When I was around age 10, my sweet grandmother gave me one of my most treasured possessions: her McGuffey's Second Reader. Having grown up in the public/government school system, I was always amazed that my grandparents had to actually buy their school books. Wouldn't they laugh if they knew that I now homeschool and we, too, have to buy all of our children's books?

But when my grandma gave me her old, worn book, when she could still recite stories and poems that she had memorized from them as a child, I just knew something about them was special. That simple gift began a lifelong love for books, especially for collecting old books.

Once I began homeschooling I would find old books at antique shops, garage sales, or on the Internet. But I had little idea that some old books were being re-published—even whole sets—and I have since used these books time and time again. The two sets we will discuss here will be McGuffey's Eclectic Readers and Ray's Arithmetic.

McGuffey's Eclectic Readers

The first set I happened upon were the McGuffey's Readers. I couldn't believe my eyes! There, in the gift shop of a historic park, was a whole set of seven readers! And what they contained didn't disappoint me; the stories and the artwork are exactly as the antique volumes were. Little did I realize until I owned the whole set that those seven volumes do not actually follow grade years. The seventh reader could actually be considered college-level reading. But let's start from the beginning.

McGuffey's Eclectic Primer begins with display pages of the upper- and lowercase alphabet and continues on as a wonderful reader for beginners. If your child has already begun by using other reading programs (such as last month's Teach Your Children to Read in 100 Easy Lessons or Hooked on Phonics) this will be a great treat. The lessons start with up to six new words being introduced, each showing the common diacritical markings, as in long vowel, short vowel, and hard consonant markings. Lesson One begins with the simple, one-syllable words A cat and a rat. A rat and a cat. Lesson Five is a review and introduces the student to "slate work." This is a writing lesson that, of course, you are free to use or ignore. These writing exercises are written in cursive in a nineteenth-century style, so even if your little one has begun to use cursive writing, he still may need a little help deciphering some of the older script, like the open lowercase p or f. By the end of this little book your children will be reading lovely poems such as

When the stars, at set of sun,

Watch you from on high;

When the light of morn has come,

Think the Lord is nigh …

The First Reader is more of the same with the addition of two-syllable words and a little more emphasis on cursive ("script") penmanship. The Second Reader is a more progressive reading plan; it has a more detailed "Table of Vocals," which is a more detailed phonics table and punctuation mark definitions. This volume not only introduces three- and four-syllable words but is also the first reader to present each lesson in the form of stories. Each story not only uses the newly introduced words but also teaches lessons in poetry, family values, sibling relationships, forgiveness, animal stories, and overcoming fears in priceless prose such as "Afraid in the Dark," "The Broken Window," and "Kitty and Mousie." I can still hear my grandma reciting: