Defining Twaddle

by Catherine Levison

Because Charlotte Mason strongly recommended the avoidance of twaddle, parents are often concerned about what it is and how they can successfully avoid it in the context of education.

First, let’s look at the synonyms of twaddle which include, babble, drivel and silly. Ordinarily twaddle refers to literature written down to children. Books written to children are not avoided. A good example would be any of Beatrix Potter’s works — she writes to children but not down to them. If we were to review what Charlotte would recommend in children’s literature we’d look for interesting content and well constructed sentences clothed in literary language. She wanted the imagination to be warmed and the book to hold the interest of the child. In Charlotte Mason’s opinion, life’s too short to spend time with books that bore us.

If our children have only been exposed to junk food, they may resist trying nutritious food. If they’ve been raised on twaddle, they may need to be weaned slowly off of this mental junk food. Ideally, if they were not exposed to twaddly books in the first place, all involved would be way ahead of the game.

It is my opinion that dumbed-down literature is easy to spot. When you’re standing in the library and pick up modern-day, elementary-level books, you’re apt to see short sentences with very little effort applied to artistically constructing them to please the mind. Almost anyone can write — but not everyone is gifted in this field. Gifted authors bring images alive with their choice of words (I do not claim to be gifted in this area, by the way. Writing is just an efficient mode of communication to me — I much prefer talking). Gifted authors often write classic literature, and classics are an excellent way to spend one’s reading time.

Twaddle is easy to come by; the planet is filled with it. People coped with it in Charlotte Mason’s day, and we must cope with it in ours’. If anything, literature has deteriorated even further. The best way to cope with this excessive quantity of bad books is to stand firm and only spend our money on the best.

But what about friends and relatives who unknowingly supply our children with twaddle at gift-giving times? Try talking to those who are apt to buy gifts for your children and tell them about the direction you’re heading with reading material. Some people pick up on things easier than others, therefore, for some folks a simple explanation of the type of literature you want purchased as gifts is all they’ll need. If you’ve started to collect any particular set of children’s classics currently in bookstores or catalogs, you could provide Grandma with a list of titles you’d like. Be specific, and offer to help her with the ordering, or perhaps even drive her to your favorite bookstore, or give out a copy of the following list:  Twaddle-Free Books by Grade Level.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Catherine Levison — long-time homeschooling mother of five and popular conference speaker to parenting and educational audiences throughout the USA and Canada — is the author of several books on Charlotte Mason-style home education. Visit Catherine Levison’s Amazon Author page here:  Levison on Amazon

You can order Levison’s books online at:

  1. A Charlotte Mason Education: A How-to Manual
  2. More Charlotte Mason Education
  3. A Literary Education: An Annotated Book List

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13 responses to “Defining Twaddle

  1. What I think is most confusing about twaddle is that Charlotte Mason called Alice in Wonderland a “delicious feast of absurdities” that’s people should read. She also said that children must read “funny books.” I’m trying to figure out where the line between silly and twaddle is drawn!

    • Although “silly,” is one of the synonyms for twaddle, I think “babble” and “drivel” better capture what Mason was objecting to. Good books can and should be full of imagination and all kids of humor, like Alice in Wonderland. They should also be filled with rich sentences and literary vocabulary, like Alice in Wonderland. When I think of twaddle in children’s books, the first thing I think of are the leveled readers that are designed primarily to market movies or toys. These books have very little literary value -there is nothing special about the word choice or the story. They are also not memorable – it’s unlikely your child will remember them into adulthood.

      Books can be simple and still have literary value – think of books like Goodnight moon, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Going on a Bear Hunt, or Caps for Sale. Though simple, they all incorporate literary devices such as irony, surprise, rhyming, and cadence. Even if our children are not familiar with these terms, it is these elements that make these stories endearing and memorable. I think the memorability of a story – the way it captures our hearts and imaginations – is a simple and trustworthy way to test for literary value, even without knowledge of literary devices/terms. Good stories stick with us.

      (And the same can be said for the artwork that accompanies the story.)

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