Monday, April 18, 2011

In Praise of Living Books

Living books! How can I sing the praises of these delightful books? What do I owe them? Would it be exaggeration to say most of the important knowledge I possess? I doubt it. 

The Bible is a living book. "For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12). I thank God I was fed this living word from my youth. Maybe it was predigested a bit -- or even a lot at times -- by various instructors, but there were still readings, and quotings aplenty in sermons, and expoundings that were edifying, and -- one of the most important, I think -- there were gentle encouragements for myself to be in the word, to learn, to grow, to even memorize these words.

And what of my other education? What of those years I spent under the tutelage of the government system? What do I remember most clearly from those years? What came alive to me? Wasn't it largely those things which came from living books?

From elementary school, the precious few living books I recall, like bright spots in the mundane... The Boxcar Children (I'm not sure whether I'd think that 'living' today, haven't looked back at it, but it caught my interest in 2nd grade), Where the Red Fern Grows... 

I read most good books on my own discovery, or with gentle guidance from my parents in those years.  My dad bought me the Laura Ingalls Wilder books when I was nine.  I read and loved those and have enjoyed sharing them with my own children.  Other books I read on my own time included some classics which have stuck with me.

Junior high and high school:  assigned readings included Johnny Tremain, Fahrenheit 451, A Tale of Two Cities, some Shakespeare, The Jungle, Animal Farm... but really, I read relatively few books that stuck with me, compared to what I might have done had not so much time been spent in whatever else we spent our time on in all those years, much of which I don't even recall.  Much of it served to very much stifle my love of learning, I'm sad to say.

In adulthood, at last less encumbered by my "education," I discovered other living books.  But I didn't discover the concept of living books as such until I had a daughter to teach who needed a different method to learn than I began with her.  Enter Charlotte Mason, and Ambleside Online.  I recognized in Charlotte's wise words what I had always inherently known about dry textbooks versus "living" books.  And hasn't everyone inherently known it?

To living books I owe...

...the restoration and preservation of my daughter's love of learning, as well as my own.  She went from one who was unenthusiastic about reading at best, to someone very motivated and inspired by stories from the history selections at Ambleside Online, so much that she wanted to know more about European history.  This lead to reading other history, which has resulted in her spending hours with all sorts of history reading and absorbing quite a bit.

...the delight the children feel -- which also lights up my own face -- when they read together and laugh over old favorite things in books, such as that Owl "could spell 'Tuesday' so that you knew it wasn't 'Wednesday'" (Winnie-the-Pooh).

...the vocabulary that flows (or sometimes stumbles experimentally) from their lips.

...the passing of many pleasant hours of reading with my children, and now also their own independent readings of classics of their own will, to each other and to themselves.

...the requests for read-alouds to be read, and the "Please, can we keep reading?!" they ask when a read-aloud is of particular interest.

...the recent stated preference by my daughter of Sherlock Holmes read aloud, over mystery stories written for children that would likely qualify as Charlotte Mason "twaddle."

...the inspiration to read and learn more myself... the wish that I only had more time to do so (is that a blessing or a curse? ha).

...the feeling that I think my children and I both have, and which I hope we will keep, that there is so much to learn and to enjoy in the world.  As Robert Louis Stevenson put it:  "The world is so full of a number of things, I'm sure that we all should be happy as kings."  Or as Charlotte Mason quoted the scripture, "'Thou hast set my feet in a large room,' [KJV Psalm 31:8b] should be the glad cry of every intelligent soul."

Liberty fell asleep with Goodnight Moon. :)

This post is part of the Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival, hosted this week at Fisher Academy, and part of the Carnival of Homeschooling at Dewey's Treehouse.


  1. You have very precious children. The pictures on the side are adorable. And, I love the name Liberty and Zion.

    My footsteps came over from the carnival. I really enjoyed reading your post on living books.

  2. I love that my children love reading because they have learned from living books! Thank you for your post.

  3. Hi Amber, isn't it great to see our children enjoying their education. My children cry out for us to keep reading also. I am so thankful that we discovered the Charlotte Mason style of education.
    I am dropping by from the blog carnival.

  4. Precious photo of your sleeping baby with the book! I really enjoyed reading about how you and yours have benefited by reading living books. Reading this post, I feel the affirmation that, yes, living books are so worthwhile as a "main course" in education, rather than just a "side dish". Bravo!

  5. Amen, Amen! :) I also love the rich conversations and "code words" I can have with my children as a result of our reading living books together!

  6. Amen! I also am getting a real education now that I'm teaching my kids ;-)

    Thanks for visiting Homeschool Circus! I'm following you now.

    Have a Great Easter!

  7. Go figure, I accidentally deleted your comment from my blog on this new device. :-) My husband is from Missouri; we met there in college (Central Christian College of the Bible). We miss it! It's nice to meet you, Amber. - Lanaya from