What is a Living Book?

by Sheila Carroll
Guest Contributor

What is a living book? Charlotte Mason said a living book is one that is “well put” and “well told” (Parents and Children).

In other words, in a living book:

  1. The language used powerfully and beautifully expresses the ideas of its author
  2. The narrative — whether fiction or non-fiction — holds together in a compelling and memorable way. 
Here’s an example:Typically in elementary school today, the study of germs is given a few pages in a science text. Louis Pasteur and the story of his work with cows and vaccines is given a passing reference.

Instead, read Louis Pasteur: Founder of Modern Medicine to learn of Pasteur’s early research into why vats of fermented beer were turning sour (answer: microorganism had contaminated the batch), and later how three of Pasteur’s daughters died from typhoid and then, in 1865, a cholera epidemic hit Marseilles, France. It was then that Pasteur carried out a number of experiments in a hospital in the hope of finding the germ that caused this feared disease and to save the town of Marseilles.

Interested? Your children will be, too. That’s a living book.

Another way to think of living books:

When children grow up hearing the best ideas put forth in the best possible language, they model their thinking and their writing after these. Charlotte Mason felt that a parent or teacher’s chief duty was to provide living ideas as food for the child’s mind.

If we give our children “dumbed down” books or books in which the information is in bits and pieces across the page, then the ideas are no longer living but dry-as-dust facts. Living ideas are primarily found  in living books, books that are “well put and well told. ”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
–Sheila Carroll is founder of Living Books Curriculum, a literature rich, complete curriculum growing from the work of Charlotte Mason. This article previously appeared in Parent’s Journal, the e-newsletter of Living Books Curriculum. Visit Sheila online at: http://charlottemasonhomeschooling.com/

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