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Friends for Life Picture Book Study Series Review by Tess Hamre

Lisa E. Beal
Roots by The River

Many years ago, my husband and I discovered that our family’s preferred homeschool style was a literature-based approach to education. We knew that literature would be a cornerstone of our studies, and we wanted to build an heirloom library for our family. The Friends for Life Picture Book Studies from Roots by the River are an excellent way to use picture books as a springboard for learning. In addition, the Friends for Life series provides a ‘one-room schoolhouse experience’ for the whole family!

Each of the Friends for Life Picture Studies is sold separately. Currently, Roots by the River offers four Friends for Life picture book unit studies. In addition, Roots by the River also sells a Parent Guide for the series. It is available separately or can be purchased as a bundle with the first unit.

The forty-page Friends for Life Parent Guide lays out the foundation needed to use each Friends for Life study. In addition, Roots by the River offers a bundle that includes the parent guide and the first Friends for Life Study: You Are Special.

The Parent Guide

I appreciate how homeschool mom, Lisa E. Beal, lays out what a picture book study is and how to do one! In addition, Mrs. Beal gives information and tips for using unit studies. The Parent Guide reminds parents to spend time together. The Parent Guide also includes templates to use for all your unit studies.

These are topics Mrs. Beal covers in the Parent Guide:

  • What is a picture book study, and how do I use one with my family?
  • What ages is the study designed for?
  • How do I plan to use the materials in the study?
  • How long will it take us to complete a picture book study?
  • How do I “count” this type of study if I want to include an older child?
  • Will doing this kind of study cause my child to have learning gaps?
  • The fifteen sections or lessons included in a picture book study

The Parent Guide is essential for success with the Friends for Life Picture Book Series. I frequently referred to the guide to re-read sections for suggestions, instructions, and encouragement.

Friends for Life Picture Book Series

Special Notes Section

In each study guide, the homeschooling mom will find the same order for the fifteen sections. For example, each study guide begins with the Special Notes. Some books have more notes than others.

Three picture book studies include artwork as part of the Special Notes Section. The Home in the Woods Guide does not have any included artwork.

I appreciate the inclusion of words and phrases that may be problematic. For example, the Home in the Woods guide notes prepared me for discussions with my daughter about “whispers to stars” and “work magic with the oven.”

Supplemental Reading

In each study, the Supplemental Reading section follows the Special Notes. The supplemental reading is a poem or short story from the public domain. Roots by the River includes the full text of the supplemental reading, so parents do not have to search for a copy. In addition, the Supplement Reading selection includes a “Tie to picture book.”


Mrs. Beal divides the writing section into Narration Options, Creative Writing Options, Copywork Options for Young Children, and Copywork Options for Older Children/Adults. The emphasis is on options. These are choices, and parents are encouraged to choose as many or as few as they want. Parents should not feel compelled to complete every activity.

Relationship with God

In this section, Mrs. Beal shares Biblical principles related to the picture book. It may contain scriptures the family wants to use for memorization. Some of the studies include character traits.

During one of our read-throughs of Home in the Woods, my daughter and I talked about treasures. The Parent Guide suggested the question, “What are the items specifically referred to as treasures in the picture book?” As we re-read the story, pausing to talk about the treasures on each page, our discussion naturally flowed to our treasures and a discussion of “laying up treasures in Heaven.” (Matt 6:21).

Relationships with Others

This section, along with the previous section, forms the core of the religious instruction for a particular unit. Relationship with God and Relationships with Others is the outpouring of Jesus’s summary of the entire law with the two great commandments “Love God” and “Love Your Neighbor.” In addition, the Relationships with Others section includes discussion questions to “further explore principles or ideas from the story together as a family.”


The Vocabulary section includes eight words pulled from the book or the supplemental reading. The Parent Guide has a blank Vocabulary Worksheet. Parents can print as many copies of this page as they need for each child and study. The worksheet includes a box for a sketch to represent the word and blank lines for the word and definition. Alternatively, families may have children enter their vocabulary work in their learning journals. Vocabulary assignments can include discussing the word’s meaning and then orally using the words in sentences.

Self-correcting (instruction and practice)

In each picture book study, Mrs. Beal includes one or two things to check when editing their work. These may be grammar rules, language tips, or guidelines. In addition, for moms who may need to brush up on their grammar skills, Mrs. Beal includes several suggestions in the Parent Guide for free sources moms can use!


Each study guide includes an article on a specific topic related to the picture book. It also provides questions to use with the article. I love that the questions have answers!

Review Game Builder

In the Parent Guide, Mrs. Beal includes a template for a board and instructions for a game! The game uses comprehension questions from the picture book. This is a fun way to review the story! Each picture book study includes templates for game cards with the title of the picture book around the edge. In addition to the templates for the cards, the specific study guides contain questions and possible answers.

History Connections / Timeline Cards

I fell in love with the picture book studies because of the following sections:  History Connections /Timeline Cards, Mapwork, and Nature Study / Science Topic!

The Parent Guide offers several suggestions, including a wall timeline, entering information into a learning journal, or creating a Book of Centuries. I’ve not used the term learning journal, but we create notebooks that serve the same purpose.

Each specific study guide provides the information needed for each timeline card or entry; one entry is for the book. In addition, each entry includes a caption, information, a date, and a suggested illustration.

We do not have the space for a wall timeline, but we have a Book of the Centuries and create history pages in our notebooks.


I love that each study guide has maps included!

The study guide includes special markers to use on the maps. For example, for Home in the Woods, there are three for the US map and one (Norway) for the world map. My daughter made personal connections through the map work because her great-great grandparents from her father’s side emigrated from Norway.

Nature Study/Science Topic

The Parent Guide states, “The nature study section will most often indicate a part of God’s creation to learn about, draw, and label.”

For Home in the Woods, Mrs. Beal provides two options for the Nature Study - Brook Trout and Quaking Aspen. I chose the Quaking Aspen, so I could tie it to fall. During our first reading of the book, my daughter commented on the seasons in the book; she noted that autumn is the same as fall.

Hymn Study

Each picture book study includes a hymn to study. The Parent Guide states, “Singing together helps tie the heartstrings, and the old songs teach Biblical truths in a way that’s easy to remember.” These hymns may be review for some families, or they may be new to the family and can be learned together. The Hymn Study includes the lyrics and links to two hymn versions -piano only and piano and vocals. In addition, this section includes discussion questions and a list of “possible related Scriptures to read, discuss, and study.”

Project Idea

Projects can be a fun way to wrap up a unit study and tie everything together! Each study guide has a Project Idea section with a project or list of project ideas related to the book. For example, the Home in the Woods Study Guide’s project idea is to build a shack.

Learning Journal

In the Parent Guide, Mrs. Beal uses the term Learning Journal. I was not familiar with that name, but I am familiar with the idea of keeping a notebook or journal to record what you learn. We use a three-ring notebook so we can add pages and rearrange items. Mrs. Beal offers several suggestions.

Throughout the study, students are encouraged to add items such as a timeline note or nature study drawing; the Learning Journal section has an additional idea for something to include in the learning journal. For example, one suggestion in the Home in the Woods study is to draw a map.

I appreciate the flexibility in picking and choosing what activities worked best for my family and not being afraid to explore other connections or use additional resources.

I recommend this to homeschooling families who want to learn how to use literature to create unit studies. I think they will love the Friends for Life Picture Book Study!

Product review by Tess Hamre, Single Product Review Manger, The Old Schoolhouse® November 2022