How to Save Money When Using a Literature Based Curriculum

literature-based curriculum - How to save money?

Using a literature-based curriculum is one of the best ways (in my opinion) to engage students. It steers clear of boring textbooks, adds variety, and builds retention. While it may be one of the best ways to engage a student’s interest, it can also really engage your pocketbook!

I homeschooled my children for 20+ years, and during that time we used (and created) LOTS of literature-based programs. We were also always on a tight budget. In creating curricula for Guest Hollow I haven’t forgotten the struggle to balance what’s best for your kids with what’s best for your budget!

In this post, I’m going to share ways of obtaining the books for a literature-based curriculum without breaking the bank…

Use the Library

This may seem like the most obvious way of saving the money, but there are lots of specific tips for making the most out of this free resource!

  • Install the Library Extension for the Chrome browser.Library Extension for Chrome
    This free extension can check your library’s online catalog while you are browsing sites like Amazon and Goodreads, and it will display the availability of an item on the same page. Here is a screenshot of the extension in action on an Amazon page. If you click on it, you can see a larger version. The extension is featured on the right side of the page:

Click on the picture to see a larger size.

I am a member of several local libraries. The extension checks all of my libraries – both the physical copies and e-books. I can click on the “borrow” button to go straight to the library and check the book out. This is one of my FAVORITE money-saving resources!

The authors of the plugin are also really friendly and helpful. One of my library systems wasn’t in their database. I wrote an email requesting it, and it was added literally within 30 minutes. I can’t recommend this plugin enough! I highly recommend you look at the Library Extension’s support page. Even though it’s free, this extension is worth a little extra thank you!

  • Research the electronic resources your library has access to such as:Hoopla


Hoopla Digital provides a wide range of digital content and allows library patrons to download or stream media content for free. Hoopla has videos, books, music, and graphic novels available!

Overdrive and Libby – Overdrive gives you access to tons of e-books and audiobooks. Use the free Libby app to sign into multiple libraries or use more than one card for each library.Libby appLibby can also send books to a Kindle and show you all of your loans and holds on a single shelf (even if you are using more than one library’s access to Overdrive).

FlipsterFlipster – You can check out digital versions of magazines from Flipster. What’s available will vary from library to library, but there are usually some really great offerings like Time, craft magazines, Consumer Reports, Babybug, Cricket, cooking magazines, health & nutrition magazines, and more!

– This library subscription gives you access to audiobooks, ebooks, videos (including videos from The Great Courses), magazines, and comics.


  • Use your library’s inter-library loan program. This will allow you to check out books that aren’t available in your local library system. Be careful, though! Sometimes this service costs a few dollars per book or, if it’s free, you can rack up nasty fines if you turn in these books late.
  • Make requests. If your library doesn’t have a book, there is usually a way to request it for purchase. Our library system purchased a bunch of books I wanted to read while creating the High School American History curriculum.
  • See if you qualify for an educator’s card. Some libraries have a card for educators that allows longer checkout times and lower fines.
  • Consider joining a library that isn’t local for access to their e-books and digital resources. Some libraries will allow someone who is not in their area to have a library card if they are willing to pay a yearly fee. You can then use the card to access digital items and subscriptions. Click here to check out an article about libraries with non-resident borrowing privileges. Do a Google search to find other libraries that allow this.

The Amazon Ecosystem

There are quite a few online resources that can help you save your pennies via the Amazon ecosystem!  Also, when you click on and then shop through our Amazon links, you help support Guest Hollow (we get a small commission)!

  • Kindle Unlimited
    has a 30-day free trial and sometimes has special deals where you can get a 3-month subscription for 99 cents! A subscription gives you access to the Kindle Unlimited Library of 1.4 million titles in eBook and audiobook format. Some of the books in our language arts program are free through this subscription like the books by Brian P. Cleary. I’ve found some really great books through K.U. for the upcoming high school geography curriculum!

