort of.

We read widely from these lists (and more), both as read-alouds and read alones. Sustaining attention for long stories is a cornerstone of how we learn in our home.

The Montessori maps come out for geography review a couple times a week. 

Nature notebook

For my fifth-grader, I have a good math text, Rosetta Stone, some art history, nature notebooks, and, at his request, Swimming Creatures of the Fifth Day. All the rest? Picture books.

For my third grader, math, Rosetta Stone, nature notebooks, drawing instruction, and picture books. 

For my little ones, lots of mama time. And picture books.

I take the week's copywork from the picture books. I take the poem to memorize that week from a picture book. Every night, each of the three youngest girls chooses two picture books for me to read before going to sleep.

What unfolded is not a curriculum. It's a "freedom within limits" plan that works for us. I share it here to tell you what we've been up to, not so much as to suggest you adopt it. It's entirely real learning in the heart of our home. I thought about all the categories of books, all the subjects typical programs of studies will cover. Also, I was sure to leave some grids for me to add in books I love and just don't want them to miss.  I gridded all the different categories in a weekly planning sheet. The sheet has changed several times this year as I add and delete as necessary. I've thoughtfully included the things that are important us, the components of a Charlotte Mason curriculum that I hold dear. 


We read the books together or the children read them to themselves. Sometimes, they have books in common on their charts. Sometimes, they have their own particular books. I sit down the weekend before and plan out the week. I key the saints' picture books to the liturgical year. Usually, I'll ask if there is a book they want to read and let them choose within each discipline. Occasionally, I'll gather up the stack myself. It's important for me to gather all the books before the week begins so I don't spend hours looking under couch cushions or behind beds for the books I am certain I just saw.

Sometimes, there is a theme across disciplines. Nicky might read  A Swim Through the Sea, Man Fish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau, and mom's choice of Night of the Moonjellies. Katie might ask about Manassas Battlefield Park as we drive by it daily, back and forth to ballet. The following week, I'll write in books like Follow the Drinking GourdHenry's Freedom BoxCivil War ArtistSweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt and If You Lived at the Time of the Civil War.

More often, though, this is not about unit studies, but about a wide banquet of varied topics. If a child is super-interested in something, it's simple enough to scuttle the written plan and dig deeply with more on-topic books. Two important things about scuttling the plan:  

  • There must be a plan to scuttle; this isn't freewheeling and hoping that books thrown everywhere will catch someone's attention.
  • If you ditch the plan, it's only to do something better. It's never to do nothing. And we need a written plan for the "something better."

Every day, the children respond in writing to at least one book. They can choose a writing project from a long list of projects or they can propose another. Not every book requires a formal response. Some books, we read, we talk about just a little, and then we close it and put it on the shelf. But every day requires some kind of writing. Every day. They might dictate a simple narration. They might peck out their own narrations. They might take off and create an elaborate screenplay. Whatever they choose, they must write something.


With the time that's left in the day, they can choose from other ways to respond to books and get as creative as they like with any book they've read that day or previously. We're busy. We're productive. We're surrounded by good language and great art. And the creative energy has returned to our educational adventures.

It's all good.


Tell me about your book: 

  • Write and tell a friend about the story. 
  • Make a detailed map of the setting of the book.
  • Is it a circle story? Can you draw it?
  • Did something really catch your attention? Want to research it further?
  • If historical, add it to your Book of Centuries. (we do this with every historical book)
  • Write a letter from the main character to you.
  • Choose a character you’d like to have as a friend.  Write him or her a letter. 
  • Plan & cook something to go with the book
  • Tell why it would (or wouldn’t) make a great movie. 
  • Describe an incident from it as though you were an on-the-scene TV reporter.
  • Create a collage.
  • Make up a rhyming poem about it
  • Illustrate w/drawings or photos
  • Explain its funniest (or saddest or most exciting) incident.
  • Make a new book jacket for the book
  • Do a puppet show.
  • Read the book aloud as radio theatre and record it.
  • Write 3 paragraphs in a diary as if you were your favorite character. 
  • Design and draw costumes for some of the characters.
  • Design quilt squares to go with the book
  • Tell what your home would look like if you were one of the main characters. 
  • Write a biography of one of the characters.
  • Write a human interest story about one of the characters in the book.
  • Write a letter to the editor about an issue in the book.
  • Create magazine ad for the book.
  • Create a television ad for the book
  • Draw it into newspaper cartooning squares.
  • Play charades w/themes from the book
  • Pretend a character had made an important decision differently. Write a new ending.
  • Make a list of facts you learned in the book
  • Write an Amazon review.
  • Plan a field trip inspired by the book
  • Compare versions of the same story.
  • Compare the book to the movie version
  • Make peg dolls to go with the book.
  • Compare it to another book the author/illustrator has written. This might be a comparison of art or of the story.
  • Use its title to write your own story. 
  • Write a letter to the author
  • Pretend you are the author. Write a publisher, pictching your book.


