Charlotte Mason was a pioneering British educator who first coined the term living books. This is probably the most well known aspect of her contribution to education.
Charlotte Mason advocated using living books in every possible subject instead of dry, factual textbooks. She believed books containing ‘twaddle’ should be avoided, as well as those books that contain content that dumb down the text for the audience of children.
Based on her writings (some of which I’ve read myself, and others have been articles by others summarising her words), I define ‘living books’ in this way (I hope Charlotte Mason enthusiasts will forgive me for simplifying):
“Living Books are those which have worthy thoughts, inspiring tales, inspiring ideas or pictures of life, and with fit and beautiful expression”.
Worthy Thoughts – Living books touch on subjects that are timeless, classic, and appeal to all ages. They will have depth and subject matter that is worthy of thinking on.
Inspiring Tales – Living books contain stories that stir your imagination and emotions, and characters that draw you into their world.
Inspiring ideas or pictures of life – Living books will spark your imagination and create vivid mental imagery of the books characters and setting.
Beautiful expression – Living books have layers of meaning, beautifully expressed language, and will leave you with an impression that lasts long after the book is finished.
What a living book is NOT:
- Books on TV characters or cartoons;
- Books with no moral value;
- Books that talk down to children;
- Books that are diluted, weak, trivial and stale.
Personally, we also avoid science fiction or fantasy, and serial fiction.
One of the things we also love to do is to listen to audiobooks. There are hundreds of classic titles online now that you can listen to for free. I encourage you to search on Librivox for some of these. Listening does not replace reading, but adds another aspect to our enjoyment of some fantastic books.
I’m always on the look out for book titles that will add value to our homeschool, and I encourage you to do the same. We recently picked up pristine copies of some children’s classics from a thrift store for next to nothing. Visiting second-hand books stores is like a treasure hunt for us!
Here are some of the titles on our growing book lists that we have enjoyed in our family, as well as some others that are on our wishlist. We tend towards literary classics because they have endured with good reason – they are still ‘alive’ because they contain exactly what I’ve written about above.
Other places to look for great titles are those that carry the Caldecott Medal (for illustration), or the Newberry Medal. Sarah Clarkson has also written a book called “Read for the Heart: Whole Books for WholeHearted Families” which I recommend also.
You may also like to look on my Pinterest Board for additional titles: Books for Children.
Do you have ‘living books’ that are favourites in your family?