What is a Living Book?
In the literary world, there are books, and then there are living books. What’s the difference? A book is merely pages with print. A living book, on the other hand, comes alive in the mind, transporting readers to another time and place. It brings the topic, the characters, and the story to life using beautiful language to impart great ideas.
English educator Charlotte Mason, who coined the phrase “living books,” wrote that the reading material we choose for our children must “warm the imagination, nurture thinking, and communicate knowledge mind-to-mind.”
Breaking this definition down, what should we look for when hunting for living books?
- Emotional Connection
First, look for books that bring the subject alive and create an enthusiasm for the topic within the mind of the readers. An exciting historical narrative of Benjamin Franklin, for example, will establish that great American in the mind of children far better than an excerpt from an encyclopedia or a dry textbook write-up.
Bear in mind, however, that children may experience this emotional connection to books that do not qualify as living books, such as a poorly-executed storybook based on a recent Disney hit. That brings us to our second point.
Do not present children with what Charlotte Mason calls “twaddle.” Twaddle is poorly written, does not stimulate thought, and is, in a word, trivial. Similarly, resist the urge to fall back on “highly-spiced” tales that excite the mind with adventure, but are dumbed down and insignificant. Stay away from books that present pointless stories in glittery packages with no depth or literary quality. Instead, feed the mind.
- Great Ideas
Living books introduce grand ideas, triggering the mind to formulate or ponder big thoughts. Through a living book, children can sit at the feet of great thinkers who lived and died generations before, or learn from those who live today in another land. Living books, in essence expand the children’s teachers beyond the parent or the classroom, giving the readers grandiose concepts to dwell on and adopt as their own. If properly presented, these great ideas will be devoured, which leads us to point four.
- Quality Writing
True living books are well-written. As Charlotte Mason describes, the book should contain “worthy thoughts, well put.” It isn’t enough to be a literary masterpiece, nor is it enough to provide great ideas—the ideas must be presented with a literary power that delights the reader’s mind with each turn of a phrase.
In summary, look for books which:
- bring the subject to life,
- are not dumbed down,
- share great ideas that get children thinking, and
- are well-written.
“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.” ~Charlotte Mason
A Writing Curriculum Based on the writings of Charlotte Mason