Living Education Retreat and Living Education Lessons, that there is something coming up for just about anyone interested in learning more about relational education a la Charlotte Mason! This is a wonderful thing.
Here is a fun, autobiographical piece that I wrote for Leah Boden's blog, Living Soul Deep, a few months back. It is a selective account of how books have been part of my life. If I left in all the outtakes, you would hear about how I didn't like the first D'aulaire book that I read or that I threw away a few Opal Wheelers after having used them for car books (car books = books that stayed in our vehicles which were doubles or titles I didn't think were worth much). Or how about the books I have thrown down? There have been 3. No, I'm not telling. And I am thankful that while living in southern California, the warehouse-style store nearby was selling complete sets of Beatrix Potter books in a cute little holder. A few sets landed in our home as baby gifts. Little things add up to flourishing lives. Without further ado...
When did my living books life begin? My mom tells a story of when I was hospitalized at age nine with spinal meningitis. She says that when the nurse leaned over the bed and asked what I wanted to have - and I could have anything - I whispered, "My books, please." I like that story, and always remember that I loved books, but I'm not sure what books I was reading at that age. Some Little House on the Prairie with some Nancy Drew on the side, most likely. Pretty sure I didn't do any reading that day after the spinal tap.
I’d say that my real journey with living books began when I moved from California to my husband’s small hometown in Minnesota in 1993. With only preschoolers in tow at the time, I really didn’t have much of a library. But then came a call from a retiring school librarian which changed things. That sweet lady had heard that I might be homeschooling and so wouldn’t I need books? And would I like to come pick through the stacks and take what I think might be useful? They were pruning most books printed before 1975. Truth is, I didn’t even know what to look for and there was no time (or internet!) for research. So I filled up a dozen boxes with what looked like they might make for good reading – Landmarks, Signatures, Messners, as well as books by McClung, Wheeler, Earle, Petersham, the D’aulaires and many more. Then I giddily threw myself into the author research, the library sales, the donations, 4 more children and a 3 story house that happily creaks with all those books today.
In the early days of my living books life, I was reading all about Charlotte Mason and her ideas of what a living book actually is. I could see that it needed to be well-written, engaging, by a passionate author, and that it should stir the emotions. But I think there is something else going on with living books, something spiritual between each individual child and certain books that makes them living.
I found that out early on as I sat for hours reading The Chronicles of Narnia to my two young sons. I watched and observed how those precious children responded with excitement and wonder, acting out scenes and describing episodes to their father at the end of the day. Whatever was going on with their strong reaction to the story is exactly what I wanted more of for them, for their education, and for their lives.
Because I’m never sure which book will move which child, variety is important. Just because one daughter has read the 12 books from the Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons twice, doesn’t mean the next child will be interested in them. Why one son wants every Jim Kjelgaard ever printed and the other prefers Leonard Wibberley, I can’t say. Why the quiet child consumes everything by Roald Dahl and the loud one prefers Ursula Le Guin is a mystery to me.
I love what Charlotte Mason says about the child and living books:
"A book may be long or short, old or new, easy or hard, written by a great man or a lesser man, and yet be the living book which finds its way to the mind of a young reader. The expert is not the person to choose; the children themselves are the experts in this case.” (School Education, p. 228)
For myself, Sir Gibbie by George MacDonald goes down as the first book to make me cry. Years later I read it aloud in school (unabridged) and it took almost 2 years. No one minded. I cried that time, too. As a family we have enjoyed dozens of titles out loud such as Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer, Incident at Hawk’s Hill by Allan Eckert , the Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier, A Family of Foxes by Ellis Dillon, The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom, and Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, to name just a few.
My life has been forever enriched by reading slowly, surely, and widely. Think the turtle, not the hare! I’ve enjoyed all the Miss Read titles, old books about my favorite president James A. Garfield, theology from N.T. Wright, Richard Foster, and John Piper and my current interest – beautiful vintage collections of devotions, prayers, and poetry that follow the church year (see my reprint of The Cloud of Witness). By establishing an atmosphere filled with books and an expectation of learning, every family member has been positively and eternally enriched. With a living book to look forward to every evening when I crawl into bed, alongside my morning devotions, and during the school day with my children, I invite and ensure that new ideas will be at the ready in my mind on a daily basis. That, I have found, leads to a living a very full life.