Living Books- What Are They and Where Can I Find Them?

If you begin reading posts about books and reading, before long you’ll probably come across the phrase “living books.” What are living books and how can you find them when you are choosing books for your family.

Homeschooling with Living books
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What are living books?

“Living books” is a phrase that comes from the Charlotte Mason method of homeschooling. Charlotte Mason was a British educator that lived in the 1800/1900s. Her methods of teaching revolved around this motto: “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.” Her methods focused on the child’s home environment as a key to learning; on developing habits; and on sharing “living” material with kids, things that are vibrant and alive, as opposed to dry and dusty material that has no interest. You can read more about Charlotte and her methods on one of my favorite sites- Simply Charlotte Mason.
Living books, then, are books that bring to the child great ideas and meaningful information, not dry and uninteresting material or childish “twaddle.” A living book has passion. It draws the reader in and will give the reader things to think about it even after the book is finished. It is memorable. It is well-written.
If you walk into your local library or visit a bookstore, you’ll probably see lots of twaddle. Popular kids books that are based solely around television characters or animated movies are often twaddle. They don’t have many great and lofty ideas. They don’t inspire the child to do anything or be anything, And they are often not well written.

Should you ever read twaddle?

I’ll admit that my kids read twaddle. I read twaddle. Sometimes I just want to read a light, meaningless, entertaining story that doesn’t require much thought. Sometimes my kids like those stories. Twaddle is usually much easier to read and sometimes more appealing because of the popular culture associations.
I think of reading good books versus twaddle in the same way I think of healthy food. Do we eat candy or processed foods sometimes? Yes. But is that our steady diet? No (I hope!). In the same way, I want the books I chose for reading aloud and for in depth study to be good living books. That’s our steady “diet” of books. But there is the occasional bit of “junk food” that comes in through books that are more twaddle.
I’ll also point out that I think living books can be different for different readers. For instance, I know many homeschoolers who just adore the G.A. Henty books. I’ve heard them recommended many times. A couple of years ago, I found a set on Amazon for a reasonable price and began excitedly to read the first one aloud to the kids. We hated it. Really. I tried hard, but we just couldn’t get into it. Even I found it dry, difficult reading. On the other hand we discovered a series a while back- The Penderwicks. There are several books about a family of four girls and the adventures that come their way. They aren’t classic novels. They’re fairly modern books. But there was so much enjoyment and discussion and thinking going on as we read through them as a family. They were definitely living books for us. So don’t be discouraged if you don’t absolutely love a book that someone else recommended as a “must read” living book.


Where to find living books



Where can I find living book suggestions?

There are several places that I go when I’m looking for book recommendations for good quality living books.


I have a growing living books catalog here.

Honey for a Child’s Heart: The Imaginative Use of Books in Family Life
– This book is a great resource for finding lists of living books.
Simply Charlotte Mason has a great Bookfinder. You can create a free account for more features and you can search for living books by topic or age.

Sonlight, the well-known curriculum company uses some excellent living books in the graded curriculum packages they sell. Choose the grade you’re looking for and look at the listed books for that grade. You’ll find suggested read independently ages and read aloud ages.

My Father’s World (which we use) is another company with curriculum packages based around living books. Look at the books included with each package to find some great choices.
This list from Amy Lynn Andrews is amazing. You can search using the filter at the top for your topic, level, genre, etc.
This list on Jimmie’s Collage includes many curricula that use living books.
Ambleside Online is an awesome free online Charlotte Mason curriculum You could use it as your main curriculum, but I like to look at the booklists for suggestions.
Homeschooling with living books
Do you have any favorite living books? Let me know in the comments.


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