 Picture books make me happy. This blog is for sharing what makes me happy. I can't promise you a book a day. There's no way I'm going to post big plans for every book. I do hope to share a little of our picture book love on a regular basis here. A quick review, a picture or two, some ideas on where the book took us–little snapshots of books we all love. I know that not all my readers are homeschoolers. I'm certain, though, that these books can enrich the lives of all the children we love.





  1. Jordan says

    I love your list of ideas for writing projects. I think my kids would really enjoy doing some of them. Thank you so much for sharing!

  2. says

    I like this idea a lot. Thank you for sharing & for your plans to share some books as you go along. I’m trying to build up our home picture library but sometimes feel at a loss of which ones to get. This is very helpful!

  3. says

    love, love, love this post!! :) Like you, one of my most favorite classes in college was my children’s literature class!! When I taught kindergarten (pre-babies) I spent so much money on picture books for my classroom that my husband thought I was going to bankrupt them – of course when I quit teaching I got to bring them all home with me!! yay!! This year, since it is taking more “out” of me to plan for my older girls, I am doing something very similar with my youngest who is 1st grade. I LOVE reading all these precious books with him!! Though, I am pretty bittersweet about it…thinking about him being my last one to read these precious books with. I guess I can look forward to grandbabies. :) Thanks for sharing, I absolutely love this post! One of my favorites ever. :) Probably a big reason why I loved FIAR so much, too!!

  4. says

    Elizabeth, I am so glad to read that your third- and fifth-graders are using pictures books. My fourth- grade daughter does not love reading and often would prefer to read picture books on the shelf. I usually push chapter books thinking she needs more challenge.

  5. Karra says

    Thank you so much for sharing, and having the courage to do so. We in our own little homeschool are very grateful for your thoughtful sharing! I really like the idea of using what you have, as money is really tight for us right now, as well as using the library! It is refreshing to read about using books, and not textbooks, this way! Lovely post and pictures!

  6. says

    Fantastic post Elizabeth! Thank you for taking the time to write it!
    I have not looked at new curriculum in years as I feel that we too have such a plethora of beautiful books already. I only buy for the older children who are the trailblazers and new math workbooks for the younger ones. Simple is best!
    Love your writing prompts. . .we will be using some of them to help sharpen the saws here.
    Have a great day!

  7. says

    I was wondering how you do lessons, so simple. Can you share more about your nature notebooks? And do you teach grammar in the context of the storybooks, just pointing out the basics?

  8. Mattie says

    Thank you, thank you!
    I was just starting to plan next year (Baby due in May, so I know that if anything needs to happen in September, I better plan it now:) And your “Tell me about your book” list is exactly what I needed! Thank you so very much for always being such an inspiration to me for my home and school.
    You ar ein my prayer.

  9. Melissa says

    I would love to know more about your card file. I’m trying to organize our picture books in a way that helps me plan lessons. I’m hoping to carry that system from a card file to the shelf. I absolutely love your writing activity list! My children will too. Many thanks!

  10. Kara says

    = ) Picture books can be used to teach anything. I use picture and chapter books to teach pre- and in-service teachers about language issues in the classroom. By my reasoning, if I can use picture books to teach grad students, I can surely use them with children…

  11. Waverley says

    Thank you for sharing your plans again. I have very much enjoyed and been inspired by your plans and teaching tips in the past. I am so glad you have chosen to share those plans again.

  12. Kim S. says

    Thank you for this post! Homeschooling is what brought me to your site a couple of years ago, and Serendipity has enriched our homeschool SO MUCH :) I love hearing how your school evolves. More please!!

  13. Jules says

    My FAVORITE post ever! Candace said exactly what I was going to say…former teacher…spent my $13,000 year salary on books…kept buying more…moved to England with most of my personal library…moved back to the States with it too…had 2 kids…read every book over and over again…they are 9 and 10 and still pick from the picture books all the time…my husband loves books, but I think he’d rather me get rid of them all…I did donate over 300 last year to a school in Africa (they weren’t my favorites and some I didn’t even like)…I still have hundreds, maybe a thousand…my husband would love for me to get a kindle or an iPad and donate the rest…haha…no way…I know I should practice detachment…but that is way too hard…I’d rather start my detachment with something else like clothes (less laundry? – I’d like that), but not my books! I do love all of your posts but this one is awesome! I’ve been working on a book blog – if I ever get it the way I want it I will share it with you and your readers. Off to read…

