Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Truly Living Books and Nutella: Some Observations

Miss Priss pranced (there's no other word for it) into the kitchen this morning at breakfast, carrying her notebook of Jack and Jill, by Louisa May Alcott. "Somebody has a crush! Somebody has a cruu-uush!" she sing-songed.

"Who?" asked Tiny Girl.

"Merry and Ralph," Miss Priss answered with satisfaction.

"With each other?" Tiny Girl asked in surprise, as if this is an unusual thing, to have two people like each other. Mutually. In the world of the pre-teen, this isn't always the case. (Frankly, it isn't always the case, period.)

"Well," Miss Priss amended, sitting down to her pumpkin muffin (with chocolate chips) and cafe au lait, "Ralph has a crush on Merry."

When asked if Merry felt the same, Miss Priss said, "Pretty sure."

Only time will tell.

Charlotte Mason, of course, emphasized the use of living books in an educational environment and with good reason. It's easy to tell a living history book, say George Washington's World, from a bland, boring textbook. Genevieve Foster brings to life that period of history in vibrant short stories. The historic figures are not merely historic figures; they are real people with real problems and concerns. We all learn best when we are engaged with a text. King Philip's War came to life for me when I read the captivity narrative of Mary Rowlandson.

But what about fiction? Are all fictional books living books? Of course not. Most are mere twaddle, Miss Mason's word for dumbed-down, silly, meaningless literature. It's my personal opinion that a little twaddle never killed anyone (maybe a few brain cells), and I've partaken many times over the years. Just like I enjoy a big, whopping spoonful of Nutella for breakfast every now and then.

On the other side of the coin are those literary gems, truly living books that come alive for readers, like Jack and Jill has for my daughter. She's engaged in the plot, she cares about the characters, and she's excited about how the story will unfold. It's like Nutella every day -- with no consequences!

How fabulous is that?


  1. I love Jack and Jill! Well, I love everything of Alcott's. Such good stories! We might try that one at our house.

  2. It is truly fabulous. "Oh the places you will go" - Dr. Seuss puts it so well :)

  3. What a fabulous sisterly moment and a lovely post!

  4. So glad I popped over to read this post, Ellen.... oh, I just love the gift of GOOD books!


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