Living Books are Delicious

These are the notes from my talk on Living Books.

Here is an acronym to help you gauge what a Living Book is. A Living Book is DELICIOUS.

D     Descriptive.
A Living Book doesn’t present the topic as facts and information, but rather stirs the imagination by way of painting pictures for the reader. To paint a picture a Living Book will often use the senses both of the characters in the book and the senses of the reader. An engaged reader often opens the door to their emotions. The reader of a Living Book feels what the characters are feeling – is sad when they are sad, happy when they are happy.

“Probably the reason is that text-books of science are dessicated to the last degree, so the teacher hopes to make up for their dryness by familiar talk about the Hydra, for example, as a creature capable of close friendships, about the sea-anemone as a ‘Granny’ of enormous longevity; that is, the interest of the subject is made to depend upon side issues. The French scientists know better; they perceive that as there is an essence of history which is poetry so there is an essence of science to be expressed in exquisite prose. We have a few books of this character in English and we use them in the P.U.S. in conjunction with field work and drawing—a great promoter of enthusiasm for nature.” – Volume 6 p.275

“We all know that the pictures which abide with us are those which the imagination constructs from written descriptions.” – Volume 6 p.228

“…and, though they will plod on obediently over any of the hundreds of the dry-as-dust volumes issued by the publishers under the heading of ‘School Books,’ or of ‘Education,’ they keep all such books in the outer court, and allow them no access to their minds.” –Volume 3 p.228

“Children cannot tell what they have not seen with the mind’s eye, which we know as imagination, and they cannot see what is not told in their books with some vividness and some grasp of the subject.” – Volume 6 p.227

  Effort and Enjoyment.
A Living book takes Effort. Yet is it also enjoyable.

Sometimes the books are hard and the child wants to quit. It is not always easy. The fruit of working through a hard book is rich. Sometimes you don’t see the fruit until years later. On the other hand pushing the child through a book that is too hard, can leave a bad mark on the child. It takes discernment on the part of the teacher.

“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.” – Volume 3 p.178

“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.” – Volume 3 p.177

“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 generalize, classify, infer, judge, visualize, 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.” – Volume 3 p.179

L     Library Confusion.
Where do you put a Living Book on the Library shelf?

A Living Book will be hard to shelve in a library. Often, you won’t know where to put it. Should it go in history? In geography? In science? Artist study?
This used to frustrate me until I realized this was actually a mark of a Living Book.

“And all the time we have books, books teeming with ideas fresh from the minds of thinkers upon every subject to which we can wish to introduce children.” – School Education Volume 3 p.171

Living Books give us ideas. Their words  give us things to think about, they give us new thoughts, or spur questions in our minds, or cause us to be curious about something. They spark an interest and cause us to want to know more.  Our imagination begins turning. Sometimes it turns for a long time, even years, mulling over the ideas.

 “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.” – School Education Volume 3 p.178 

“Not with dry bones of fact, but with fact clothed upon with the living flesh, breathed into by the vital spirit of quickening ideas.” – School Education Volume 3 p.124 

Living Books are a good moral teacher.

Living Books teach us about character, morals, good behaviour, and poor actions. We see the results from choices and events in the unfolding story of Living Books. This is a key way Charlotte teaches character. It is not through ‘preaching’, it is through the slow drip of good Living Books.

“The other, is what we may call essential Truth, or the Truth of Art; that is, ideas or certain things of common life will present themselves to the thinker as fables or stories, illustrating some of the happenings of life. Essential truth is an everlasting truth that lasts for all time.

This sort of fiction is of enormous value to us, whether we find it in poetry or romance. It teaches us morals and manners; what to do in given circumstances; what will happen if we behave in a certain way. It shows how, what seems a little venial fault is often followed by dreadful consequences, and our eyes are opened to see that it is not little or venial, but is a deep-seated fault of character; some selfishness, shallowness, or deceitfulness upon which a man or woman makes shipwreck. We cannot learn these things except through what is called fiction, or from the bitter experience of life, from the penalties of which our writers of fiction do their best to spare us.” – Volume 4 p.160,161

“Here, again, we have a reason for wide and wisely ordered reading; for there are always catch-words floating in the air, as, —What’s the good ?’ ‘It’s all rot,’ and the like, which the vacant mind catches up for use as the basis of thought and conduct, as, in fact, paltry principles for the guidance of a life.
Here we have one more reason why there is nothing in all those spiritual stores in the world’s treasury too good for the education of all children. Every lovely tale, illuminating poem, instructive history, every unfolding of travel and revelation of science exists for children. “La terre appartient à l’enfant, toujours à l’enfant,” was well said by Maxim Gorky, and we should do well to remember the fact.” – Volume 6 p.62

I     Introduce.
Living Books introduce us to new friends and grow old friendships.

Living Books delve down into a person’s life, or an event in history, or the life of an animal. You live with the person or in the time period. It feels like you are part of the scenes. They do not hover like a helicopter looking down over the person or subject.
This is part of the characteristic of Charlotte’s key philosophy called Science of Relations. Living Books take you to the door and introduce you to a person. You are invited in. You chat over coffee. Dry books look at the persons house via google satellite.

