Saturday, February 13, 2010

Selecting Children's Literature

In her excellent book Honey for a Child's Heart, Gladys Hunt writes, "A good book is a magic gateway into a wider world of wonder, beauty, delight, and adventure.  Books are experiences that make us grow, that add something to our inner stature."  That simply inspires me.  I want the best for my children, which translates into wanting the best for their minds.  That's one reason I homeschool.

I'm not alone in my desires.  There is much discourse in homeschooling circles as to the book choices children make, how we should guide them and to what degree, what they should be reading, what they shouldn't, etc.  Charlotte Mason referred to inferior children's books as "twaddle," an apt word, and Ambleside Online Yahoo groups members often discuss this idea of twaddle: What is it?  Should I allow it?  Should I exterminate my home of all such horrors?  Opinions, of course, abound.

But just what is twaddle?  Sometimes it's easy to judge, and other times it's not as clear.  That's the conundrum.  In her article "Defining Twaddle," Catherine Levison writes, "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."

But then there is the matter of personal preference.  What I may judge as twaddly, you may not, and vice versa.  I enjoyed Beverly Cleary's children's books as a child, and my daughters enjoy them now; but they fall into other families' twaddle category.  Each family has the responsibility to select children's literature that fits in with their own values.

Looking back, I read quite a bit of twaddle in my time, and it didn't stop me from earning a master's degree in literature later in life.  I've even been known to enjoy a so-called "beach read" nowadays, although I have found that my tolerance level for such has lowered to the point that I rarely choose one anymore.  (At the pool this past summer, a neighbor glanced at my book and said flatly, "That's not summer reading."  To which I replied, "It is for me."  I admit it; I'm a book snob.)  My children read some twaddle now.  I deem it twaddle; they deem it fun.  But I strictly limit their consumption of lower-quality books, just as I limit their consumption of Gummy Bears.

To me, here's the best rule of thumb when selecting children's literature:  would you enjoy reading the book?  C. S. Lewis said, "No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond."

Well said.


  1. Very well said.

    It is interesting to me that I just read a blog post by another homeschooler about a particular book series that she deems twaddle (although she doesn't use that word in this post). You might want to check out It is a blog to which the entire family contributes and I love it. The mother of the family also posts a lot of "news and politic" posts. Sometimes I just skim those, especially the "climategate" ones, but it always gives me something interesting to think about. The use Charlotte Masons principles in their school. I've been meaning to suggest it to you for a while, but always seem to forget.

  2. Thanks, Mindy! I did some searching, and I believe the blog to which you refer is actually I tried just "commonroom.blogspot" and that was not correct.

    I've got more to say about this subject (quelle surprise!), and I will in upcoming posts. Stay tuned!

  3. You're right! I forgot, because the banner just says "The Common Room". Sorry about that, glad you found it! Hope you like it!


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