There’s an education buzz-word used to describe texts that fill up American classrooms: “high-interest.” These books often have sparkly fairies, vicious monsters, and lots of cultural references. I have a tub full of these books in our basement. If I ever return to public school teaching (which isn’t my plan, but you never know!) they’ll be irrelevant. They are a part of pop-culture, and can only stay popular for so long. When I got this stockpile of books, I was more interested in quantity than quality. Now that I make an effort to use the Charlotte Mason philosophy in our home, I’m realizing the importance of surrounding my children with high-quality, living books. In this post, I explain twaddle and living books, how we choose living books, and I even included a round-up of living books for you.
I can’t make a generalization about all current books, but many of them are what Charlotte Mason would have considered “twaddle”. According to Mirriam-Webster, Twaddle is:
1. silly, idle talk
2. something insignificant or worthless
In Parents and Children, Charlotte Mason says that twaddle should never be put in front of a child’s eyes.
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” (Vol. 2, p. 263).
There is some debate on what this means today. Some people say that children’s books were so horrid in the Victorian Age that it’s understandable why she thought this. But would she still think that the books we have today for young children are twaddle? I’m not sure. Some books are definitely better than others! She also said that children shouldn’t spend their time being read to during the early years, but now we know just how important reading to young children is.
What are Living Books?
Living books are well-written, and offer ideas for the child to consider. Ideas should encourage children to think about the world they live in, morality, and Truth. Living texts should also provide the child with beautiful mental images to reflect on.
There are so many texts out there with the sole purpose of entertainment: how are we supposed to filter it all from our children? How do we determine what is a living text, worthy to put in front of our little ones?
Our business is to give him mind-stuff, and both quality and quantity are essential.
Naturally, each of us possesses this mind-stuff only in limited measure, but we
know where to procure it; for the best thought the world possesses is stored in
books; we must open books to children, the best books; our own concern is
abundant provision and orderly serving.” A Philosophy of Education
Cindy from Our Journey Westward wrote a lovely post about living books.
How To Choose Living Books
I have a bunch of living book resources that I want to share with you, but first let me say that they probably aren’t all living books. Confusing? What someone considers to be a living book might be plain silly to you. That’s why I think it’s important that parents have their own idea of what a living book is. They can sift through all of the books and information out there and decide if they are indeed living books.
I try to avoid:
- Books with spelling or grammatical errors
- Lots of useless repetition
- A lack of plot (with the exception of non-fiction or vocabulary books)
I gravitate towards:
- Classic books that have withstood the test of time (although not all classics are living- Charlotte Mason called Alice in Wonderland a delicious feast of absurdities! (Home Education, pg 152).
- Classic or current books with ideas that we can discuss
- Stories and non-fiction texts that I can read repeatedly without getting bored (I notice that high-quality texts take much longer to grow sick of!)
Another thing to keep in mind while choosing living books is your child’s vocabulary. A child needs to have a pretty strong vocabulary to understand a book. It would be difficult for a child to understand and enjoy a book written for adults (this article from Balanced Reading explains why.) While it seems tempting to just put our children in front of very advanced books so we’re sure they aren’t twaddle, I think this harms more than helps.
Living Book Resources for the Early Years
Fortunately, there are lots of book lists and resources available that show what other people consider to be living texts.
Twaddle Free Literature by Grade Level from A Charlotte Mason Home
Year 0 Books List (for ages 0-6) from Ambleside Online
The Living Book List from Amy Lynn Andrews
Favorite Read Alouds for Preschoolers from Simply Charlotte Mason
Living Books for Ages 4-7 by Homemaking with Heart
Fall Books for Young Children (my list)
12 Beautiful Books About Snow (my list)
Living Books about Gardens (my list)
Read Aloud Revival (includes books for all ages)
Living Books By Subject (this includes books for multiple ages)
Choosing Books For Babies and Toddler
I think this is the most difficult audience to choose living books for. My preschooler’s books don’t hold my toddler’s attention because they are very above his comprehension level. We have all sorts of touch-and-feel books, but they don’t have a lot of substance to them. I still try to use the guidelines above while choosing books for Baby E. I’ve noticed a lot of books for babies and toddlers that have errors in them, oversimplify facts until the point that they’re butchered into nonsense, etc. These are the books I try to avoid for him.
What are your child’s favorite books? Please tell me in the comments- we’re always looking for new reads!