  • Amazon’s Free Time Unlimited gives kids access to books, apps, and videos for an inexpensive subscription. Try one month for free to see if the books available are a match for the program you wish to use. Note: The iOS version of the app only gives you access to books and movies. You need the Android version to access apps/games and other features. Some of the books in our Guest Hollow programs are featured in Free Time Unlimited (at the time of this writing) like An Ambush of Tigers, What do Authors Do?, National Geographic Readers: Sea Turtles, Eye to Eye, The Trojan Horse, and Phineas Gage.
  • Use Audible for audiobooks. Try it out for free for 30 days and get TWO free books you can add to your homeschool library. Audible is great for reluctant readers or for listening to “on the go.” Quite a few of our customers purchase some audio books to use with our curricula, especially the high school courses like Chemistry in the Kitchen and American History.
  • Use a Kindle or other tablet and purchase Kindle books at discounted prices. Ebooks are often less expensive than physical books. Some classic books are also FREE. The Kindle also has a feature where you can tap any word to see an instant definition and save it in the Kindle Vocabulary Builder. Kindle books can also be less intimidating to reluctant readers and there is also a special font for Dyslexics. Some Kindles also have a text-to-speech feature that can read books to your student. Kindles and eReaders are a great resource when using a literature-based curriculum.
  • Try the free trial for the Amazon-owned ComiXology app. One of our customers shared that she was able to get two free comics for our American History Curriculum with her 30-day free trial!
  • Look for used versions of the books you need (see the screenshot highlighted in yellow):
    You can save a LOT of money purchasing used books on Amazon.

Other Subscriptions and Online Freebies

scribdScribd allows you to subscribe and borrow tons of eBooks, magazines, audiobooks, and various documents (like sheet music). You can get a 30-day free trial. I’ve used Scribd several times to borrow books when creating Guest Hollow curricula. It’s saved me a bundle!scribd lets you borrow hundreds of thousands of books in digital format. You can read the books online or download them in ePub, PDF, text, and sometimes Kindle format. A lot of the books in the Guest Hollow programs can be found at the Openlibrary website like A Patriot’s History of the United States, Colonial Living, The Cartoon Guide to Genetics, and many more.Open Library has lots of free books, magazines, movies, software, music, and more. You can search and see if it has the book or magazine you need in a digital format.Internet Archive

Used Book Websites

There are lots of websites besides Amazon where you can get used books. Two of our customer’s favorites are: Thousands of booksellers - millions of books.

After researching them (and seeing how great they are) we became affiliates for both. Please bookmark this page and click through the links if you plan to use AbeBooks or Thriftbooks for your used book purchases! We’ll get a small commission. 🙂 <3

Other Online Resources

  • – No trades or swaps are allowed via Buy Nothing Groups – just gifts that are freely given. You may be able to find (and share!) some homeschooling books and resources.
  • and other book swap sites – List books you would like to swap, mail it out, and then you can choose from the other books listed on the site. You pay for the postage on books you ship out. Books you receive come to you postage-paid!

Looking Locally

Don’t forget to look at local thrift stores, homeschool consignments stores, and yard sales! Try to keep a list on hand when you are out and about with the titles of the books you are looking for.

Planning Wisely

  • Every Guest Hollow curriculum comes with a printable book list to help you with your planning and shopping. Some of the book lists even rank the books in order of importance to help you potentially cull some titles out, if necessary, for time and/or budget constraints.

    Guest Hollow homeschool curriculum book list

    Screenshot from the Chemistry in the Kitchen book list. Notice the timeframe of the book’s use is marked (weeks 1-2). There are also boxes to check to help you decide whether each resource is something you need to buy or borrow, as well as the format (physical book, e-book, audio book, etc.).

  • Purchase books a “chunk” at a time. No one says you have to get every single book all at once. You can purchase or borrow books on an as-needed basis. Get “spine” books and books that are used multiple weeks at the beginning of the year. Separate your other purchases into more manageable bits and pieces in 4-week intervals or so, if possible.