“We recognise that history for him is, to live in the lives of those strong personalities which at any given time impress themselves most upon their age and country.” – Parents and Children Volume 2 p.278

“We recognize that history for him is, to lie in the lives of those strong personalities which at any given time impress themselves most upon their age and country.  This is not the sort of thing to be got out of nice little history books  for children, whether ‘Little Arthur’s’, or somebody’s ‘Outlines.’   We take the child to the living sources of history…” – – Parents and Children Volume 2 p. 278

O    Original thought.

A Living Book should contain original thought.

It may not always be by the original author. Possibly an author has written a book from on an original but has conveyed his own ideas and thoughts to the reader. There was not always consensus on condensed versions in CM’s circles. But definitely the book needs that spark of originality, often from or closely related to an original thinker, along with a characteristic descriptive flavour.

“Most of us can get into touch with original minds chiefly through books;” – A Philosophy of Education Volume 6 p.303

“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.” – Parents and Children Volume 2 p.178

 “We rarely use text-books in the Parents’ Union School but confine ourselves as far as possible to works with the imaginative grasp, the touch of originality, which distinguish a book from a text-book.” – Volume 6 p.272

“Its Books and Playgrounds.—There are libraries, too—such libraries! containing every book of delight that ever was written. When anybody sits down to read, the author who made the book comes and leans over his shoulder and talks to him”. – Ourselves Volume 4 p.3

“There has been discussion in Elementary Schools  as to whether an abridged edition  would not give a better chance  of getting through the novel  set for a term, but strong arguments were brought forward at a conference of teachers in Gloucester in favour of a complete edition.  Children take pleasure in the ‘dry’ parts, descriptions and the like,  rendering these quite beautifully in their narrations.”  – A Philosophy of Education Volume 6 p.183

U   Universal.

Living Books are for everyone, for all time.

Living Books are not for one particular intelligence, or one age group, or type of person. We all share parts of the human experience, and can relate to the characters, ideas, and messages of Living Books.  Living books contain aspiring thoughts, that adults and children alike can mull over.

Living Books have stood the test of time. Years under their belt will prove the worth of a good book. Living Books have this longevity because they portray life, beauty, human endeavours, lessons, truth, and the human experience.

“Let Blake’s ‘Songs of Innocence’  represent their standard in poetry DeFoe and Stevenson, in prose; and we shall train a race of readers who will demand literature—that is, the fit and beautiful expression of inspiring ideas  and pictures of life.”  – Parents and Children Volume 2 p. 263

Education by Books.—The great educational failure we have still to deal with is in the matter of Books. We know that books store the knowledge and thought of the world;” – School Education Volume 3 p.232

“I am speaking now of his lesson-books, which are all too apt to be written in a style of insufferable twaddle, probably because they are written by persons who have never chanced to meet a child.” – Home Education Volume 1 p.229

 “A Children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest. “  – C.S. Lewis                     

“For the children? They must grow up upon the best . . . There is never a time
when they are  unequal to worthy thoughts, well put; inspiring tales, well told.” – Parents and Children Volume 2 p.263

S   Spirit.

Living books touch the spirit of our souls.

They sink deep into our hearts and influence us. They first enter our mind and then sink deep into our hearts and shape our thoughts and actions.
Not only are they used by our own spirits, but the Spirit of God uses them to teach us truths about God’s laws or ways, or about God’s world, or people, or about Himself.

“Give him living thought in this kind, and you make possible the co-operation of the living Teacher.” – Volume 2 p.278

 “We are all capable of liking mental food of a poor quality and a titillating nature; and possibly such food is good for us when our minds are in need of an elbow-chair; but our spiritual life is sustained on other stuff, whether we be boys or girls, men or women. By spiritual I mean that which is no corporeal; and which, for convenience’ sake, we call by various names—the life of thought, the life of feeling, the life of the soul.
It is curious how every inquiry, superficial as it may seem to begin with, leads us to fundamental principles. This simple-seeming question—what manner of school-books should our boys and girls use?—leads us straight to one of the two great principles which bottom educational thought.
The School-Books of the Publishers.—I believe that spiritual life, using spiritual in the sense I have indicated, is sustained upon only one manner of diet—the diet of ideas—the living progeny of living minds. Now, if we send to any publisher for his catalogue of school books, we find that it is accepted as the nature of a school-book that it be drained dry of living thought. It may bear the name of a thinker, but then it is the abridgment of an abridgment, and all that is left for the unhappy scholar is the dry bones of his subject denuded of soft flesh and living colour, of the stir of life and power of moving. Nothing is left but what Oliver Wendell Holmes calls the ‘mere brute fact.’ “– Volume 3 p.168-169

“…and, though they will plod on obediently over any of the hundreds of the dry-as-dust volumes issued by the publishers under the heading of ‘School Books,’ or of ‘Education,’ they keep all such books in the outer court, and allow them no access to their minds.” –Volume 3 p.228

“Supposing we are willing to make this great recognition, to engage ourselves to accept and invite the daily, hourly, incessant co-operation of the divine Spirit, in, to put it definitely and plainly, the schoolroom work of our children, how must we shape our own conduct to make this co-operation active, or even possible? We are told that the Spirit is life; therefore, that which is dead, dry as dust, mere bare bones, can have no affinity with Him, can do no other than smother and deaden his vitalising influences.” – Parents and Children Volume 2 p.274.


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