Living books are books that come alive. The author writes with a passion that makes you want to keep reading. They are often written in narrative form and are almost conversational. The stories are often longer, with more detailed sentences. Living books touch emotions, and visualizing what is written is easy. Ideas are a big part of a living book. These ideas show characters who have critical thinking skills and think outside the box. Living books are excellent teaching resources to practice the student’s reading comprehension and to grasp their attention. They can be used as a discussion starter.
Best Living Books at a Glance
- Sir Cumference and the First Round Table (1997)
- Charlotte’s Web (2012, Trophy Newbery)
- Our favorite: Holes (2000)
- The Prince and the Pauper (2009)
- The Sign of the Beaver (2011)
- Number the Stars (2009)
- Snowflake Bentley (2009)
- The Story of Ferdinand (1936)
- The Mouse and the Motorcycle (2016)
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (1998)
- Because of Winn Dixie (2015)
- The Lorax (1971)
Living books are great resources for teaching reading comprehension skills and can be used as additional classroom activities with other subjects such as history, science, and math.
The 12 Best Living Books Reviewed
1. Sir Cumference and the First Round Table (1997)
Author: Cindy Neuschwander
A story written with wordplay and puns creates a visual of a knight, Sir Cumference, going on an adventure.
This adventure isn’t just any adventure but a math adventure. With help from his wife (Lady Di of Ameter) and son (Radius), they must save the kingdom and build a table where all knights can be heard when meeting. The plot moves quickly and is presented in such a funny way that the reader will be hooked from the beginning.
This living book is a great teaching tool to learn about circles and other shapes and is the first in a series of Sir Cumference books.
2. Charlotte’s Web (2012, Trophy Newbery)
Author: E.B. White
In this timeless tale of friendship, overcoming struggles, and loneliness, we meet Wilbur, a pig, who befriends Charlotte, a spider. Together, they plot to keep Wilbur from being a family dinner. With help from a rat, Charlotte teaches Wilbur what it means to be a friend.
Charlotte’s Webb was written over sixty years ago. It is an award-winning chapter book that evokes so many emotions as you read. You will be laughing one minute and crying the next.
A great story for preschoolers, but we recommend using this book for 3rd-5th graders. You’ll fall in love with every character.
Every child should read this living book at some point; it is easily visualized and keeps you wanting more.
3. Holes (2000)
Author: Louis Sachar
Holes can easily be tied to math concepts such as percentages, ratios, and elapsed time.
Meet Stanley Yelnats, a boy who finds himself going to a detention center after a freak accident. While he is at the detention center, he learns more than character. He digs holes to find something, something the warden wants.
Did we mention Stanley’s family is cursed? Will his time at the detention center happen to break this curse?
This multiple award-winning stories are great for any age. The fast-moving pace of the plot draws the reader in. The flashbacks in the story help create a beautiful spider web of connection.
Holes are available on Amazon and RedShelf.
4. The Prince and the Pauper (2009)
Author: Mark Twain
The Prince and the Pauper is a story originally written in 1882. This story is an adventure of two boys who happen to look alike, trade places. The prince becomes the pauper, and the pauper becomes the prince.
This story of hardship and acceptance shows character development and change.
A great read while learning about medieval times, this living book offers insight into life during that time.
This living book does have some mature content that may not be suitable for readers under eight years of age.
5. The Sign of the Beaver (2011)
Author: Elizabeth George Speare
The Sign of The Beaver is a well-written novel that would tie greatly to westward expansion and early American history.
Thirteen-year-old Matt must quickly become a man in this early American historical novel. He has to defend the homestead when his father returns to the east to gather his mother and sister. Matt learns valuable lessons about himself and how to survive. After his only gun is stolen, he must learn from Attean, a Native American boy. In return for Matt’s lessons, Matt must teach Attean how to read and communicate to help his tribe survive the ever-growing white men.
Profound lessons and conversations can occur while reading this living book about the mistreatment of Native Americans and settlers’ struggles.
This living book can be slow at points, but overall is a good historical novel great for boys and girls.
