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I'm a wife to my "Mr. Right". A momma of five. A maker of slow food and simple living. A collector of memories, a keeper of books, and a champion for books that make memories. An addict who likes my half-and-half with a splash of coffee. A fractured pot transformed by the One Who makes broken things beautiful. I heart homeschooling, brake for libraries, and am glad you're here with me on the journey! Be sure to subscribe to my monthly newsletter. Or, follow along with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google +, Youtube, or Pinterest.

What is a Living Book Anyway?

What is a Living Books? #homeschool #charlottemason #livingbook #livinglit

Charlotte Mason called them living or full of life. Some have referred to them as whole or complete, lacking in nothing. Still, others describe them with words like imaginative, original, or full of human touch.

No matter what moniker you give them, one thing is clear, a living book is anything but average. Living books are the best. Those aren't my words, mind you. (Although, I don't disagree.) They are Miss Mason's. She writes,

"For the children? They must grow up upon the best . . . There is never a time when they are unequal to worthy thoughts, well put; inspiring tales, well told." (Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children, p. 263)
She goes on to describe a living book as "the fit and beautiful expression of inspiring ideas and pictures of life."


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What is a Living Books? #homeschool #charlottemason #livingbook #livinglit

I was talking with a new-ish homeschool mom recently and noticed that she had a slightly off-center view of what constitutes a living book. In her own words, she thought they were a brand of book peddled by a particular curriculum company. In her defense, the term "living book" is a bit hard to nail down. And many homeschool companies do, in fact, sell living book-centered curriculum collections.

But the truth is, a living book has less to do with a curriculum and more to do with an education. It is a book that extends beyond an assignment or the casual attention of a classroom and reaches deeply into a person's thoughts, feelings, sensibilities...and dare I say it...personhood. Living books change people.

The opposite of a living book would be a dry-as-dust textbook. Textbooks are bloated beasts filled with facts for fact's sake. They are monochromatic and hollow, displaying only that which is necessary.

But learning should be lavish. A child's experience of a topic should never be limited to bold print terms and pieced together paragraphs. Children learn best through story. We all learn best that way which could be why Jesus, Himself, chose to use stories to teach really big truths to the world.

But if a living book is not a textbook, what is it? The answer is simple but complicated.

Here are four easy questions you can ask yourself when determining whether a book is "living" or not?

What is a Living Books? #homeschool #charlottemason #livingbook #livinglit

Does it possess literary merit? 

A living book is neither dry nor "twaddly." At first blush, the term "twaddle" is a bit vague. It's a term coined by Miss Mason and has many different definitions and characteristics depending upon whom you ask. For instance, some would lump Dr. Seuss in with the twaddle titles while others feel like his works have stood the test of time. Some cast aside all books written after 1965 while others prefer to diagnose twaddle on a case-by-case basis.

It's commonly agreed upon that twaddly books are ones with flat, uninteresting characters. They contain "dumbed down" language and often come in series form with repetitive plot lines and multiple authors. Oftentimes they feature television characters and can be found on bargain tables and in discount bins. Like potato chips, a bit of twaddle in one's reading life is fine, but you wouldn't want to make a steady diet of it.

On the flip side, living books are written by one author with a passion for that particular topic and a unique gift for using complex sentences and rich language to craft a piece of literature.

"We do not mean by a book any printed matter in a binding, but a work possessing certain literary qualities able to bring that sensible delight to the reader which belongs to a literary word fitly spoken." (Charlotte Mason, “Parents and Children” pg. 263)

What is a Living Books? #homeschool #charlottemason #livingbook #livinglit

Is it narrative in nature?

Living books lead with a story. They are narrative. That's not to say that they are all fiction. Some of the best living books I've ever read have been non-fiction. Biographies like the Childhood of Famous Americans can provide the chronological facts of a person's life and their noteworthy contributions to the world but also their thoughts and feelings about both. Colorful non-fictions like Apples can allow a child to learn more than just a paragraph about a scientific notion or idea. Historical novels like Johnny Tremain can introduce a child to an entire time period, an important event, and the customs, culture, and even dialect of a certain culture or area of the world. And picture books like A Cache of Jewels can teach complex grammar skills subtly and without pretense.

Some are quick to shove encyclopedic type books like Usborne's World of Animals on the living bookshelves. But, I'd argue that they are more appropriately used as "spines." Spines are similar to textbooks in that they include information on a wide variety of topics, but they are written with rich language. They definitely have merit: they can grease the wheel of a child's learning by allowing them to sample many different ideas and they can connect the chronological dots from one historical time period to another. But since they look and act a lot like textbooks, they should be used sparingly.

What is a Living Books? #homeschool #charlottemason #livingbook #livinglit

Does it encourage imagination?

A living book should capture a child's imagination. Charlotte Mason encouraged readers to use the "one or two-page test." In other words, if after reading the first two pages of a book, your child is not drawn in with imagery, he doesn't feel like he's in the center of the action, he's not transported to another time, place, or way of life, he should close the book and reach for something more captivating.

Good books build imagination, but not just for imagination's sake. Imagination is merely the gateway to the last of the four characteristics of a living book...

What is a Living Books? #homeschool #charlottemason #livingbook #livinglit

Does it contain ideas or just facts?

Charlotte Mason concluded that a living book approaches the mind as a living entity that needs to be fed, not a container that needs to be filled up. The facts found in a textbook (like names, dates, and geographical locations) can certainly fill a mind, but they can never feed it. They don't evoke any growth. On the other hand, because they are imaginative and filled with ideas, living books develop a child's ability to think, to question, to suppose.

It is through imagination that innovators and intellectuals through the ages have theorized, invented, discovered, and created. Facts tell what happened in the past; ideas compel a reader to wonder what can happen in the future.

What is a Living Books? #homeschool #charlottemason #livingbook #livinglit

A child is never the same after reading a living book. Like all living things, they nurture growth. They plant seeds of knowledge that can continue to bud and bloom long after the final page has been turned. Unlike a textbook, they don't require, they inspire.


Booklists of living books

Sneaky Learning Library of Living Books
Top 25 Living Book Series for Learning History
Top 10 No Twaddle Book Lists for Every Age
Top 10 American History Read Alouds
50+ Living Books for an Ancient Rome Unit
50 MUST READ Books for Middle School

Other thoughts on Living Books



1 comment:

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