If you are using a different curriculum, check out your curriculum’s boards, homeschool groups, and Facebook groups to see if buying and selling of books is allowed and encouraged.

Using a literature-based curriculum like Guest Hollow can take a bit more work when you are gathering materials (since we don’t offer book packages you can click on and buy in one swoop), but there is the potential to save SO much money! What homeschooler doesn’t like that? 😉 Using the tips I’ve shared above will hopefully help you do the best not only for your child’s education but also for your pocketbook!

Don’t forget to pin and share this post! Spread the Guest Hollow love! Let me know in the comments if you have any other money-saving ideas! I would love to read them!

Homeschooling with Guest Hollow

High School American History Update

american history booksThis is what it looks like as I’m working on a curriculum! The people at the library know me by name, lol….This pile doesn’t even show the books I’ve already returned or the books I’ve managed to get on my Kindle (my reading preference).

american history books

I’m reading through TONS of books for the future high school American history curriculum to decide what I want to use and what I don’t! I’ve already culled quite a few and have added others to the YES list. 

I’m glad I’m a fast reader. Usually I can read an average of 400-500 pages a day (give or take). I’m making sure every book choice meets my standards and has that “interest” factor. My husband and I will also be watching quite a few movies in the weeks to come. Let me know in the comments if you have any early American history favorites!

I’ve also started working on the study guide! YES, there will be a study guide with this program as there is with chemistry and physics. I plan on putting some comics in this one to add a little humor and to help students remember concepts. I can’t wait to share more!!

The History Shelf – A New Part of Our Website!

The History Shelf







We have a new part of our website up: The History Shelf. Ever want to read a book or watch a movie set in a specific time period but don’t know where to start searching? With the History Shelf you can choose a time period via the timeline and browse books and videos for all ages in a visual, easy to browse manner. There are books listed for all ages with separate columns for adults and children to make browsing your choices easier.

If you are homeschooling, browse the timeline to find literature and video supplements for your favorite history program. Or, if you just want to find something for yourself to read or watch, it’s as easy as looking up the time period and clicking on the book or movie cover for more information on each book title and movie.

I LOVE history and will continue to add tons more books and videos to the History Shelf.

Feel free to post and share the graphic above if you want to spread the word!

Happy reading and watching!

Illusion by Frank Peretti

Illusion: A Novel

*Read at the end about a chance to get your own free copy!!*

Frank Peretti’s newest novel is a sit-and-read-it-in-until-you-finish kind of book. The kind you want to hurry up and find out what is going to happen, never mind that it’s time to cook dinner. Dinner? Overrated. I’m not finished reading. Make yourself a sandwich or something. wink (O.K., I’m kidding about that, but JUST BARELY).

The novel starts out in 2010. Dane Collins just lost his wife Mandy in a fiery, tragic car accident…or so he thinks. In the midst of mourning he moves to a ranch in Idaho that he and his wife bought to retire on after a successful career as a magic act.

Suddenly, you are in 1970 with Mandy as a 19-year old college student at the fair with her friends until somehow she’s standing in 2010, right in the same spot, dressed in a hospital gown with unfamiliar faces passing by. Everything looks the same; and yet different. A very confused and distraught Mandy gets admitted to a mental hospital where she looks on in awe at computers and cell phones (like right out of Star Trek!), wondering how she got where she is. As it begins to sink in what’s happened, she discovers a strange ability to become invisible and escapes to scrabble out a living on the streets doing a street performer’s magic act as Eloise.

Mandy runs into Dane on the street as she plies him with a Gypsy card trick. He gives her a few tips, unable to just walk off until they’ve had a more than brief exchange. He leaves, thinking he’ll never run into that cold, young girl again but does after Mandy learns she has amazing abilities. Somehow she’s able to manipulate objects and takes her street act into a coffee shop while drawing increasingly larger crowds.