6. Number the Stars (2009)
Author: Lois Lowry
The Stars, which was set during WWII, offers a story of friendship, courage, and cooperation. When Annemarie’s family learns German troops would start relocating Denmark jews, they know they must help Annemarie’s best friend Ellen Rosen and her family.
This story of heroism is becoming an excellent read for children. So many lessons in this story are great for the present. Annemarie’s courage enables Ellen to escape to freedom across the sea into Sweden.
This living book is fiction. However, it contains many nonfiction facts that make it a great supplementary tool while teaching WWII and the holocaust.
7. Snowflake Bentley (2009)
Author: Jacqueline Briggs Martin
Snowflake Bentley is a great living book to aid in teaching science; Snowflake Bentley is a biography of Wilson Bentley. Wilson Bentley was determined at a young age to photograph the beautiful crystals that created snowflakes. During his time, people often misunderstood his goal. However, because of Bentley’s work, we know that no two snowflakes are the same.
This award-winning living book is perfect for students younger than 4th grade.
The story of commitment would aid in lessons on perseverance and determination.
8. The Story of Ferdinand (1936)
Author: Munro Leaf
Another timeless tale, Ferdinand, is a strong, black bull, unlike any other in Spain. Ferdinand does not want to fight in the bullfights; he would rather sit and smell the flowers. However, through a force of nature, Ferdinand has to fight in the bullfights. What happens next is unexpecting as he sits there, smelling the flowers in the ring.
This well-written living book shows it is alright to be unique and not like those around you. It is also a supplementary story to read while learning about Spain and bullfights.
Ferdinand encourages us to be unique and to be ourselves.
9. The Mouse and the Motorcycle (2016)
Author: Beverly Cleary
The Mouse and the Motorcycle is the first living book in the Ralph Mouse trilogy. This story is about a mouse who makes a toy motorcycle come to life to go on an adventure to save the day. Ralph lives in a hotel and makes friends with Keith, a visitor to the hotel. Keith owns a toy motorcycle, and when he leaves it unattended one day, Ralph jumps on to go through numerous obstacles.
This award-winning story is engaging and thrilling. It has you on the edge of your seat, wondering if Ralph will get caught.
The imagery and entertainment will keep you wishing for a mouse to ride a motorcycle.
10. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (1998)
Author: JK Rowling
Harry Potter has often felt like the black sheep in his family. Why wouldn’t he as he lived with his horrible, terrible aunt and uncle? His parents died in a car crash many years before, or so he thought. Then on his 11th birthday, he found out he was a wizard and not just any wizard but a famous one!
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is the story of Harry’s first year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It is a story of friendship, self-discovery, and overcoming challenges. It is the first of a seven-book series.
This series is one of the most cohesive children’s series in history.
JK Rowling created a world and vocabulary of interesting, thrilling wizards and kept you wanting more.
11. Because of Winn Dixie (2015)
Author: Kate DiCamillo
You will fall in love with Opal, a young girl whose mother left her and called her father “the preacher,” and Winn Dixie, a mangy mutt that Opal found in Winn Dixie who loves to sing and is afraid of thunderstorms. You will laugh when Opal takes Winn Dixie to church and cry when Winn Dixie does not come back. Everything happened because of Winn Dixie, including all of Opal’s new friendships.
This is an award-winning novel of friendship, evokes every emotion. Children’s author, Kate DiCamillo, has several living books, including The Tale of Despereaux, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, and The Mercy Watson series.
12. The Lorax (1971)
Author: Dr. Seuss
In The Lorax, the reader learns the lesson to speak up and stand up for those who can’t.
We follow the Lorax story as he tries to get people to see the beauty of the Truffula trees and stop using them before they run out.
It is a story of conservation and responsibility. This Dr. Seuss book has a great message and is easy to read.
Once you have a living book in your hands, you will not leave the reading chair until you finished the book. These living books will hopefully encourage you and your students to think outside the box. We are sure you felt the emotions and were able to visualize the amazing adventures of the characters. We love reading living books!