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Mondays with Miss Mason–B for Books

August 29, 2011

Note: this post is part of an ongoing series. For more information on Charlotte Mason and Mondays with Miss Mason, please read the first post.

The hallmark of a Charlotte Mason education is books. Living, rich, original books for the mind to feed on.  As a true bibliophile, I really couldn’t have it any other way.

However, the more I learn about Mason’s ways, the more I appreciate her care in the selection of books.  There is such a difference in reading an abridged “plot point” story vs. reading the original in its glorious language, rich in character, compelling in plot.  Another great thing about living books is that because they speak to the deeper matters of being human there is so much cross over and meaningful connections to be made. We are only a few weeks in to our Year One and already we have seen connections between Aesop’s Fables and favorite picture books we have read, Pinocchio and Roman tales from 50 Famous Stories, and others.

I know as we continue on this journey this will only deepen.

Of course, this is an area that is very easy for non-homeschooling families to take up too.

Here are some resources for choosing “living books”

Toward a Definition of a Living Book

Choosing Books Like a Connoisseur

Charlotte Mason Carnival: Living Books edition

Miss Mason’s writings are full of wonderful thoughts on the “diet of minds” of which books are the meat.  She mentions her thoughts on the selection of living books and avoidance of “twaddle.”

Here is just a sampling:

People are naturally divided into those who read and think and those who do not read or think; and the business of schools is to see that all their scholars shall belong to the former class; it is worth while to remember that thinking is inseparable from reading which is concerned with the content of a passage and not merely with the printed matter. (Vol. 6)



Principles on which to select School-books.––In their power of giving impulse and stirring emotion is another use of books, the right books; but that is just the question––which are the right books?––a point upon which I should not wish to play Sir Oracle. The ‘hundred best books for the schoolroom’ may be put down on a list, but not by me. I venture to propose one or two principles in the matter of school-books, and shall leave the far more difficult part, the application of those principles, to the reader. For example, I think we owe it to children to let them dig their knowledge, of whatever subject, for themselves out of the fit book; and this for two reasons: What a child digs for is his own possession; what is poured into his ear, like the idle song of a pleasant singer, floats out as lightly as it came in, and is rarely assimilated. I do not mean to say that the lecture and the oral lesson are without their uses; but these uses are, to give impulse and to order knowledge; and not to convey knowledge, or to afford us that part of our education which comes of fit knowledge, fitly given.

Again, as I have already said, ideas must reach us directly from the mind of the thinker, and it is chiefly by means of the books they have written that we get into touch with the best minds.

Marks of a Fit Book.––As to the distinguishing marks of a book for the school-room, a word or two may be said. A fit book is not necessarily a big book. John Quincy Adams, aged nine, wrote to his father for the fourth volume of Smollett for his private reading, though, as he owned up, his thoughts were running on birds’ eggs; and perhaps some of us remember going religiously through the many volumes of Alison’s History of Europe with a private feeling that the bigness of the book swelled the virtue of the reader. But, now, big men write little books, to be used with discretion; because sometimes the little books are no more than abstracts, the dry bones of the subjects; and sometimes the little books are fresh and living. Again, we need not always insist that a book should be written by the original thinker. It sometimes happens that second-rate minds have assimilated the matter in hand, and are able to give out what is their own thought (only because they have made it their own) in a form more suitable for our purpose than that of the first-hand thinkers. We cannot make any hard and fast rule––a big book or a little book, a book at first-hand or at second-hand; either may be right provided we have it in us to discern a living book, quick, and informed with the ideas proper to the subject of which it treats.

How to use the Right Books.––So much for the right books; the right use of them is another matter. The children must enjoy the book. The ideas it holds must each make that sudden, delightful impact upon their minds, must cause that intellectual stir, which mark the inception of an idea. The teacher’s part in this regard is to see and feel for himself, and then to rouse his pupils by an appreciative look or word; but to beware how he deadens the impression by a flood of talk. Intellectual sympathy is very stimulating; but we have all been in the case of the little girl who said, “Mother, I think I could understand if you did not explain quite so much.” A teacher said of her pupil, “I find it so hard to tell whether she has really grasped a thing or whether she has only got the mechanical hang of it” Children are imitative monkeys, and it is the ‘mechanical hang’ that is apt to arrive after a douche of explanation.

Children must Labour.––This, of getting ideas out of them, is by no means all we must do with books. ‘In all labour there is profit,’ at any rate in some labour; and the labour of thought is what his book must induce in the child. He must generalise, classify, infer, judge, visualise, discriminate, labour in one way or another, with that capable mind of his, until the substance of his book is assimilated or rejected, according as he shall determine; for the determination rests with him and not with his teacher. (Vol. 3)









One Comment leave one →
  1. September 1, 2011 10:22 am

    Nice blog! I like your Mondays with Miss Mason’s section.

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