As the story progresses, Dane and Mandy’s lives become more and more intertwined and they take on a mentor/ protégé relationship as he agrees to coach her magic act. There’s always a tension running between them though where they are drawn to one another but don’t understand why and certainly can’t act on it due to a 40-year age span. Dane is painfully reminded of his wife every time he looks at Mandy. There’s something about her that is so familiar. The author was really able to convey their love for one another that reached across the bending of time and space and the confusion they felt as they both struggled with the connection in their own way.

Illusion is not a romance, though. It’s more of a science fiction meets magic meets evil government secret project kind of book with Christian undertones. Throughout the entire novel Mandy’s abilities grow and the pace picks up as Dane realizes who she might really be and that there is a man following her. Secrets slowly unfold and there are new twists and turns that keep you turning the page.

Frank Peretti has written an engaging and memorable story of life, death, mystery, the bending of time, love and restoration. This is my first time reading Peretti and now that I have, I’m jumping on the fan bandwagon. You can be sure I’m going to dip into his other books and look forward to whatever he’s writing next!

Disclosure: I was given a copy of this book for free in exchange for my review. The above review is entirely my opinion and was in no way influenced by the fact that I got the book for free!

***Head back over here on Monday, April 9th for your chance to win a brand spanking new FREE copy of Frank Peretti’s new novel: Illusion.***

Click here to read our other book reviews.

Book Review: Living Through the Mexican-American War

 I’m always on the lookout for engaging books to use with my history curriculum. Sometimes it’s hard to find a good book that’s affordable, covers a topic with enough depth and yet isn’t something a student has to “slog” through. Non-fiction can be especially challenging because I have fairly high standards. Each book has to be something Otter is going to connect to (unless there really isn’t anything else to choose from and it’s something I want to cover!).

I recently was on the lookout for a book on the Mexican-American War – a conflict that still has some present day repercussions and one that I think is generally ignored in most history programs but shouldn’t be! Living Through the Mexican-American War by John DiConsiglio does a great job of presenting this conflict as well as other related stories covering the years 1821-1849. The book itself is colorful and has a nice layout. There is a mix of maps, photos, illustrations and colored sidebars that bring some visual interest to the pages. I like the added touch of the “burnt/worn” edges look on each page. It’s details like this that set this particular book above the rest I’ve looked at for this topic.

The Mexican-American War

Even though it’s 80 pages long, Living Through the Mexican-American War is a fairly quick read that shouldn’t take your students more than a day or two to finish. Or, if you prefer to use it as a read-aloud, you can easily get through it in a week.

All throughout the book more difficult words and terms are presented in bold and defined via a glossary in the back. Here are a few examples:

  • Whig Party
  • Manifest Destiny
  • sovereign
  • chaparral
  • fortified
  • adobe
  • guerrilla
  • dysentery

If you like to combine assignments, it would be super-easy to pick out words your student isn’t familiar with and assign them for vocabulary study.

Based on the vocabulary and the writing style, I’d say this book targets the upper elementary to middle school age bracket, although I think it’s perfectly appropriate for high schoolers as well. Even I learned a thing or two after reading it and it’s written/presented in such a way that I think most students will retain most of it.

There is also a small “Find Out More” section in the back with a list of books, websites and DVD’s to explore, if interested.

I feel the book does a good job at presenting both sides of the Mexican-American War. It gives you a great understanding of the circumstances surrounding it from various perspectives and not only gives an overview of incidents like the Battle of the Alamo but various sections cover some of the people involved and topics like weaponry and hardships. There is even a section about Sarah Borginnis “The Heroine of Fort Brown” so your girls don’t have to feel too left out amidst all the battle-talk.

The Mexican American War

The Mexican-American War happened because of a variety of factors and if affected different people in a variety of ways. Living Through the Mexican-American War doesn’t shy away from these topics and yet covers them in an age-appropriate way. Portions of the book cover various interesting facts about things like yellow fever, deserters, Irish immigrants, the Donner Party and more. It’s written in a way that shows your students how all of these different things were connected. I like that.

