Cindy asked me this question a few weeks ago:
Just wondering how you come up with the lists. I find a lot of books in the children's section have inappropriate stuff for kids in them. Do you pre-read? Skip over parts? Help!
As I select read-alouds, I try to pick a mix of award winners, classics, and fun books. I also try to vary the genres (historical fiction, fantasy, biography, etc.). I start with my handy dandy lists, and the only time I stray from the lists is when we find an author we love or when a friend recommends a book.
I don't preview the books; I just start reading. If I find something inappropriate, I discuss it with the boys. A few weeks ago I read Pippi Longstocking. We had 2-3 really good discussions based on this book (especially for my five-year-old's sake), but I still think it's a wonderful book!
This week I read multiple versions of Stone Soup. In almost every single version the villagers lie to the hungry travelers with no consequence. Is that a reason not to read the book? I don't think so. That's a reason to discuss honesty, sharing, greed, and lying. I don't ditch a book because it has something questionable. If my child is mature enough to process it, we read, examine, and use light to expose truth.
If a book is just plain awful, we do drop it. This might be because it's so poorly written or because the content is in constant conflict with our worldview.
My Handy Dandy Lists
1,000 Good Book List
This might be my favorite list. It was created by 25 homeschooling moms, and we have found many jewels on this list!
This free curriculum is broken down by years (on the left sidebar). Since my boys are 5 and 10, I currently use suggestions from Year 0 to Year 4. I focus on the "literature" section and the "additional books for free reading" section.
We've used dozens of their reader and read-aloud suggestions. Hint: If you click on a book within one of the cores, it will tell you the Read Aloud Grade Range as well as the Read Alone Grade Range; I love that feature!
Check the "Best for the Ages" lists for a starting point.
Book Review Site
You can use this book review site to help you determine if a book is suitable for your family values and your child's maturity.
The book reviews at Plugged In typically break down the books into different categories (profanity, graphic violence, belief systems, etc.) allowing you to see exactly what might be of concern to you.
Tip: If you can't find a particular title in the main list, try the search box and look for "book review" instead of "movie review."