Saturday, July 26, 2014

"Books Must Be Living" - Charlotte Mason....

Today, I want to expand on this notion of "living books".  I will also share some of my favorite places to find living books.  To begin, let's look at Charlotte's writings.  She said...

"Education is a life. That life is sustained on ideas.  Ideas are of spiritual origin, and God has made us so that we get them chiefly as we convey them to one another, whether by word of mouth, written page, Scripture word, musical symphony; but we must sustain a child's inner life with ideas as we sustain his body with food." - Charlotte Mason (Vol. 6, A Philosophy of Education, Book 1, Chapter VI, p. 109)

Living books spark ideas.  They make the subject come alive and feed imagination; like sustenance to the body and nourishment to the mind and soul.  Notice the reference to "Scripture word".  The Word of God (Bible) is a living book.  It gives ideas for life.

"BOOKS MUST BE LIVING -  We recognize that history for him is, to lie in the lives of those strong personalities which at any given time impress themselves most upon their age and country.  This is not the sort of thing to be got out of nice little history books for children, whether 'Little Arthur's', or somebody's 'Outlines.'   We take the child to the living sources of history - a child of seven is fully able to comprehend Plutarch, in Plutarch's own words (translated), without any diluting and with little explanation.  Give him living thought in this kind, and you make possible the co-operation of the living Teacher.  The child's progress is by leaps and bounds, and you wonder why." - Charlotte Mason (Vol. 2, Parents and Children, Chapter XXV, p. 278)  

Living books will help the child build connections with "personalities" of the past.  They will touch emotions.  The characters will come to life and become the child's friend in a way not to be forgotten.  We experienced this over the past school year with books such as This Dear Bought Land by Jean Lee Latham, Wilderness Wife by Etta DeGering, and Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes.  John Smith, Daniel and Rebecca Boone, and great revolutionaries like Paul Revere, Samuel Adams and John Hancock will live on in our mind forever.  These are books I look forward to reading again.  

Most often, living books are written by a single author who is passionate about their subject, lending to a narrative or conversational flow.  Biographies and autobiographies fall into this category.  

"...- children have no natural appetite for twaddle, and a special literature for children is probably far less necessary than the book-sellers would have us suppose....What they (children) want is to be brought into touch with living thought of the best, and their intellectual life feeds upon it with little meddling on our part." - Charlotte Mason (Vol. 3, School Education, Chapter XI, p. 122)

It's not necessary to buy child versions of a book.  Give children primary sources.  Let them explore the life and times through the original written language.   In another passage, Charlotte refers to giving a 7-year old Robinson Crusoe, Tanglewood Tales, and The Pilgrim's Progress.  These were read aloud to the child by an adult in original form, not children's Illustrated ClassicsGive children living books and get out of the way.

"For the children?  They must grow up upon the best.  There must never be a period in their lives when they are allowed to read or listen to twaddle or reading-made-easy.  There is never a time when they are unequal to worthy thoughts, well put; inspiring tales, well told.  Let Blake's 'Songs of Innocence' represent their standard in poetry; De Foe and Stevenson, in prose; and we shall train a race of readers who will demand literature - that is, the fit and beautiful expression of inspiring ideas and pictures of life." - Charlotte Mason (Vol. 2, Parents and Children, Chapter XXIV, p. 263)

There are many references to "twaddle" in Charlotte's writings.  Twaddle is talking down to a child.  It's a dumbed down, diluted version.  Often twaddle will contain short, choppy sentences or cartoon like characters and illustrations.  Living books are well written with "beautiful" language that inspires living ideas, not just dry boring facts.  

I underlined parts of this passage that really spoke to me.  I believe it shows Charlotte's love for mankind, particularly the worth of children, who, in my humble opinion, have become devalued in our society of bigger, better, faster.  We owe it to our children to give them "the best", not necessarily in material stuff, but in ideas, thoughts, and moral values.  Living books can do this.  

"The points to be borne in mind are, that he should have no book which is not a child’s classic; and that, given the right book, it must not be diluted with talk or broken up with questions, but given to the boy in fit portions as wholesome meat for his mind, in the full trust that a child’s mind is able to deal with its proper food." - Charlotte Mason (Vol. 1, Home Education, Part V, Chapter IX, p.232)

Again, original works are best.  Children will delight in "beautiful expression" - language.  Let the classics speak to the child and they will come not only to appreciate, but to "demand" great literature.  

Never allowing children to read or watch twaddle is ideal, but may not be practical in the world we live in today.  Do not despair, I believe it's never too late to start.  And though it may be difficult at first, Charlotte says given to the boy in fit portions, which goes back to the idea of short lessons that will promote the habit of attention, paving the way for ease over time. 

"How injurious then is our habit of depreciating children; we water their books down and drain them of literary flavour, because we wrongly suppose that children cannot understand what we understand ourselves; what is worse, we explain and we question." - Charlotte Mason (Vol. 6, A Philosophy of Education, Book II, Chapter IV, p. 304)

Here we see another reference to our habit of depreciating children.   Charlotte believed children are born persons and have the innate ability to take what they need, leaving the rest behind.  We do not need to "water down" their books to help them understand.  Also, we do not need to question them for comprehension and give explanations of our interpretations, unless the child asks.   Rather, provide quality literature and living books.  Then back up and let children make their own connections.   When connections are made, ideas will come.  Living books promote thinking! 

Some of my favorite places to find living books are (listed alphabetically)...

All Through the Ages by Christine Miller

Ambleside Online

Beautiful Feet Books

Bethlehem Books

CM Bookfinder

Lamplighter Publishing


TruthQuest History by Michelle Miller

Veritas Press

Yesterday's Classics

I enjoyed reading this article written by Colleen Manning at Ambleside Online.   It furthers the definition of a living book.  

To find out how to use living books, consider reading this post on narration.  

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