Since there are no previews that I can find online, I’ve pasted an example of a small section below so you can get a feel for the writing style.

Mexican American War

After reading through the book I’ve decided it’s a winner! I’m planning on including it in my Awesome Timeline History Schedule, which will be posted here in the next several months (hopefully!) on my website. It’s an excellent resource that should help any student learn about this important part of our nation’s history. Click here to take a look at it on Amazon.

*Note: We received this book for free after I requested it for the purpose of reviewing it. However, our review was not in anyway influenced by this fact. All our reviews reflect only our personal opinion(s) of materials. We aren’t experts! We’re just a homeschooling family with ideas of our own about what works and what doesn’t for US. smile

A Review / Opinion of The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible

Lucado Study Bible

The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible, NKJV

Every morning, when we start our school day, I read to Otter from the Bible. It’s a great way to start the day and it teaches that we give God precedence over everything else we do. We always start with Him first.
While I think Bible curriculum, devotionals and Bible lessons & books are great for kids, nothing can beat spending time in God’s word itself. We usually read one chapter from the Old Testament, one from the New, as well as a daily chapter from Psalms and then Proverbs (4 chapters total). We have several copies of the Bible, but one of my new favorites is the Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible.
It’s an attractive Bible that has verses arranged in a single column format, which means it reads like a “real” book instead of chopping up the verses into little sections. Headings are in a bold maroon which makes finding passages much easier than a traditional Bible (at least for me!).
There are lots of extra goodies in the form of side notes that really help you get more out of what you are reading. These notes help explain the context of the chapters (what’s going on here?) and then go more in depth to help you pull out the points, truths or lessons to be learned as well as an application section to help you better apply the things you just read to your own life. There are also full page devotions and articles that help you see the bigger picture of how everything ties together.
I like how at the beginning of each book you are given a run-down on the who/what/when/where with a small outline of the contents. These introductions are good to help you and your students focus better on what is being read. It gives the foundation for you to fill in. There is also a devotional index so you can quickly look up topics that need to be quickly addressed (stubbornness, kindness, etc.) as well as a “where to turn when” index (when you doubt your faith, when you lack patience, etc.). All of the “extras” are written so that I think they would be accessible to not only adults, but also to most children. If you have a child who has outgrown some of the “kiddy” Bibles, I think it would make an excellent step up, especially for a child in the 13-17 years age range. It doesn’t have all the flashy kid and teen oriented type of notes, but there is lots of good, solid and helpful guidance and information that may appeal to kids who are a little more serious in their approach to Bible study.
If you are looking for a good Bible to use with your kids (or just yourself!), you might be interested in giving this one a look. You can download a free 53 page chapter here and see if it might fit your Bible reading needs. I’ve personally claimed this one as my own!