  14. Mamalion says

    Thank you so much for this post. I really needed it today. I am trying to head off in a different direction than the school year seems to be taking me, but don’t have a plan for it yet. And somewhere back in the dark recesses of my brain, a little voice was saying ‘Charlotte Mason! Five in a Row! Art!’, but it was getting drowned out by the must-march-lockstep-through-structured-curriculum voice. So today, after reading this post, I took a break and picked up a couple of Sasek’s Geography books, along with P is for Passport, which I’ve been meaning to get to all school year. Now off to make a plan…

  15. Joy in the South says

    Your post is so touching! I’ve been hsing for 25 years and my baby is 9 years old. We have no more Five in a Row left to do and she’s not reading picture books as often, opting for chapter books instead – she won’t be little much longer. I love picture books and buy them at used book sales as if they are candy! So, I decided to make this the Year of the Picture book. We are doing US geography with picture books, using them for readers, and supplementing other subjects with picture books. We’re both enjoying our year!
    Thank you for the additional ideas!

  16. Kathy says

    Thank You for this post. We use an already scripted curriculum but I needed some inspiration for reading. We have many,many books and unfortunately because of school demands most go unread. I would like to weave in something different, especially for my younger children. Thank You!

  17. says

    what a fabulous post! I’m also a great lover of picture books, your list of ‘tell me about your book’ ideas is brilliant, some of these we already do but many more we don’t – can’t wait to suggest some of these, thank you!

  18. says

    Wow…great post. Thank you so much for sharing! We all know that your family comes first, but we sure do appreciate when you share some of this great stuff with us! :)

  19. says

    Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions and I look forward to the notebook post. It is probably strange but you sharing your daily life is such an encouragement–thank you so much.

  20. jenn says

    Thank you for sharing. I’ve been getting so worn out with our curriculum. I always feel like I’m rushing them to get done and move on to the next thing on the “list” and there is never enough time. I love everything about what I’ve learned about Charlotte Mason…but there is still that voice in the back of my mind wondering if I can do it, will I miss something, will I ruin their education forever. Then, I’m back to the “safe” curriculum…
    Thank you for this post…

  21. says

    Thank you Elizabeth. What a wonderful post. I too get caught up in moving on to all of the fantastic children’s chapter books out there — and mine are so much younger than these guys. They sometimes resist the chapter books, but I have never had a complaint about a picture book. Tells me what I need to do more of.

  22. Claire says

    This is awesome. I am seriously considering homeschooling in the future, and I love hearing about the specifics of your approach. (I have your book, too, and will certainly refer to that if we end up homeschooling.)

  23. Jasmine says

    I love the bookcases in the first picture. Where did you find them? Also, I love how simply you homeschool. This is how I want to homeschool. I feel like we could have done that in NC but now that we are in OH the homeschool laws are much more strict, I am nervous about it. They want lesson plans showing x amount of hours on each subject, including things like fire safety and health. Without a “canned” curriculum I am afraid I would be getting a lot of hassle from the school board.

  24. says

    I hope you will continue to blog about this storybook year. I felt beyond burnout several years ago, and I am still struggling. I have come to a similar point this year concerning curriculum, and am very nervous about it, especially with my older children. This space, your blog, has an encouraging effect on me.

  25. Linda says

    I enjoyed your post coming over from Ann Voskamp’s blog. I have a Storybook year every year. I am not a home schooler, but I am a school librarian and I read picture books to grades K-5 everyday. They are invaluable. I noticed your comment about your daughter and wondered if you are familiar with The silent witness : a true story of the Civil War by Friedman, Robin. It is a true story of the civil war’s beginning and ending being witnessed by a doll.

  26. says

    I love this post. One question, where do you find your Montessori maps? I try to implement some of her ideas in our homeschool, but have never seen the maps that are described in the books I have read about her methods.

  27. Jamie says

    Just revisiting one of my favorite posts …
    when you said you have a good math text for your fifth-grader, which text were you referring to? I’m still trying to make a final decision about math for 4th/5th grader this year and am curious as to what you use in those years. I have your Real Learning book and read what you said about it there, but I know things change and I also wasn’t sure what specifically you use in those grades.
    Thanks and God bless!

  28. Sarah says

    Hi Elizabeth, I have been lurking about for a while now. I have been helped and encouraged so much, particularly by your posts on how you manage homeschooling. I love, love, love, reading with my daughter (I think she enjoys it as much too!) and this looks like a great way to add to what we’re doing with homeschooling. Thankyou for putting yourself out there and sharing on your blog.
    Blessings, Sarah :)

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