What is a Living Book?

What is a living book pinCharlotte 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?

~ Victoria

6 thoughts on “What is a Living Book?

  1. Lisa

    Whilst I certainly agree with the promotion of living books, I must tell you that my eldest really resisted reading (she could just wouldn’t read books) until I let her read what CM (and I for that matter) refers to as twaddle. No matter how much I read to her or put audios on (both which she just LOVES) she just would not read classics, etc by herself (apparently they were boring and too long), so I decided it was better to let her read twaddle rather than have her develop a hatred of reading. Last year she picked up Pride & Prejudice (she’s 11) read it and just adored it. She now switches between twaddle, living books, classics and even non-fiction science books all chosen by herself. I thought it would never happen … lol

    1. Victoria Post author

      Thanks for your comment Lisa. Glad to hear you’ve had some success with your daughter having a love of reading!
      My eldest has always been drawn to living books anyway, although she’s only 8 so not reading those ‘classics’ yet. I’m not sure how I’ll get on with my younger children as they’re not reading yet. I think if they don’t take to certain living books, I’ll just keep trying until I find something that they do enjoy. The Caldecott Medal & Honour Books are a good place to start (picture books). In saying that, some books have made it into our home, via gifts, and also certain library books that get put in the pile before I have opportunity to view them! I’m sure they won’t do us any permanent harm. 🙂 The main thing for us is to be intentional about what comes in overall and, as we do with food, if the odd helping of ‘junk food’ is consumed, we’ll get back on track at the next meal. 🙂
      from Victoria

  2. Garner

    My now 12 year old started with a lot of Scholastic serial books (because I didn’t have an acquaintance with Charlotte Mason when she was first reading. It took her some time to find her way to enjoying classics and Austen was instrumental in that. I think her wit (which is important in my family) and the relationships made the difference.

    There are some wonderful classic fantasy or fairy tale books by Lang which are required reading for the AO early years.

  3. Terri

    We use the Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease to guide our read aloud selections, which I try to keep as “living book-ish.” We are a big read aloud homeschooling family, mostly because I had a late reader (about second grade–now fourth and reads great). I choose some “living book-ish” material for them to read silently, but I don’t make them read them. I let them choose, usually, their own silent material (based on the recommendation of Jim Trelease’s work). They pick twaddle usually. Sigh. But I think as they are becoming more capable readers, they seem to be steering toward more edifying reading. I always thing of my poor mom because my book choices weren’t always optimal. I was an early, avid, avid reader. She never censored my material, but she did often read it as I read it. I kind of liked that!

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