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255


I review for BookSneeze®

Flight of Shadows Book Review

Flight of ShadowsSet in the future only several generations from our own, Flight of the Shadows describes an America that has been reshaped into a new society with four distinct classes of people. Walled cities are made up of the Influentials, a class with all of the wealth and power which is served by the Industrials: herded out at the end of a work day to return to dismal shanty-towns- their faces tattooed for easy identification. The illegals live like wild animals, sneaking around and taking what they can – and then there are the invisibles. People fitting in nowhere, hiding from whatever and whomever.
Caitlyn, the main character, is hiding with good reason. A product of genetic experimentation, she escaped from Appalachia- a Christian dystopia where some of the inhabitants manage to get out in a kind of Underground Railroad. A psychotic bounty hunter is on her trail, as is the government of America who wants the secret hidden in her D.N.A.
Caitlyn meets up with Razor, someone with secrets of his own. Never quite sure if she can trust him, the two are caught up in trying to elude those who are tracking her as she slowly discovers just who she really is and why others want her. She has to make a choice… One that will affect her, those she loves and even the future of human destiny.
When I first started reading Flight of Shadows, I didn’t realize it was a sequel to a book called Broken Angel, but that didn’t spoil the story as it stands well on its own. I think what I found the most fascinating was the author’s vision of America’s future touched by darker tinges of science, oppression, government control and the future results of modern day problems like illegal immigrants. This is not a pretty story. There is violence and adult themes. It drew me in though and had a lot of thought provoking themes woven throughout about science and culture. This book is published by a Christian publishing house, and though there was a few bits of Christianity sprinkled throughout mainly in dialogue between characters, it didn’t strike me as an overtly Christian book. It doesn’t shy away from topics and situations that are just plain brutal and/or disturbing. I don’t recommend you leave it laying around for the kids, but if you like science fiction and want a provocative read, you might want to check it out yourself!

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Book Review: Heaven is for Real

Heaven is for RealRecently I received a free copy of the book Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back through in exchange for my honest review. It’s an account of a little boy named Colton who had an emergency appendectomy and in the following months dropped a bombshell on his family. He claimed he had gone to heaven and had a lot of interesting information to back it up -like the fact that he had met his sister who had been miscarried 2 months into his mother’s pregnancy – something he had never been told about. He also somehow knew what his parents were doing when he was out on the operating table. He shared details about his great grandfather he had never met, as well as details about heaven itself that match what the Bible says. There were lots of other bits and pieces that spilled out over the course of 2 years that gave an overall beautiful and interesting picture of heaven – many which most 4-year-olds could never dream up, even in a family where your dad is a pastor (as Colton’s dad is).

I approached this book with a healthy dose of skepticism. A little boy, almost 4 years old, coming back from heaven? It sounds like made-up stuff. Certainly not impossible, but something I wasn’t too sure about. After reading the Burpo family’s story, I can’t say I believe everything, but, the entire story was interesting enough to capture my attention for the 2 hours in which I devoured all 157 pages. I did have a problem with a couple of Colton’s descriptions – like the fact that everyone had wings (not just angels) and that everyone flew. I don’t see any evidence of that in the Bible. Perhaps if Colton did have this experience, he interjected/mixed in a few of his own 4-year-old interpretations and thoughts into his experience. I guess I spent most of the time wondering if his father made up a lot of the story or if young Colton was sharing bits and pieces he had picked up here and there in a way that made it seem like he had actually gone to heaven. Maybe he did go! I guess you have to read the book to come to your own conclusion!

Heaven is for Real is a quick, but thought provoking read. Although I personally spent the entire time wondering if the story was genuine or not, I came away with a sense that, if it was, it’s likely to be a real encouragement to those who have lost a loved one or are just wondering what heaven might be like. If not, it at least gets you thinking about the subject and for me it made me think that heaven is going to be greater than anything I could ever imagine – whether it matches Colton’s description or not!

Purity Study

We want to help Otter pursue purity and integrity and one of the tools we are using to help teach him some important principles is The Squire and the Scroll: A Tale of the Rewards of a Pure Heart. We plan on using both the story book and the lesson book.

The combination of these two books cover some really important material to teach your preteen boy(s). Here are some examples of the topics covered:

  • Keeping your heart and mind pure
  • Obeying God’s Word
  • Making right decisions
  • Accepting the protection of authority
  • Staying on the right path
  • Choosing good friends
  • Controlling your tongue
  • Being compassionate
  • Overcoming and growing from difficult things in your life
  • Forgiveness
  • Being a good example
  • Protecting the hearts of young ladies
  • Integrity

I’ve started creating some lapbook materials to go with the lessons in the Life Lessons book to help Otter better retain the material. When he’s done studying these lessons, he’ll have a concrete reminder of all the things he’s been learning.

If you have a girl, you may be interested in the set of books for young ladies by the same author: