Which book would you rather read at bedtime: My Little Pony (our library provides a generous selection of about 50 of these pink books) or Winnie the Pooh? I can tell you that My Little Pony bores me to tears while the end of "The House at Pooh Corner" makes me swallow my tears. You also can probably recognize the difference between the twaddle and the living book.
A hallmark of a Charlotte Mason education is the quality of school books chosen for each subject. Simply Charlotte Mason shows you how to choose in "Choosing Books Like a Connoisseur" and describes facts vs. ideas. Living Books Library regularly gives insight into great book choices. One of their articles I especially enjoyed was "Is New Always Better?" which compares twaddle and living books. And here are five qualities of living books that I've gleaned from Miss Mason.
1. Living books are not twaddle. Adults can enjoy well-written children's literature (anyone else avoid a certain square spongy character?). And children can gain knowledge from appropriate grown-up reading. School books as well as free-time fare can all be living books. Some twaddle can be enjoyed in the same proportion that you allow candy versus wholesome food in your diet.
2. Living books have inspiring content, feed worthy thoughts, and contain high literary qualities. They don't present information committee-style with every ounce of personality drained from the text. Growing up, I was home schooled with a well-known textbook curriculum. I remember trudging through the science books trying to be interested and remember the information. The history books, however, really held my interest. I'd be curious to see how and by whom those two spines were compiled. The narrative of history does seem to lend itself to more compelling reading.
3. Old books, narratives, and Christian-themed books are not the only capable living books. Math and science can become alive if put in the right hands. God's truth is found all over creation and can come from brilliant minds who may not acknowledge the Source. When I was in college I was given a book that was over 100 years old by a sweet elderly lady at church. I read it out of gratefulness, but also because I thought all old books were great literature. How wrong I was! I slogged through the thing, but it was an eye-opening experience about what makes a book good.
4. Living books pass ideas from great minds on to our own. You might have a hundred friends sitting on your shelf right now ready to share their best and brightest ideas with you. As my sweet Precious Moments book quips: "I'm thankful for my teachers too who help to stretch my mind and open up new worlds to me with books of every kind."*
5. A living book shares knowledge or ideas that spark an interest. A kinship is formed with the characters or even the author, and the ideas come to mind later in the day or years later in life. You could probably all name favorite book characters. I am particularly close to Laura Ingalls, Corrie ten Boom, and Hadassah. **
It's helpful to see compiled lists of living books to understand what to look for. A few I use are Ambleside Online, Simply Charlotte Mason bookfinder, and Living Books Library. This 5 article series by Where My Treasure Is was also helpful to me. With so many excellent books widely available, don't waste too much time on twaddle. Your soul and your brain will thank you!
Do you have a kinship with a book, author or character?
* "Let's Be Thankful" a Little Golden Book
** Hadassah is the main character in the Mark of the Lion series by Francine Rivers